The Oldest Question

The chicken crossed the road to lay an egg, because it was a free-range chicken, and it figured that the other side of the road would be as good a place as anywhere else.  If you give a free-range chicken a nice cozy little nesting box for their convenience, they won’t use it because they like to lay them in some random place that you won’t find for months.  The thing about chickens is that most of them don’t seem to remember where their eggs are, and once they lay them, they never go back looking for them.  Some chickens appear to be uncomfortable when they are laying their eggs, but once the egg is pushed through the hen’s vent by muscular contractions, they don’t seem to care if you take them, as their job is complete.  Actually, if you keep taking the eggs away from the hens, they will keep laying more, because humans have changed the way their bodies work over the years, with chickens being bred for egg laying making them produce egg after egg.  Birds lay eggs for the purpose of making more birds, not to feed us, but chickens are different from many other birds, because people have genetically altered them to serve our needs.

Laying eggs is an instinctive need for hens as they need to do this, and they are not doing it to hatch chicks, as they will leave their egg as soon as they have been laid.  You can take away all of their eggs without having to worry about hurting the hen’s feelings.  Chickens will lay one or sometimes more unfertilized or fertilized eggs a day until they have collected a clutch, which is usually is about a dozen eggs.  The hen will sit on them just as other birds do whether they are fertilized or not.  Most of the time hens will lay eggs right next to another egg, or they might move one egg out of the way so they can sit on the egg of their choice.  Some chickens will make a cackling noise going “buck-buck-buck-badaaack” to announce that they have just laid an egg.

If these eggs have been fertilized, then the hen will nest at various times and roll the eggs.  As time gets closer for her to start her set, she will spend more time on the nest controlling the growth rate of the embryos.  She does this by moving the eggs closer to her belly or farther away.  Realize that she has laid her clutch of eggs over a number of days, but her goal is to have all the chicks hatch within a twenty-four-hour period.  The first egg she laid may be twelve days older than the last egg she laid, but through careful manipulation of the eggs, she can speed up or slow down the rate of growth of the chick.  Most chickens that come across an egg with have a tendency to roll it this way and that way to keep the poultry in motion.  Like any good mother, the hen will constantly talk to her growing embryos and she may roll the eggs up to fifty times per day to exercise the embryo and prevent it from sticking in the shell.  When the hen sits on the eggs, she heats them to 100° F to 101° F.  She turns the eggs on a regular basis by using her beak to scoop under the egg and then rolls it toward her.  A hen might kick an egg out of the nest if they think it is bad, infertile, or it has a cracked shell, or she is uncomfortable sitting on it.  Some hens have been known to sit on unfertilized eggs for up to 7 weeks, before they give up on them not turning into chicks.  Embryos need considerable moisture to hatch properly and easily, so the hen will keep her eggs at the correct humidity by splashing water on them from her beak, and any moisture she transfers back to the nest on her feathers.

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Photo Challenge #383 hosted by weejars aka Sarah that uses a photo by Angela Kelly.

22 thoughts on “The Oldest Question

  1. So if in future someone asks me why the chicken crossed the road, I can reference this amazing treatise on egg laying chickens. And I can say “It’s not to find an egg” with some authority. Thanks, Jim. The post really was fascinating reading!!

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  2. We had 5 chickens when we lived in the cottage. We lost one after a few months, and another after about 18 months but our final three did us proud until we retired them as a group to a friend who had a lonely one eyed cockerel called Steve. It takes about 22 hours for an egg to form and be laid, but a couple of our hens liked the shadiness of the trees to lay, so we had to check there as well as the nesting box. In the time we had them, they presented us with about 1150 eggs.

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