Eggs are a kitchen staple in many households.
Used in most baking recipes or as a breakfast full of protein, chances are you have a carton of eggs in your fridge right now.
But is there a potential chick waiting to hatch in your eggs?
Chicken eggs need to be fertilized to hatch baby chicks. Chickens lay unfertilized eggs daily when they are not exposed to a rooster, and the commercial egg production process keeps hens and roosters separate. Because of this, eggs from the store don’t hatch.
Read on to learn more about the development of chickens in eggs, why chickens will lay unfertilized eggs, and if you are able to hatch baby chicks from your supermarket eggs.
Eggs Need to Be Fertilized to Hatch
For an egg to hatch, it needs to undergo a set process, starting with fertilization.
This requires a female chicken, or hen, and a male chicken, or rooster.
The rooster and hen will mate, and the rooster’s sperm will fertilize the hen’s egg about 24 hours before it is laid.
Chickens will lay a single egg most days, also called the egg of the day.
Unlike humans, the sperm collects in the hen’s sperm pockets and is viable for two weeks.
Usually, this collected sperm fertilizes eggs for the next five days, but it can fertilize 14 eggs from a single mating encounter.
Cell division of the embryo begins after fertilization, but it stops if the egg is cooled after being laid.
However, the embryo is still viable for several days until heated up again by the hen or in an incubator.
Eggs need a warm, consistent temperature throughout incubation.
Chick development will then continue, with an incubation time of 21 days.
If the eggs cool for a few days before being incubated, it could take extra time.
Related: When do you stop turning chicken eggs?
If the hen is taking care of the eggs, this brooding time is spent all day in her nest.
She will become very territorial and peck at you if you attempt to touch her or her eggs until hatch day.
The hatching process begins when the embryo has fully developed into a baby chick.
If the egg is not fertilized, none of this process occurs, and the egg will never hatch a chick.
Why Do Chickens Lay Unfertilized Eggs?
If the egg is not fertilized, what is the point of laying an egg?
As I mentioned before, it takes 24 hours from fertilization to laying the egg.
This means the egg was almost fully developed when it was fertilized.
There’s nowhere else for the egg to go but out, even if it isn’t fertilized.
The hen will lay an egg almost every day until she has a pile of around a dozen eggs, called a clutch.
Once she has a large enough clutch of fertilized or unfertilized eggs, she’ll become broody and sit on them.
Wild chickens tend to have access to a rooster, so there is a high chance of fertilization in these flock animals than in domestic chickens kept without one.
Even though we don’t typically think of chickens as wild animals, this procreational instinct is why chickens will act as though their eggs are fertilized when they’re not.
Why Aren’t Grocery Store Eggs Fertilized?
Supermarket eggs typically come from poultry farms.
Since the goal of the egg-laying process is to produce as many eggs as possible, not chicks, farms have no reason to keep a rooster in their flock.
There is no fertilization or embryo development in the eggs packaged and sent to the store with no rooster around.
Because of this, there is no way to watch an egg hatch from the store.
I don’t want to eat a potential chick, and many people who eat eggs feel the same way.
This general consumer sentiment makes it also a practical business decision to keep only unfertilized eggs on the store shelf.
Can I Hatch Eggs from the Store?
Store-bought chicken eggs from commercial poultry farms aren’t fertilized, so they will never hatch into an accidental chick.
However, with other poultry like duck or quail, there is less strict segregation of the males and females in the flock.
Although rare, some report supermarket duck eggs or quail eggs hatching after incubation at home.
The next time you’re in the store, keep an eye out for “fertile eggs.”
Some stores, local farmers, and farmers’ markets offer fertilized eggs.
These eggs can potentially be hatched.
It depends on whether they’ve been refrigerated, how long, and at what temperature.
The eggs being in cold temperatures too long prevents the development of chickens.
Eggs also require specific humidity ranges during different times of the incubation process, and grocery store fridges stay at a lower humidity level than necessary because colder air holds less moisture.
There is also no guarantee these “fertile eggs” are fertilized, so don’t expect newborn chicks.
How Can I Tell if My Eggs are Fertilized?
If you’re still worried your grocery store eggs are fertilized, or if you’re hoping to hatch a potential chick from them, there are two main ways to check.
The easiest way is to crack it open.
This way makes the most sense when hoping to eat an unfertilized egg.
If your egg has a white ring around the yolk, it’s a fertilized egg.
It is highly unlikely a store-bought egg will have any more development for the chick at this point, especially when the chance of the egg being fertilized is essentially zero.
If you’re hoping to hatch a baby chick or just want to conduct a science experiment, use the candling process.
After incubating for a few days, shine a bright light under the egg’s larger end while in a dark room.
A fertilized egg will have a dark spot on the yolk with veins surrounding it.
Still, remember your supermarket eggs have a very low likelihood of being fertilized.
If you find your chickens have blood on their shells, you need to check out our article to make sure everything is OK.