Hatching Eggs

Living on the Earth, May 30, 1997:  Hatching Eggs

I was running a little late when I arrived at the Lorraine D. Foster Day School
in Hamden for an after-school meeting about the Gaia Project on Tuesday last
week.  It didn't matter, however, because the principal and teachers were
huddled over an incubator in the hallway, transfixed by an egg that was hatching
inside.  They were using a stethoscope to check on its progress.

After several hours of peeping and pecking away with its egg tooth, the chick
had made a hole in its shell almost big enough for it to emerge.  Its struggle
to get out was mesmerizing as we watched through the incubator's window.   

There's something very magical about a new life pecking to get out of an egg.
The chick peeps and strains, sometimes for hours, before making it out as a
wet/bloody bird, just about the size of the egg it has struggled to escape.  

What a week for hatching eggs.  Since most of them were from our farm, we have a
lot of interest in these special events.  On Wednesday, John, a teacher at New
Haven's Vocational Agriculture High School, told me that their first chick
hatched that day.  His students were also very transfixed by the event.
Apparently, the state inspectors who were visiting that day were fascinated,

On Friday, when Suzanne and I went to Bridgeport's Hallen School for an
afternoon of gardening, all the kids were excited by the chick that was hatching
in Mrs. McNamara's fifth grade classroom.  Peep, peep, peep.  How can you ignore
it?  Apparently a supervisor came in and tried to, but finally agreed to come
back another day.

Then on Sunday, Violet called to see when I wanted to pick up the chick that she
hatched in her classroom at Foote School in New Haven.  Taking the chicks back
is part of the deal, since we provided the eggs.  

In order for an egg to hatch, it must be fertilized.  That is, the hen that laid
it had to have spent time around a rooster.  The eggs in commerce today come
from hens who have never even seen a rooster.  They live half a million females
together, in cages in big, windowless buildings.  They were all hatched in
mechanical incubators. 

The fertilized eggs also need to be fresh and to have been kept from the cold.
Once spring arrives, the eggs from our small flock of barred-rock chickens,
eight hens and a rooster, are in demand for hatching.  We provide the eggs and
take back the chicks when necessary.  Occasionally, students persuade their
parents and they take a chick home to raise in their backyard.  There's
something so sensible and nourishing about a small flock of chickens.  Even a
tiny city lot can hold a few hens for a regular source of fresh eggs.

The barred-rock breed, with its attractive black and white stripped pattern is
quite beautiful.  The hens are very reliable layers, producing up to an egg a
day from the age of 5 months.  They will lay eggs for years, although in
somewhat declining numbers.  The males grow big enough to make good eating at
five months.  That's the fate of most of the roosters.  

Hens, eggs and chicks seem to be one of the most fascinating aspects of our
educational barnyard at the West Rock Nature Center.  Chickens are so ordinary,
yet direct experience with them is rare in our society today.  It used to be
that chickens were everywhere.  Now, they're locked inside of huge buildings
rather than running around outside in the barnyard.  Young children know that
chicks come out of eggs, but there's quite a bit of confusion about eggs for
eating and eggs for hatching.  When they see the hen in the nest box they assume
that she is sitting on her eggs, when in reality she is only laying one.  

Broodiness, the term used for a hen's tendency to sit on a nest of eggs to hatch
them, has been bred out of modern chickens.  This natural desire to lay a clutch
of eggs in some out-of-the-way place over the course of several weeks and then
spend three weeks sitting on them, gets in the way of commercial egg production.

How satisfying something so simple and authentic as watching an egg hatch can
be. It generates intense involvement and lots of questions in both children and

Experiences, like the hatching of a chick, which were formerly nearly universal,
are now rare.  The widespread interest in hatching eggs attests to the hunger
for some of those real experiences. 

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491

Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays  Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid.  These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.