Gillitts residents Pauline and Keith Young, who keep Koekoek hens on their farm Tokozisa outside Pietermaritzburg, were about to send a batch of Koekoek eggs for incubation when a carton of supermarket-bought, free-range eggs became mixed up with them. Unable to distinguish between the two, Young sent all the eggs for incubation. “We thought only the Koekoek eggs would hatch,” she said.
But all hatched, with the chicks from the supermarket eggs sporting weird and wonderful feathering. News of the ‘punk’ chickens spread and Young has been interviewed on radio and featured in local newspapers. “A number of commercial farmers have even called me to explain how it might have happened. Some people might be uncomfortable with the idea of eating fertile eggs, but I think it’s wonderful that these supermarket eggs were so fresh that they hatched,” said Young.
KZN Poultry Institute general manager Janet Lee said fertile eggs should not be sent to supermarkets. “It sounds as if the egg supplier was buying reject eggs from a breeder,” she added. Fertile eggs can remain viable for a while before incubation, with embryonic development determined by temperature. “When eggs are hatching on a breeder farm, they are collected from nest boxes four times a day and taken to cold rooms, where they are stored at 18°C until incubated,” said Lee.
“Embryos survive for about seven days under cold storage. At room temperature of about 20°C to 25°C, there could be some embryonic development occurring.” “The supermarket babies are being kept at our home as pets,” said Young, who did not wish to name the retailer who had sold her the eggs. Tim Nixon, president of the Southern African Show Poultry Organisation, said that the chickens were a mixed breed – but their physical appearance was not as strange as the story of how they had found their way into the world.