Guest blog by Becca Wysocky, NC State University Prestage Department of Poultry Science
North Carolina’s poultry industry contributes largely to our state’s overall agricultural economy. In fact, it accounts for nearly 45% of our state’s farm cash receipts. North Carolina not only has varieties of commercial flocks, but also small flock producers and backyard enthusiasts that commonly enjoy hatching their own flocks. Different chicken breeds are wildly unique in various ways and exquisitely enamoring because of their cute and fluffy characteristics.
So, which came first – the chicken or the egg? No one truly knows, but in this blog, we are going to start with the egg. Embryo development occurs only under the proper physical and environmental conditions, resulting in a chick. But there are twists and necessary turns along the way to becoming a chick. Keep reading to learn more!
Step 1: Incubation
Every component of the egg plays a role in embryonic development – from the yolk and albumen (egg white), to the shell membranes, air cell and shell. In an incubator, temperatures may vary but should be maintained at approximately 99-100F with 55-60% relative humidity. When using an automatic egg turner, the eggs should be set with the large end up. If an automatic turner is unavailable, the eggs need to be turned by hand an odd number of times each day. Turning every few hours for the first 18 days is critical for the embryo to correctly form and hatch. After day 18, the eggs no longer need to be turned. In all, it takes 21 days for a chicken to hatch.
Step 2: Hatching
It takes approximately 24 hours for a chick to hatch. On day 20, they begin the hatching process by piercing the air cell inside of the egg. Using the “egg tooth,” they will slowly break through the shell in a counterclockwise motion. Finally, using their feet, they will break out of the shell. It is highly discouraged to aid in the hatching process because it could impose serious risks to the health of the chick.
Step 3: Post-Hatch
After the chicks break out of their shell, they will appear wet, lethargic and weak. They are unsteady on their legs and often roll around, sometimes ending on their backs. Once dry, they should begin to walk and take on normal behaviors such as pecking. Chicks can survive up to 3 days without feed or water, but once they are dry, they are given access to both. Chicks should be completely dry with a fully closed navel before being moved out of an incubator to a brooder.
Egg and poultry farming in North Carolina expands from the mountains to the coast and represents various components of the farming industry like broiler chickens, turkeys and laying hens. North Carolina egg farmers supply eggs to grocery stores and restaurants for customers to have readily available. A majority are delivered to the stores within 24-72 hours from the time the egg is laid by the hen. NC egg farmers are proud to provide consumers with fresh eggs!
Eggs can be used for nutrition through direct consumption or incubated to grow the next generation. Either way, eggs provide a substantial amount of nutrient-rich protein, locally, nationally, and globally, and that is why we call it the Incredible Edible Egg!
Learn more about eggs and egg farming at NCEgg.org or the NC State University Prestage Department of Poultry Science.