Trying to Crack Open the Mysteries of the Chicken Egg
What happens when you have a hen with no maternal instinct, an incubator who likes to make omelets as you sleep, and an intense desire to know the answer to every question no one's ever asked? This article will be about exactly that and my journey into the wonderfully mysterious world of chicken eggs.
Which Came First? The Chicken or the Egg?
In my case the chickens came first, a lovely pair of Seramas I named Titus and Xantippe. Seramas are the tiniest of the chicken breeds. Fully grown they can weigh anywhere between 6-19 ounces and they are sweetie pies! These two were getting old and the breeder was moving them out for a younger fresher pair. Still Xantippe was still laying eggs and I was thrilled to see if I could get some wee babies out of the deal. I was new to the world of chickens and had already been told Xantippe was not a broody hen. She may be an egg laying machine but after they're on the ground she had no more interest in them. I was told to get an incubator and set up the HovaBator I bought pronto. I slipped in the eggs and waited rather impatiently for them to hatch. None did. My incubator went on a killing spree by turning up the heat by itself and cooking the poor dears. The second batch of eggs was in there at the same time so they shouldn't have hatched either but two miracle babies did show up. I named them Mighty and Whitey and then I was hooked. Imagine the things I could learn if only I could hatch more!
I was told by some old timers that when an egg is ready to hatch it'll feel heavier than an egg that was just laid. At first this makes sense... I mean there is a chick growing in there... but on the other hand this makes no sense whatsoever. An egg is like a little box, nothing goes in, nothing comes out, so how can it possibly gain weight? Or is this little bit of knowledge just a bit of a tactile illusion? I mean a chick ready to hatch might be balanced differently than the goo it once swam in.
So I did what everyone with a question does: I consulted Google. Google told me what I already knew - that a developing fetus, regardless of species, gains weight, but it did not tell me if an egg does. Surely someone must know the answer to this question... so I asked on a chicken forum. Someone replied, "the law of conservation of mass states that the mass of an isolated system (closed to all transfers of matter and energy) will remain constant over time.”This was a quote from Wikipedia, a wonderful if not always accurate site. Still this seems to sound logical enough until you realize that eggs are not as closed as they may seem. An egg incubated in an airless environment will suffocate and die. This means air and other gases can get in and it had also been reported water could too through humidity. So even though this law may be correct the egg was not something that it could be applied to.
Taking Matters into my Own Hands
So no one had a definitive answer, that's OK, I can make my own! On the third batch of eggs I labelled them each with a letter, A-K, with a pencil and took out a notebook and a cheap postal scale. Every day I jotted down each eggs' weight. Not too surprisingly the eggs did change weight, anywhere between 1.1 ounces and 0.3, but I couldn't as of yet see a pattern. I waited with baited breath on day 18, preparing for chicks. They were supposed to hatch anywhere between 18-21 days. I had heard different accounts from different people raising this tiny breed. On day 23 I knew the entire batch was dead. During this time I was having so many problems actually hatching the eggs that I figured I'd start popping each egg in as it was laid rather than waiting for a group of them to pile up before putting them all in there at once. So if my incubator did go homicidal, again, some of these eggs were also at risk. ARGH! So close!
Still I plotted out the results on several charts which gave testimony to the fact they all died at the same time. It was the incubator's fault. It killed my chicks on day four where the first dip in weights occurred. Bastard! This was proven not only by the chart but by cracking open the dead egg and looking at the development of the fetus. Strangely there was a much larger dip later on which I still have no explanation for... On that day I thought my scale might be on the fritz so I weighed other things I knew the weight of. It seemed fine. Oddness...
I should probably note I am not a chart-maker and have no real scientific or computer training. The fact I could pull these charts out of Microsoft Word was to put it quite frankly, a bit of a miracle... I made a second chart for the fourth batch of eggs, showing the days they were put in there. Eggs L and M died and were taken out after day 23. Currently only V and W seem like they still might hatch. It seems my rooster, who is constantly harassed by my hen, is starting to loose all sense of libido. He's a sad, sad, rooster. I mean ONE hen... he can't keep one hen happy?! I'm shaking my head. This just adds to my despairing lack of success.
Don't Count Your Eggs Before They're Hatched
I hate that saying now... and besides if I can't answer my mystery egg weight question maybe I should just change my question! Now I'll just take my two chicks from prior and weigh them. Maybe I'll learn something! Maybe if I have a boy and a girl the rooster will grow quicker... So Mighty and Whitey were sent to the postal scale. The day of their hatching they both weighed in at 0.7 of an ounce. Now just look at them grow!
For More Chicken Raising Adventures Check Out My Blog:
- Tales from the Birdello
Adventures in raising our own backyard chickens...