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The Hatchery: From Egg to Chick

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well for the chicken you eat, technically, it is the egg! That’s because the first stop for fertilized eggs (not table eggs you buy in a carton) is at a facility known as a “hatchery.” Female chickens (hens) lay eggs all by themselves. However, when hens mate with male chickens (roosters) the eggs become fertilized – meaning a baby chick will hatch from it. The hatchery is where the fertilized eggs are incubated, and chicks are hatched before being sent to a farm to be raised for market.

First, the Eggs Incubate.

When eggs arrive at the hatchery, they are labeled and placed together according to their age and by what farm the eggs came from. This ensures traceability so companies know exactly where the eggs came from, and when. These shelves are then put into large incubators, which look like huge refrigerators, but they actually keep the eggs warm at a particular temperature range and in the correct humidity, with a turning mechanism to make sure the eggs are evenly heated and the embryo won’t stick to the side of the shell.

After 21 days, the eggs are placed in hatching trays and the chicks begin to hatch. Some facilities hatch up to 1.3 million chicks a week!

Then, the Eggs Hatch.

The chicks hatch by pecking their way through the egg to break through the shell. Newly hatched chicks are covered in wet feathers and are able to walk and see. Within a few hours after hatching, a chick’s fluff will have bulked up to twice their size.

After the Hatchery, the Chicks Go to the Farm.

After hatching, the broiler chicks are separated from the broken shells and then are carefully placed in specially designed transportation trays. Before leaving for the farms, chicks are sprayed with a vaccine mist to make sure they stay healthy from diseases, like bronchitis.

The same day the chicks hatch, they are transported to local farms, where they are raised by farmers and veterinarians until they are big enough to be sold for meat.

Curious to learn more about how broiler chickens are raised?

If you’re interested in getting a firsthand look at a typical hatchery, we developed an interactive 360° Virtual Reality (VR) Tour that transports you directly inside. On the tour, you will be able to look around and see the entire hatching process. This tour also gives you an introduction to just some of the talented people who dedicate their lives to raising America’s chicken.