My Facebook page and blog focus on the joys and challenges of backyard chicken-keeping and I am often asked questions on topics ranging from Ameraucana traits to molting and bumblefoot to poop. Many questions I am able to answer from personal experience and others I research in order to answer if I can. I was asked by Storey Publishing to review Gail Damerow's latest book, The Chicken Encyclopedia, and to my surprise and delight, it has become an invaluable resource, most recently in answering my own questions about rooster fertility.
The practical implications of this book were first impressed upon me by two unlikely suspects: my Black Copper Marans (BCM) rooster, Max and my 4 year old daughter.
Max & surrogate mama, ClariceMax came to me from Louden Farms in Ohio as a fertile egg early last July. He was my broody hen's sole hatchling and she helped him integrate seamlessly into the flock. I quickly became fond of this awkward singleton, but before long, it became apparent that he was a rooster, and I could not keep roosters. I knew he would have to go, but I could not resist the temptation to keep him long enough to breed him to my Marans hens.
Four of the Fab Five
Having Marans hens that were laying consistently dark, chocolate eggs that would make the Easter Bunny envious, I was anxious for Max to mature in order to breed. I had no idea how I would keep him without alienating my neighbors, but I had to try, at least for a little while.*
Eggs courtesy of the Fab FiveWhen Max began mating with the ladies in October, I regularly checked the BCM eggs for fertility and by mid-November, it was game time.
In December, I greedily began hoarding and hatching BCM eggs as quickly as my incubators would turn them into fluffy cuteness, for I knew spring would soon be upon us and that open windows + vocal rooster=cranky neighbors. Max’s days were numbered.
In early February, an elaborate plan evolved to return Max to his homeland, Louden Farms, some 576 miles away from us. It involved two days, three states, three cars and a limousine. Saddened at the thought of parting with my beautiful flock-master, I began sharing photos of Max and his impending trip with my Facebook fans, which prompted questions about when my chocolate egg well
might run dry. Turning to "Fertility," in The Chicken Encyclopedia, I learned that:“When a hen is inseminated, sperm travel quickly up the oviduct to fertilize a developing yolk. If the hen laid an egg shortly before, the mating will likely fertilize her next egg. The number of additional eggs that will be fertilized by the mating varies with the hen’s productivity and breed. The average duration of fertility is about 10 days. Highly productive hens remain fertile longer than hens that lay at a slower rate, and single-comb breeds remain fertile longer than rose-comb breeds — possibly as long as a month, but that’s pushing it.”
Being a hatch-a-holic, I obviously had to test the waters to see how long the Fab Five would continue to produce fertile eggs in Max's absence. After Max’s move, I continued to collect the Marans’ eggs and hold them until an incubator became available. Little did I know that my 4 year old had her own ideas about testing those same eggs. While I was out at the coop one morning, my daughter, MaryKate, decided to try her hand at the fine art of egg cracking. After having seen the pride in MaryKate's face at her accomplishment, it was impossible to be upset about it.
MaryKate's cooking class, not for the faint-of-heart.
I inspected the semi-scrambled eggs, which revealed that the eggs were not fertile.I do admit to having lost count of the number of Max's chicks that hatched over the past month since his departure, that's one of the symptoms of being a hatch-a-holic, but I do know that the very last egg in the incubator hatched tonight and it was from an egg that was collected 12 days after Max was last with the hens. He must have read the book.
Max's last Connecticut baby. Hatched 3/26/12.
*Max was carried into his ManCave (aka: rabbit hutch) in the garage every night for months and returned to his adoring harem after the neighbors left for work each morning.