It’s no secret I love talking to people about all things chickens. I get so many great questions from people who are genuinely interested in these feathery friends! Of course, they usually ask about Happy or Roxanne, if I have the fluffy chickens (Silkies) and how many chickens are in my flock. But I also got some questions that surprised me.
I’m a firm believer that there are no bad questions. After, “How do you keep your chickens warm in the winter?” I usually get, “Do you need to have a rooster for your hens to lay eggs?” One time, I even got, “Do hens nurse their chicks?” Haha! I got a good laugh out of that one, but again, there were no dumb questions, so I simply answered that no, they didn’t! But here's some answers to the questions you might have on roosters and eggs.
How Do Roosters Fertilize Eggs?
When a rooster and a hen engage in mating behavior, the rooster transfers sperm to the hen through a process called "cloacal contact." This occurs when their cloacas, the common opening for reproductive and digestive tracts, make contact, allowing for the transfer of sperm from the male to the female.
Once inside the hen, the sperm can remain viable for several weeks, ready to fertilize any eggs the hen lays during that time. If an egg has been fertilized, the embryo begins to develop within it.
It's worth noting that the eggs we typically consume are not fertilized (from the grocery store or your coop as long as you don't have a rooster). However, it's also perfectly safe to eat a fertilized egg, as long as they're fresh and haven't been incubated. In fact, fertilized eggs look and taste just like unfertilized ones (see the comparison image below).
Do Chickens Need a Rooster to Lay Eggs?
My very first time hatching eggs was 4 years ago. I got these fertilized eggs from Alabama Silkies.
I get this question a few times a year. The answer is no! You don’t need a rooster for a hen to lay an egg. Hens will lay one egg every 24 hours all on their own. If you want to hatch out chicks, you do need a rooster though.
To produce an egg, chickens need an average of 12-16 hours of light, adequate calcium and a good diet. The whole process of how an egg is formed inside a hen is absolutely incredible!
How Do I Tell If an Egg Is Fertilized?
This is a great picture from Fresh Eggs Daily.
A fertilized egg will have a “bullseye” on the yolk somewhere. These eggs are perfectly safe to eat. If given enough time under a warm hen or incubator, however, they will start forming a chick. It takes 21 days for a chick to hatch.
Another method to tell if an egg is fertilized is called "candling." Use a bright light source in a dark room, hold the egg against the light and observe the interior. Fertilized eggs will display intricate spider-like veins and a dark area indicating embryo development, while unfertilized eggs will appear uniformly translucent.
The bottom line is that having a rooster with your flock is actually really fun! As long as they remain gentle and kind towards people and their hens, they’re a great asset. If they get aggressive, they can actually cause a lot of harm to people and even their hens. Roosters are majestic protectors who take their job seriously. However, I have quickly and easily made decisions to get rid of them if they turn mean. These are decisions that every backyard chicken owner will have to make!
My encouragement to you is to make the right decision for your family and your setup. People will always have plenty of advice or “tips” for you, but you know what’s best for your home. Sometimes, we have to make the hard decision to get rid of a rooster because that’s what’s best for everyone, and that’s okay!
With that said, it’s almost chick season here in Minnesota. I’m thankful for roosters and all they do for our flocks. I’m also so excited to add to our backyard crew this spring! Will you be adding to your flock?
Until next time,
–The Wing Lady