Ask Pablo: Can You Hatch Store-Bought Eggs?

Open carton of a dozen white and brown eggs

Danielle Macinne / Unsplash

Dear Pablo: I heard a rumor that you can incubate store-bought eggs and actually hatch chicks. Can this be true?

Contrary to common belief, a rooster is not required for hens to produce eggs. With this said, most commercially produced eggs are laid by hens that are isolated in cramped wire cages with no roosters present (sadly, the rooster chicks are sometime sent to their deaths in a shredder or are processed into "chicken flavor"). More and more stores are offering "fertile eggs" or "fertilized eggs" and there is a chance that regular "cage free" hens have access to a rooster. You can also obtain fertile eggs from a local egg farmer or farmers' market.

So you can obtain fertilized eggs but are they really capable of hatching? One problem is that store-bought eggs are not raised specifically for hatching and that there is no guarantee that any of the eggs are fertilized. The most obvious issue is probably that store-bought eggs are usually refrigerated, which you would think might kill any chances of hatching a chick. So, is there any chance that is is possible?

Is It Really Possible to Hatch Store-Bought Eggs?

A discussion thread on the blog BackYard Chickens about this very topic has recently gained in popularity. Numerous forum participants claim to have successfully incubated and hatched eggs purchased at Trader Joe's! Why would anyone do this? "I think there's something neat about giving a wonderful life to a peep that originated from parents kept in horrible factory farm conditions," writes user "le neige homme."

See them for yourself:

How Do I Hatch My Own?

First, you need to figure out if any of your eggs are fertilized. Start with eggs labeled "fertile" or "fertilized." Next you will need to crack one open. You need to look for a white mark on the yolk. This white mark will be perfectly round if the egg is fertile (called a blastoderm). If the egg is not fertile the white mark will not be perfectly round and may be smaller (called a blastodisc). If you find a reasonable proportion of fertile eggs you have a chance of actually hatching one.

The freshness of the eggs will be important. If they have been refrigerated for too long they may not be viable. Move them to an incubator and wait. There was some indication on the discussion board that the store-bought eggs take longer to hatch and that the chicks are not as vigorous. If you are not a self-proclaimed "hatchaholic" like many of the discussion board participants, this might be a little too much effort. For the rest of us there are local hatcheries and farm supply stores that would be happy to sell us already-hatched little peeps. Just be sure that you know what you are getting yourself into.