We have some broody chickens in our hen house. The Buff Orpingtons in particular think they are ready to be mothers, but they invariably let others have turns in their chosen nesting box, and the result is 18-24 eggs under one hen in the course of 2 days, far more than she can hope to hatch out.
We’ve wasted a lot of eggs this way, mostly when the girls decide without telling me to leave the eggs under one hen. Usually I catch on within a day or two, when our egg production drops to half of normal because half of the hens are laying in the one box where the eggs aren’t being gathered.
This morning I found 16 eggs under a cranky buff. I brought them in and not knowing just how old they were, I decided to make custard right away. I would crack them one by one into a coffee mug and any eggs that showed signs of germination would go right to the dogs.
I cracked 9 warm eggs, one by one. Six were fit for custard and 3 with small spots of blood went to the dogs.
The next egg held a lot of blood and a tiny chick embryo. Disgusting, but fascinating. We fished it out with a fork and examined it. There were the beginnings of tiny eyes, and what we thought looked like a spinal cord. We all looked, then tossed it in the dog dish.
A few more eggs went into the custard bowl, and then it happened.
I cracked open an egg and as the yolk slid into the mug I found another embryo nestled in the bottom of the shell – but this one was slightly more developed. There was one other difference: this one was quite obviously alive. This one had a beating heart.
I watched for a moment, trapped somewhere between fascination and horror, then called the girls over to see. The heart kept beating. The little curled-up baby chick was smaller than a dime, with dark eyes the size of matchheads and tiny buds where his legs and wings would be, but his heart beat clear and strong. We watched the minutes tick by. It kept beating, and beating, and beating. He lay in a puddle of egg white in half of his egg shell, curling occasionally, and his tiny heart beat on. The Boy asked me why we couldn’t just give him back to his mom. Eventually, the children moved on to other activities. After 2 hours, the tiny heart was still beating, and finally somebody ended it.
We eat eggs every day, and we eat meat. We all know and understand that animals die for us, but this was different somehow. We wanted to eat the egg before the chick began growing or let it hatch and grow into a chicken. It hurt and horrified us to waste the life and death of one of God’s creatures, even such a tiny one. The girls blamed each other for not gathering the eggs soon enough, and some rushed to put the broody hen into a separate cage with her own nesting box where she could work on hatching out the remaining eggs.