The Domestic Egg

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

We’ll never know exactly why chickens were domesticated, but they may well have been valued more for their prolific egg production than for their meat. Some birds will lay only a set number of eggs at a time, no matter what happens to the eggs. Others, including the chicken, will lay until they accumulate a certain number in the nest. If an egg is taken by a predator, the hen will lay another to replace it—and may do so indefinitely. Over a lifetime, these “indeterminate layers” will produce many more eggs than the “determinate” layers. Wild Indian jungle fowl lay clutches of about twelve glossy, brown eggs a few times each year. In industrial production—the ecological equivalent of unlimited food resources combined with unrelenting predation—their domesticated cousins will lay an egg a day for a year or more.