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Ordering Hatching Eggs: What to Expect

By Kelly Klober

There is a long history to the hatching egg trade and among my grandparents’ antiques and collectibles were a number of hatching egg shipping crates. One was made of one half inch by one-half inch hardwood slats fitted together to form an open-weave box that would accommodate several flats of eggs. It had a solid wood bottom and fitted top and a wrought iron handle for carrying. Another had a box made of aircraft aluminum and had egg dividers made of rigid cardboard with metal reinforced top and bottom edges.

Hatching eggs were once shippable when live birds weren’t and that happened again one autumn just a few years back. Under prodding from animal rightists and due to economic maneuvering, a number of airlines refused to handle live shipments as a part of their mail handling contracts. Hatcheries and poultry groups became organized to form a shippers’ group and brought about a Congressional mandate requiring that live shipments continue as a part of the services provided by the U.S. Mail.

Today, for ease of shipping and handling, most hatching eggs are sold by the dozen. Even with great care hatching eggs are far from a certain proposition. The key is to buy the freshest eggs possible. Swallow hard and pay for the best and fastest shipping option available to you. Be realistic with your expectations and accept that this is probably the longest route to flock establishment.

chick with egg
There are certainly no sexing guarantees with hatching eggs and the safe assumption will be that of every ten chicks hatched, six will be little cockerels. To build workable numbers you should order hatching eggs in at least two dozen lots whenever possible and figure on having to order multiple lots in the early going.

The Internet now is home to a great many hatching egg auctions and marketing sites. It has certainly revived interest in this purchasing option and in the early stages of revived interest in them some rare breed genetics are only available in hatching eggs. Such eggs are often offered in very small lots (three or four), are offered in mixed lots with eggs of other breeds, and sell for some quite high prices. I have seen eggs of some of the rarest of the rare offered for as much as ten dollars per egg plus shipping costs. Also, bear in mind that some states have regulations on shipping hatching eggs that are every bit as restrictive as the rules and limits on shipments of live birds. Nor is it currently legal to have hatching eggs simply mailed in from abroad.

There is not a lot of difference between hatching egg and baby chick prices when packaging and shipping costs are factored into the price equation. Getting a hatching egg from point A to point B is a challenge worthy of the best design engineers; in fact, one major university in the nearby St. Louis area each spring has an egg-based design competition for its engineering students. They are to create containment for a raw egg that will enable it to survive a one-story (ten feet) drop on to a hard surface. A very, very few eggs survive this challenge despite some most elaborate container designs.

How Eggs are Shipped

The recommended hatching egg shipping procedure is to begin with a heavy weight shipping box that will allow at least four inches of padded space all the way around each smaller container of eggs to be shipped. Into the larger carton begin by laying down a four-inch layer of styrofoam peanuts or balled sheets of newspaper. The smaller, internal containers are regular one-dozen egg cartons. The eggs go into these cartons small end down, but before sealing it, wrap each egg in one sheet of paper toweling. Draw the edges of the towel up over the egg and twist them closed to form a small pouch. It holds each egg more securely in place, provides a bit of padding, and should keep other eggs in the carton cleaner if one does break. Some will use a square of bubble wrap rather than paper toweling, but it is not absorbent.

eggs in carton
Some people will fill all twelve segments of the egg carton and others will alternate or stagger the position of the eggs in the carton placing just six eggs in each carton.

Then close the carton, secure it, wrap it in bubble wrap and secure it again. Place one or two cartons on the base packing layer and pack all way around them with at least four inches of the packing material. With a deep carton, lay down a four to six-inch layer of packing material below the first eggs and place one or two more dozen on top of this. Then pack around them — up the sides and top with at least four inches of your packing material. It is probably best to try to ship no more than four-dozen eggs per shipping carton with this method.

Our local postal workers have always been considerate of egg and chick shipments. Becoming available now are a number of new shipping containers and foam packing materials that should do much to facilitate hatching egg shipments. Much discussed is the need or advisability of insuring hatching egg shipments and to what level. Some have reported that postal authorities will only award table egg prices should hatching egg shipments be damaged or lost.

At first glance, hatching eggs would seem the least-cost option for making a start with chickens, but they do not fare well in transit even with the best of packing. Handling, jarring of the egg air cell, and time in transit all combine to reduce hatchability. With shipped eggs, getting thirty to forty percent hatched has to be considered quite successful.

Some of the rarest breeds and emerging hot varieties are often only available as hatching eggs. Also, hatching eggs are the shipping option with which a number of the smaller breeders feel most comfortable. They will sell only hatching eggs and only after they have introduced enough hatching eggs for their own needs. Thus such eggs are often offered in what might be termed the off-season for hatching egg production. At the height of interest in the Penedesenca breed you would often see their eggs offered in lots as small as just three or four eggs and in assortments with eggs of other breeds. This is certainly not the best way to make a start. The numbers are just too small to create viable populations, but sometimes it is the only game available.

newborn chicks
For a brief time one recent fall, the only way to access poultry genetics nationally was through the purchase of hatching eggs.

There are a number of steps to consider for bettering your chances of success with purchased hatching eggs.

Helpful Tips

• Have your incubator up and running in good working order well in advance of any egg delivery date. You will need a minimum of seventy-two hours of optimum running to assure that the incubator is operating at the correct temperature settings.

• Request that you be sent eggs that have been laid for no longer than three days. Yes, eggs up to two weeks old will hatch if stored correctly, but after about seven days, the hatching percentages easily start to decline. An older egg age and lengthy shipping time combined are just too big a deterrent to a good hatch.

• Do not order eggs to be sent when weather extremes are apt to occur. If at all possible, drive to pick up any hatching eggs or try to work with fellow producers who are traveling to transport eggs back to you.

• Notify your post office if you are expecting a hatching egg shipment, ask them to call you when they arrive, and open the container at the post office in case some sort of damage in transit has occurred and a claim for loss is to be filed.

• At home unpack the eggs, remove any broken or cracked eggs, candle them for fine cracks, and then let them stand for twenty-four hours to allow the air cell to reposition if it has been moved out of position.

• Do not attempt to incubate eggs stained with the yolk and white of broken eggs. Wipe them with a soft cloth. Scrape lightly or even buff gently with fine-grained sandpaper if the egg material has dried.

I know it is a most controversial practice, but I have had success with dipping hatching eggs needing cleaning into a bowl of warm water, about 103 degrees F. I may even add a bit of household chlorine bleach to it. Dip them for no more than thirty seconds and wipe them carefully with a soft cloth.

Use light pencil strokes to denote their origin and other essential data on the eggshells. Also note such data in your incubator operation log.

Source: Talking Chicken