It is something many people have tried or thought about trying at least once in their life: getting store bought eggs to hatch. They have probably done this without thinking about what they would do with the chicken if it did hatch, but that’s another story. It is hard and a little odd to imagine that breakfast food could actually have been alive and growing before cooking it, but it is surely not an impossible occurrence. Once hens reach reproductive maturity, they begin producing eggs whether or not they have been fertilized by a rooster. Only fertilized eggs have the capacity to grow and hatch and it’s not impossible that a fertilized egg could wind up in your refrigerator.
Eggs that come from large factories, where the chickens are caged, will most likely never hatch, simply due to the fact that the hen has probably never left her cage and has therefore never encountered a rooster to fertilize her eggs.
Free-range eggs are another story. Eggs that have been marked as “free-range” mean that the hens that produced them were not caged and were allowed to roam “free” on the farm. It is possible that these hens have had interactions with roosters, as it is a quite common practice for farmers to introduce a rooster into the flock of hens to regulate their behaviour. These types of eggs are the ones that have potential to hatch.
Without a hen, hatching an egg requires quite a bit of effort. The eggs should be kept at or just above body temperature and about 50% humidity to mimic the conditions of the mother hen sitting on them. Incubators are ideal for this, which is mainly why very few people have successfully hatched a store bought egg. I don’t know many people who keep incubators in their storage closets…
Even before incubating, it’s baffling that the chicken embryo could have possibly survived the transport, refrigeration, washing, being tossed around by machines and conveyor belts, sorting, packaging, storage, more transport, and more refrigeration in the store and at home. Surprisingly, it’s survivable because of the simple mechanisms behind how eggs work. The embryo is only a small collection of cells on the egg yolk’s wall during all this and it is protected by the liquid albumen of the egg white.
The refrigeration will stop the growth of the embryo, but it will not necessarily kill it. Once in the ideal conditions of the incubator (or the mother hen’s underbody) the embryo will resume growth. And this is precisely what happened to little Albert the quail.
Although Albert is a rare occurrence, it’s not abnormal. Just keep in mind that if you ever want to hatch a store bought egg, you must remember the implications of actually having a living, breathing chick in your home afterward, (that could have been your breakfast).