If you raise chickens for their eggs, you’ve probably settled into a rhythm with them: you know your hands, no they’re laying schedules and they know when to expect you to come by and collect those eggs.
Once you get into a groove, it is a wonderful thing having fresh, wholesome eggs on demand whenever you want them.
But, depending on how you grow your flock and whether or not you have a rooster around, the question might not have crossed your mind before: is it okay to eat fertilized chicken eggs?
Yes, fertilized chicken eggs can be eaten safely so long as they are very freshly laid, within 3 days. Fertilized eggs older than that might show evidence of a developing chick inside.
In fact, if you take a fertilized egg from a chicken right away and then stick it in your refrigerator, it won’t appear any different or taste any different from a normal, unfertilized egg.
However, the longer you wait, the greater the chances that the egg will begin to visibly develop. You definitely don’t want that to happen for obvious reasons.
Keep reading, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about eggs and the fertilization thereof so you can make an informed choice if collecting them to eat.
Fertilized Fresh Eggs are Safe to Eat Only if Very Fresh
Let’s make sure this is entirely clear right up front: you can eat a fertilized chicken egg normally, but only if it is very fresh.
So long as they are very freshly laid, say within 3 days of being laid by the hen, you shouldn’t expect any real difference between them and eggs that aren’t fertilized.
This means you need a certain or nearly certain timetable on when a given egg was laid in the first place.
New egg in the AM when you make your rounds? Good to go. Did you skip the previous evening check, but checked again the next day? No problem.
But if you should find a mystery egg, or a hen sitting on a “surprise” clutch of eggs, and there is any chance whatsoever the eggs were fertilized, for the love of all that is good don’t take the chance!
When Do Eggs Get Fertilized?
Eggs only get fertilized one way, assuming humans don’t interfere in the process: a virile, intact rooster has to mate with a hen.
The rooster’s sperm will be deposited directly into the hen’s reproductive system and, provided it is viable, will fertilize the hen’s eggs.
Also note that the hen, as you probably already know, will lay eggs regardless of whether or not she has been fertilized.
Do Hens Only Sit on Fertilized Eggs?
No… Hens are said to be “broody” or “brooding” when they sit on a clutch of eggs. They do this with the intention of hatching them, but they can do so with fertilized or unfertilized eggs!
It is no uncommon occurrence to see a hen sitting on a pile of eggs even when she’s never been touched by a rooster. Accordingly, you cannot use broodiness as an indicator of fertilization one way or the other.
Conversely, it is also possible to have a rooster fertilize a hen and see no broodiness at all! This is dependent on the breed, since different breeds show different baseline levels of broodiness, and also on the individual hen in question.
Some specific hens are fanatically broody, while others don’t seem to care about their eggs one way or the other.
You’ll have to trust your own assessments based on the status of your flock.
Do Fertilized Eggs Look Different?
No, not externally anyway. Fertilized eggs don’t have any obvious external differences from the unfertilized variety. They don’t change color, shape or size
Internally, however, you should be aware that fertilized eggs may have a visible blastodisc where the egg was fertilized and began to develop before being laid by the hen. Again, this is only visible if and when you crack open the egg.
How Can You Tell a Fertilized Egg Apart?
The only way to reliably tell a fertilized egg from a non-fertilized one is to candle it after it is old enough to have begun some development.
The process of candling an egg is the use of a light source to illuminate an egg in order to identify physical and internal characteristics. This may reveal development in the egg.
The technique involves holding the egg in front of a bright light such as a flashlight (historically a candle) in a darkened room and rotating it slowly so that all sides of the egg can be inspected.
Because eggshells are translucent, any abnormalities or features within the egg will become visible once they are illuminated in this way.
The process should always be done carefully and with knowledge of what is being looked for so as not to risk damage or cracking of the egg.
Timing is Everything
Assuming you’re planning to eat potentially fertilized eggs, what’s the major takeaway here? The takeaway is that timing is everything, and in more ways than one…
You must be certain to collect and properly store fertilized eggs within a short time (1-3 days) after the hen has laid them.
You must also be sure to properly store your eggs immediately after collecting them in order to halt any further development!
Yes, that’s right: if you just leave your fertilized eggs sitting on the counter, or in a warm spot, they could continue to develop. That means you might be in for a bad surprise later on.
If You Collect Fertilized Eggs, Make Sure to Refrigerate Them Right Away
To prevent this unhappy occurrence, simply refrigerate your collected, fertilized eggs ASAP after bringing them in and cleaning them. This will stop any further development and preserve them for safe eating.
The best way to do this is just to store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Near the back by the blower is usually a good bet, but depending on your specific unit this might be at the top or the very bottom.
Fertilized Eggs Won’t Taste Any Different if they are Very Fresh
It is understandable if you feel a little skittish after reading all this. Do you really want to chance eating a fertilized egg? Will they taste different?
The good news is that they won’t taste different so long as they are collected and stored according to the directions mentioned above.
You prepare them as you would any other egg for immediate consumption, or use them in recipes normally.
So, don’t worry about any changes in taste or texture. Enjoy the eggs you have already collected so long as you are sure of the time-table.
Cracking Open an Older Fertilized Egg Will Be Gruesome
Now, what’s the worst that could happen if you play things fast and loose with the collection and use of fertilized eggs? If you decide to do that, or make a mistake, you could be in for a bit of a horror show come breakfast time.
After day 3, or very shortly thereafter, proper growth of the embryo will begin. This progresses rapidly to about day 10, when movement of the embryo will begin.
After day 14, you will notice the beginnings of a recognizable chick. Eyes at day 15, feathers at day 17. By day 21 it has feet, a beak, the works. It’s a proper chick, waiting to hatch!
So if you crack open an egg after embryonic growth has begun in earnest, you can expect to see blood vessels or much, much worse.
So once more: don’t take chances with any fertilized eggs you cannot positively date.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.