Rooster Fertility: The Tale of Max & the Scrambled Hatching Eggs

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.

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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, Clarice

Max came to me from Louden Farms in Ohio as a fertilized 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 Five

When 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.

I am honored to have been asked to participate in the blog tour, book-review of The Chicken Encyclopedia, Gail Damerow is a well-known and highly respected and prolific author of such works as: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and The Chicken Health Handbook, both of which had been on my bookshelf long before a chicken ever stepped foot into my backyardI encourage anyone with pet chickens to acquire this book as soon as possible. It is that valuable a resource.

*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.

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Tribal Horse Designs
8 years ago

What a wonderful and warm story about Max and his ladies . I am learning alot from your blog each time i visit and i thank you for sharing with us .
I would love to enter the contest .

Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick

Hello Lisa, I'm so happy that you enjoyed Max's story.
Thanks for joining me on my chicken adventures here on my blog!

8 years ago

I have always enjoyed reading about your opinions and stories on facebook and your blog is awesome too. Thanks for sharing with us all, I have learned a lot about chickens and hatching them from you. One day, I do hope to hatch some of my own and I will use your advice. I intend to buy this book if I don't win it! I can't believe she doesn't mention pasty butt!

Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Amy

Thanks so much, Amy! Don't worry, we'll talk about pasty butt more in the near future. 🙂

Sara Sweatman
8 years ago

I enjoyed your story about your little girl and your hatching eggs. I have a six year old girl and a two year old girl. I could see either one of them "making mommy breakfast"! Priceless stories that I am sure will be told for the rest of her life!! I sure would like a copy of this book. My children and I read together every night and their questions on our new chicks are endless.

Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Sara Sweatman

Thank you, Sara! They sure do keep us on our toes, don't they?

This book will be a rich source of interesting conversations with your girls, can't recommend it any higher. You'll love it!

Sharon K.
8 years ago

I am really enjoying your site. I am hoping to start my first small flock this year. I am really excited to get started. This book looks like it will be a great resource.

Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Sharon K.

Hi Sharon and thanks for joining me! You're going to love keeping chickens! Please let me know if you have any questions I might be able to help out with and certainly pick up this book if you happen not to win it.

8 years ago

Please entry me to win the book.
I am so glad that for now my neighbors love my Maran rooster that looks just like Max. I do have 2 hens that are his babies but half Plymouth Barred Rock. Their eggs are dark, but not a speckled.

Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Charlotte

I wish I could've kept mine, Charlotte. You need some BCM hens to make more! 🙂

Thanks for stopping in.

8 years ago
Reply to  Charlotte

Hi Kathy~love reading your blog since I'm a chicken novice! Love,love,love them so much! I need all the help I can get 🙂


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