Whenever we start to talk about eggs, the chicken and egg controversy creeps in. The debate on which came first, still rages. The chicken also known as Gallus gallus domesticus is a domestic fowl that belongs to the clan of Red Junglefowl. Chickens are the largest species of birds found on earth. They are reared by humans from consuming their eggs or meat. Home-grown chickens feed on insects and seeds but wild chickens can eat even young mice and lizards. The life span of an average chicken may range from five to ten years. Females over a year old are known as hens, and younger females are known as pullets. The number of eggs a hen can lay depends on its breed, season and age. However, it is easier to measure the average egg production in a year. In their prime, hens can lay anywhere between 180-320 eggs a year. The egg laying process for a chicken gradually slows down and then may occur in the spring only.
The rooster is the male that does not lay eggs. A rooster has a large comb and its feet are quite large compared to a hen. A hen really does not need a rooster to lay eggs. It can lay eggs even in the absence of a rooster. A rooster is required for fertilization. Only fertilized eggs hatch to chicks. Most of the poultry farms operate without a rooster. An unfertilized egg has the same nutritional value as a fertilized egg. Most of the eggs available in the grocery stores are non-fertilized. Hence one does not have to worry about a chick coming out of the egg.
Broiler chickens are reared for meat. The broiler chicken reaches slaughter size in less than 6 weeks. Organic meat chicken is usually slaughtered at about 14 weeks of age. Chickens reared for eggs are referred to as "egg laying hens". These chickens mature at a relatively slow rate. Most chickens start laying eggs around 5-6 months of age depending on the breed. However, it is easier to tell when the chickens are ready to lay eggs. The comb of a matured chicken is distinctive and red. If you can fit three or more fingers between its pelvic bones, the chicken is ready to lay eggs.
The eggs that we generally buy from grocery stores are unfertilized. Many commercial vendors rear chickens in a battery cage where there is no rooster. Some store bought eggs can be fertilized if they are bought from a small poultry farmer. Home-produced chicken eggs can also be fertilized as people rearing hens may also have a rooster. If a freshly laid fertilized egg is refrigerated, the embryo will not develop. These eggs are perfectly safe to eat.
The term battery cage is popular in poultry farming. The hens are stacked in small wire cages that are lined in tiers inside very big warehouses. Hens are packed into 16 " cages. The space is so tiny that the hens cannot stretch their legs or their wings and cannot satisfy their normal behavioral needs. They also suffer from severe feather loss and bruises due to constant rubbing against the wired cages. The hens get extremely exhausted from laying eggs continuously for a year and suffer from fatty liver syndrome. They may also suffer from cage layer fatigue and generally die when their bodies are too weak to pass another egg. Well, there are few advantages of this system. The eggs are not laid on the floor. Therefore, eggs are always clean. As all the birds are caged, there is no bird underfoot. The hens require less feed to produce more eggs. However, the battery cage system has more disadvantages than advantages. Hence, it has been banned in many European countries like Germany and Switzerland.