Testing the Eggs

Reader Contribution by The Historic Foodie
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About half way through my first trial at incubating eggs with five Bourbon Red turkey eggs and an assortment of Buff Orpington and Ameraucana chicken eggs, I am trying to learn how to candle the eggs. I made the candler, which works pretty well. I grew up with poultry, in fact, one might say I was raised in a hatchery.

My dad could not pass the physical to join the military due to having severe asthma, but no one wanted to hire him to work because they were afraid they’d train him and then he’d be called up for service. My parents were newly married and having a hard time financially until Mr. John Joseph Neidert hired both my parents to work in his hatchery. They couldn’t afford to pay someone to keep me so they took me to work with them. Mom would spread a blanket out on the floor and I’d sit on the blanket and play with some toys while she and Daddy did their work. Mr. Neidert had no problem with the arrangement and, in fact, if he needed one or both parents to come in to work up eggs he’d tell them to bring me along.

At home it was left up to the hens whether or not they wanted to sit on a clutch of eggs so incubation is foreign to me, but I’m determined to master it.

Photo:  Meyer Hatchery

For the candler, I used a round Quaker Oats box and wired up a porcelain lamp base, which sits inside the box to provide the light. I cut a small slit to allow the electrical cord to protrude, covered the lid in aluminum foil to block unwanted light after cutting a round hole in the plastic lid for the eggs to sit in. It was more effective after Martin lined the inside of the box with aluminum foil, seemingly reflecting all the light up through the hole in the lid.

I’ve candled my eggs thrice now. I had a couple or so I’m sure are viable and should produce a chick. I have a couple I am pretty sure are duds, and the remainder I’m not sure about. I’ve read instructions and looked at photos online ad nauseam and I’m convinced only practice is going to hone my skills at incubation.

The chicken eggs were given to me when I bought chicks and frankly haven’t been my primary concern. Yesterday afternoon I could hear a chick from inside the egg and around midnight it hatched. It was one of the Americaunas so hopefully there are colored eggs in store for the grandkids. It was a great feeling being rewarded with my first hatchling.

 The Bourbon Reds are a different matter. I desperately want these to hatch and hope Tom Turkey did his manly duty by the gals. I’m steeling myself to remove and trash one tonight that is clear and shows no sign of development. All the hoping in the world isn’t going to create life in an infertile egg or resurrect a chick that has died from some natural cause, but I’m so hopeful I haven’t been able to toss it yet.

One of the cons of rural living, especially when power comes from a co-op, is occasional interruptions in electrical service, and smack in the middle of the incubation cycle we lost power for four hours. Despite wrapping a heavy towel around the incubator, the temperature dropped to about 94 degrees. It still remains to be seen how much of an adverse effect the drop in temperature had on the developing turkey poults.

Today I read Robinson’s First Lessons in Raising Poultry and found the section on candling to be clear and precise, more so than some of the forums I’ve read. Let’s have a look, shall we?

“It is always best to test eggs as soon as they have incubated long enough to show development, and remove all infertile eggs and all showing dead germs or a general breaking up of the liquid contents of the egg. It is such eggs that are most likely to break, and when they do break make the worst mess in the nest [or incubator].

“Egg testers are sold by all dealers in poultry supplies. One of the most common forms is a metal chimney to go on an ordinary lamp. One side of the chimney at the point opposite the flame of the lamp, is cut out and fitted with a piece of heavy felt in which is an oval hole of such dimensions that when an egg is held before it, the light shines through the egg, and whatever developments are made inside the egg can be seen.

“A homemade tester may be made of a box of such size as to contain a common hand lamp [an oil lamp with a glass chimney]. The accompanying illustration shows how such a tester may be made. White shelled eggs may be tested at the fourth or fifth day. Dark shelled eggs can sometimes be tested at the fifth day, but when the shells are thick and strong, as well as dark, it is as well to let testing go until the seventh day.

“The most pronounced indications of fertility and beginning development of the chick are a clearly defined air space at the large end of the egg, (the egg should be tested large end up), and a cloudy appearance, densest in the upper part of the egg.

“An absolutely clear egg is either an infertile egg or one in which the germ did not develop far enough for its death to immediately cause decomposition to begin about it.

“An infertile egg will not decompose during the period of incubation, but would be clear if allowed at the end of three weeks to remain under the hen the full period.

“Heavy red lines or clots in the egg indicate dead germs. In a white egg a spider-like red spot is often seen at the first test. This is the beginning of the development of the arterial system, and the egg showing it is all right.

“When the air space, as seen through the tester, is not permanently defined, but the line between it and the fluids of the egg moves as the egg is turned about, the germ is dead, and the egg is decomposing.

“The various conditions described above are not always unmistakably plain. Practice is required before one becomes expert in distinguishing them. In all cases where there is doubt, mark the egg and leave it for the next test, which should be made about the end of the second week. At that time the air space should show very plain, while all below it is dark.”

And there we have it – no defined air space, no chick.

Until next time,

The Historic Foodie


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