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I’ve admitted elsewhere that I’m a novice when it comes to keeping chickens. Despite mistakes and learning through ‘doing’, we’ve recently been blessed with 5 cute little baby chicks after one of our hens became broody. She sat on 6 eggs for 3 weeks and guarded them with her life. So what happened to the 6th egg? In short, it exploded. Now this was a new experience for me and one that, hopefully, I’ll never witness again. I didn’t understand what exactly had occurred at the time, but later searches on Google cleared the whole matter up, helped me to make sense of it all, and lifted the burden of guilt I was feeling as a result of my actions.

Here’s a factual account of what happened, followed by the scientific explanation what I learned from Wikipedia and other chicken-keepers’ blogs.

How I like to find my eggs

How I like to find my eggs

A whole week elapsed between the hatching of the first egg and the non-appearance of a chick from the sixth egg. I guessed something was not quite right. I discussed the situation with my 5 year-old who advised that if the chick had not hatched by the time school finished, we should take the egg away and let poor Blackadder (the broody hen) get on with her life again. I felt this was sound advice. At 3pm on the day in question, I donned large gardening gloves and attempted to lift Blackadder off the nest. She ran like the clappers. I removed the egg but felt I should examine it as part of my chicken-keeping learning curve. A voice in my head rightly cautioned – don’t let your daughter see this. I sneaked into a bathroom and decided the best plan was to tap the egg gently with a sharpish object – my nail scissors – perfect. With a small crack, I’d be able to see if a chick had filled the whole egg and probably hear it chirp. So, egg held over sink in case it was just a rotten one, nail scissors at the ready – tap – bang! The egg exploded as loudly as a balloon and the disgustingly gooey and rancidly stinky contents flew about 2 metres in all directions. I mean this was seriously gross – nothing on my face, a trace on my t-shirt and a hell of a lot on the bathroom walls. What remained in the sink was a well-developed but obviously dead, foetus. I didn’t know whether to retch or cry, but did neither as my brain tried to work out how to get rid of the absolutely overpowering and truly horrendous odour – I honestly can’t describe it. I worked fast, cleaned the bathroom first, then stripped and hopped in the shower (in another bathroom – the stench in the first was still unbearable).

This would've been better

This would’ve been better

Once again, I lied to protected my daughter, Layla from the truth. I told her the egg had been unfertilised (she gets this concept having seen our very active cockerel in action) so we’d have to make do with just 5 chicks. I was itching to get connected and find out what went wrong with that egg, mainly because I was racked with guilt – did I murder a baby chick? Surely not – that explosion wasn’t right, was it? Basically, what I found out was that bacteria can get inside an egg and cause a build-up of gases. These will inevitably kill the developing chick, and the concentration of gas in such a confined space, might cause the egg to explode as this one did. It can happen at any time, apparently and that’s why savvy chicken-keepers must be vigilant. The release of the bacteria can be harmful to already hatched chicks or indeed can contaminate unhatched eggs. I dread to think how Blackadder would have suffered if the egg had exploded while she was sitting on it. The experience of other bloggers suggests it’s wise to conduct a ‘controlled explosion’. I had no idea, but what I did was more or less right, except – and this is what I’m filing away for the future – I should have enclosed the egg in several plastic bags before cracking it open. Ah … the joy of hindsight.

Layla was right – Blackadder’s got her life back now. I eventually got my bathroom back although it did take several hours and some serious incense burning to get rid of the highly distinctive and totally putrid stench of a gas-filled exploding egg. We’re keeping our eyes peeled to make sure all eggs are collected promptly and into the kitchen as 5 chicks are quite enough work for this household. The image of that tiny foetus who wasn’t meant for this life has stayed with me too. It was sad and a little disappointing not to see all 6 eggs through to the hatching stage, but at the same time, it was a powerful reminder of the fragility of life. So many things can go wrong as a mother devotes herself to the task of giving birth. How wonderful and miraculous it is when all goes to plan and a tiny, new creature successfully negotiates the dangers, safely completing the journey to life.