Chicken Incubators and the Egg

Early chicken incubators and brooders eased work of farm wife’s chore.

| April 2017

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We can’t answer that question, but we do know that the hen predated the incubator. The history of chickens (Gallus domesticus) is not completely clear, but the domestication of chickens probably occurred about 6000 B.C. and can be traced back to wild species living in the jungle.

One of the early influences of chicken domestication was cockfighting, which led to the distribution of fowl around the world. Many Bible verses refer to chickens. The breeding and selection of chickens over the centuries have resulted in some 350 combinations of physical features known today. The purebred fowl of today are basically the same as they were 100 years ago, while the commercial chicken industry is constantly developing, through science, a fowl that produces nutritious meat and eggs with extreme efficiency.

For centuries, chickens propagated and increased the number of the species in natural ways. That is, the rooster fertilized the hen’s eggs, the hen laid eggs, she became “broody,” made a nest, laid a “clutch” of 10-12 fertilized eggs in a nest and “set” on them for 21 days (keeping them at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, turning them several times a day and maintaining a constant humidity). After all that, chicks were hatched.

The hen takes several days to lay a clutch of eggs in a nest, but chick development begins with incubation, thus, all of the chicks in the clutch hatch within a day or two of each other. The hen usually remains on the nest for about two days after the first chick hatches. During that time, the chicks feed by absorbing their internal yolk sac.

The state of being “broody” is controlled by instinct, hormones and lighting conditions. A broody hen will fiercely guard her clutch of eggs and her chicks after they hatch. She keeps them warm and leads them to food and water, but returns to the nest at night to keep them warm and guard them.

Egyptians make discovery

As early as 750 B.C., the Egyptians discovered the technique of artificial incubation. If the hen were kept from “brooding,” they reasoned, she could lay more eggs. A modern, well-nourished, healthy hen in a proper environment is capable of laying an average of 265 eggs a year. A hen’s egg-laying ability is automatic and requires no rooster to be present.