When two of my Buff Orpingtons went broody a little over a month ago, I thought it would be a fun experience to give them the chance to hatch and raise chicks. Because I don’t keep a rooster, I had to find a way to get fertile eggs under them. Purchasing fertile eggs seemed like the easiest thing to do.
I quickly learned buying fertile hatching eggs online can be a risky proposition. If you are new to buying fertile eggs, today I am sharing what I learned a lot about sourcing, handling and incubating fertile eggs.
Why Buy Fertile Chicken Eggs Online?
Right off the bat, let me be clear. The best way to get fertile eggs for hatching is to find a local source. But if you can’t find the breeds, or selection of chickens you want, at the time you want them locally, the next best option is accepting the cold hard reality that shipped eggs are a risky investment and take your chances on eggs purchased online.
I know I very bluntly stated the risks involved with buying shipped fertile eggs, and you may be wondering “If it’s that much a of gamble why bother?” But there are some seriously appealing benefits to ordering fetile eggs. The variety of available chicken breeds will drastically open up! From rare show birds, to barnyard mixes you can find almost anything and have it shipped right to your door! You are no longer limited to the basic hatchery stock at your local feed store. You can also order the number of eggs you’d like without dealing with shipping quantities from large hatcheries, or the state mandated minimum of purchasing 6 live chicks at a time in New York State. Alson, shipping eggs is typcially less expensive than shipping live chicks.
And I can’t overlook my favorite reason for buying fertile eggs! You get to see the miracle of birth. Watching chicks hatch is an amazing process, that my whole family enjoyed.
Where To Buy Fertile Chicken Eggs for Hatching?
It’s actually pretty easy to find fertilized eggs for hatching online. Facebook groups (although selling livestock is against Facebook’s terms of service), online auction sites like Ebay, or even small homesteading shops on Etsy are loaded with listings for all sorts of poultry and waterfowl eggs.
When you are looking at listings for fertile eggs, look for pictures of the flock and farm to get an idea of what you will be getting. Make sure you are clear on what the sellers policies are regarding broken eggs. Also ask sellers a lot of questions before you purchase so there are no surprises later.
What to ask the Seller of Fertile Eggs?
Good communication between you and the seller is crucial when you are dealing with something as fragile as fertile eggs. I think it is important to reach out to sellers and ask questions before you purchase your eggs, the timeliness and professionalism of their responses is just as important as their actual answers. Steer clear of any one who isn’t responsive.
When you are reaching out to the seller here are a few good questions to ask:
- Ask when the eggs will be collected? Ideally you want eggs that are collected shortly before shipping.
- Ask what the average hatching rate is? Above 75% is good, 50% is standard for shipped eggs. If it’s below 50%, consider if the price is worth the risk. Some breeds just don’t hatch well.
- Ask what the shipping procedure is, and how the eggs are packaged for shipping.
- Ask to see a photo of the flock or parent chickens if there isn’t one available in the listing. If you are looking to build a flock to produce a specific egg color, ask to see a photo of the eggs.
- Tell the breeder if you want the eggs delivered to your house, or held for pick up. This is handy if the eggs are being shipped during extreme temperatures or if you are away from home when the eggs are delivered.
- If you are considering selling or breeding chickens yourself, ask the seller if they are National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified.
How much do fertile chicken eggs sell for?
Depending on the breed, quality of the flock the eggs are from, you can expect to find a huge range of prices for fertile hatching eggs. I have seen “barnyard mix” which is a term usually used to describe a mix breeds, that could be pure breeds, mixes of mixed chickens, you never really know what you are going to get, gor for $3 a dozen. I’ve also priced out top quality eggs from breeder stock that has been selected because the flock best resembles the ideal breed standard and will likely create show quality offspring selling for $100 a dozen.
I paid $25 for a dozen pet quality purebred lavender orpington hatching eggs. Shipping ran me about $15 dollars.
Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They’re Hatched
Even under the best possible circumstances, not every egg will hatch. Some just aren’t fertile, some start to develop and for various reasons stop. But when you add the United State Postal Service into the equation the possible success rate drops dramatically.
On average you can expect a hatch rate of around 80% of fresh fertile eggs that have been locally sourced, either from your own flock or nearby farm, if they are from a reliable stock, kept in perfect conditions and you have a reliable incubator.
BUT – and this is an important “but” – eggs delivered by any shipping method the hatch rate is likely to drop to 50% or less.
It’s important to keep your expectations in check when hatching fertile eggs that have been purchased online. Even if the box containing your eggs is marked fragile and is thoughtfully packed, and the carrier is careful, there’s likely to be jolting around in transit, and because storage conditions in warehouses and shipping terminals are likely to not be the optimum environment for a hatching eggs, along with the extended shipping times that are common with the USPS since 2020, fertile eggs moving through the postal service isn’t a ideal situation for high hatch rates.
My Experience Buying Fertile Eggs Online
When one of my Buff Orpington hens went broody, I thought it would be fun to give her the opportunity to be a mother. At the time I didn’t have a rooster, so purchasing fertile eggs seemed like the best solution to supply my broody girl with fertile eggs. I did a quick search for local suppliers on craigslist and Facebook, but only came up with “barnyard mix” eggs, which really didn’t interest me. I figured if I was going to add more chickens to my flock, I wanted to add a breed I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, lavender orpingtons.
I found a couple of sellers of Lavender Orpington hatching eggs on Ebay, and after reaching out to the sellers to ask a few questions I choose the seller that was most receptive to my questions, had the best feedback rating, and was willing to ship my eggs on a Monday so my package wouldn’t be sitting in a warehouse over a weekend while we were still in the midst of some winter-like weather.
I placed my order with the seller and we agreed to wait a few days so my eggs would be shipped on a Monday. I received my eggs 4 days later, and the exterior box was in very good condition. The large exterior box contained a smaller box surrounded by shredded newspaper which held my eggs. Each egg was individually bubble wrapped and packed in more shredded newspaper.
Despite the careful packing 3 eggs had broken during shipping. When I carefully unwrapped the broken eggs it didn’t take long to realize the shells were thin and brittle, and one was soft. I reached out to the seller, who informed me after she sent the eggs she became aware that one of her birds in her breeding pen was bullying the others, and a few had been pecked bald in some spots around the vent. She didn’t refund me for the 3 lost eggs, citing the fact that they are a natural item and she can not control the quality of the eggs. I believe the soft brittle eggs could have been avoided with better coop and flock management.
I candled the remaining eggs to look for small cracks that were not initially visible. I noticed that one of the eggs was dirty, a few of the eggs had very porous shells (not great), and almost all of them had jiggly air sacks (also not great). The seller has no control over what happens to the air sacks during shipping, but it is my opinion that dirty eggs or porous eggs should have never been packed up to be shipped.
At this point after I candled the eggs, I was pretty disappointed and actually felt foolish for not doing a better job researching where to buy fertilized eggs. But I was this far into it, so I decided to see the thing through.
When it was all said and done 5 of the 9 eggs I placed in the incubator and under the broody hen hatched. The dirty egg and the most porous eggs didn’t hatch. The porous eggs never started developing, while the dirty egg did start developing, but quit progressing early in the incubation process.
The Most Important thing you Can Do After Receiving Eggs in the Mail
It is so tempting to immediately put your fertile eggs under a hen or in the incubator as soon as you unpack and inspect them, but you are going to want to let them sit undisturbed for a brief period of time to recover what was likely a rough ride in the postal system. One of the recommendations I kept running across during my research was to let shipped eggs is to let sit and rest for 24 hours. Place them, big end up in an open egg carton and allow them to rest at room temp, for 12-24 hours. This lets the air cell settle into position at the top of the egg (the big end) and allows the temp to stabilize before placing them in the incubator or under a broody hen.
After 24 hours of undisturbed settling I placed 5 of the eggs in the incubator and 4 under by broody hen. I followed the instructions that came with my Harris Farms Nurture Right Incubator, which I found incredibly easy to use and maintain the recommended temperatures and humidity. At around 13 days into the incubation process I candled the eggs in the incubator and discarded 2 eggs. I cracked them open to inspect the development, and found no development whatsoever. I choose not to disrupt the broody hen, and let her manage her own eggs at this time.
Final Thoughts on Buying Fertile Eggs Online
I really have mixed feelings about my experience purchasing fertilized eggs online. On one hand I was absolutely thrilled to get 5 healthy baby chicks! On the other hand, I feel my hatch rate could have been much better if the seller would’ve done a better job selecting eggs to ship, and had that been the case I would have had a great hatch rate for shipped eggs.
I got a 42% hatch rate out of 12 fertile eggs, which is right around the expected outcome, however, had the egg quality been better I can’t help but think I would have had a better turn out.
Will I buy fertile eggs online again? That is a tricky question. As I move to focusing my backyard chicken raising efforts onto raising Orpingtons, I can see myself potentially trying to source better genetics and quality birds from breeders outside of my local area. I would be willing to try my luck at shipping fertile eggs again, however I would spend much more time researching breeders and sellers, I would ask for feedback from Facebook groups about preferred sellers of fertile eggs, instead of relying solely on Ebay feedback to aid in decision making.