Identifying Fertilized Eggs: Tips for Determining Viability

Inside: Not sure if you have fertilized eggs? There are a couple of different methods you can use to see if there’s potential life inside an egg, or whether it’s simply a yellow yolk that won’t develop further.

You are thinking about incubating some of the eggs that you have collected from your chickens but are they fertilized? This is something you really want to know before you set up your incubator and your hopes. Here are a couple of ways to tell if you have fertilized eggs.

eggs in basket, eggs on a cloth, with Identifying Fertilized Eggs Tips for Determining Viability text overlay

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Identifying Fertilized Eggs: Tips for Determining Viability

You have decided that you want to incubate some eggs, once you have an incubator, it's time to pick some eggs to hatch. How do you pick eggs?

In order to have fertilized eggs, you first need to have a rooster in with your hens. Very important if you want fertilized eggs. Your hens will lay eggs without having a rooster with them.

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How to Tell if Eggs are Fertilized

If you are eating your freshly laid chicken or quail eggs, you can look at the yolks of the eggs you are eating. This is our most accurate method for testing our eggs.

Once you crack your egg, look at the yolk. You will see a white dot. If your egg is fertilized you will see a white circle around that white dot. A target.

How to Tell if Eggs are Fertilized - egg yolk with target

Another way to tell if your eggs are fertilized without cracking the egg is to candle them.

The oldest and easiest way to tell if an egg is fertilized is called candling the egg. It is holding the egg up to a very bright small flashlight.

If the egg appears opaque, it is probably a fertilized egg. By opaque, I mean, you can’t really see through the egg or it is much cloudier than all of the others. I don't like this method, because I can't always tell.

Candling an egg for fertilization

Just because an egg is fertile, does not mean it will become a chick, it must be properly incubated by the hen or under an incubator in order to develop into a chick.

Incubation Fertilization Check

After 7 days of incubation, you can candle the egg again. You will see that it has started to form–it will look kind of like red veins spreading throughout the egg.

You don't want to candle the eggs too often as it may interfere with development.

How do Chicken Eggs get Fertilized?

You need a rooster, and at least a hen, though I definitely recommend more because she will become over-mated. He is going to bite/pull on the feathers on her head and back. She will get bald spots, and it can't be comfortable.

A rooster inseminates a hen with his sperm by jumping on her back, lowering his tail, and touching her cloaca with his. This is called the “cloacal kiss”. Inside his cloaca, is a small raised point called the papilla. The papilla is what passes the sperm. This is how are chicken eggs fertilized.

This is the same for quail as well.

eggs, one egg cracked open, with Identifying Fertilized Eggs Tips for Determining Viability text overlay

How Many Hens Should You Have With A Rooster?

You should have at least four hens per rooster. I recommend more.

Last summer my four hens had bald backs and I had to get them aprons. And we have put aprons back on them this summer as we were only able to add one additional hen to that flock. (We already have another pullet plus a brooder full growing up.) Brahmas are active chickens.

My daughter has a silkie rooster with four hens and she has never had a chicken with bald spots.

I believe it can be dependent on the temperament of the rooster, breeds, and the size as well.

How to Tell if Quail Eggs Are Fertile

Quail eggs might be smaller than chickens, but the similarities are great between the two.

Quail eggs are thicker-shelled and their dark pigment makes it hard to see through the shell. Even when candling for chicken development it can be really hard to see through the shell. Meaning…

The best way to check fertility is to check eggs as you use them in cooking. Look for the same target you see in chicken eggs. The yolk might be small, but the target will be there. You might have to move the yolk around a little to get it in place to see.

The is one surefire way to check the fertility of your eggs though is to incubate those eggs and candle them on day seven. I know you don't necessarily want to start without knowing, but without cracking an egg this is your next most reliable method.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    How do you know if your male quail is ready to fertilize eggs? When you look in your quail cage do you see “foam” in the cage with waste? That is your sign that your male quail is ready to do his job!

    Do good quail eggs float or sink? The good eggs will sink to the bottom, while any eggs past their prime will float with the pointed end down. Discard the floating eggs, as they're not safe to eat.

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