Sunday, June 17, 2012

Beyond Balut

A while back my husband ran into a man who was looking for an incubator capable of holding 200-500 eggs.  He was wanting to make Balut eggs. Bob told him that we had an incubator and that we would be willing to incubate eggs for him until he bought his own.

  Balut eggs are a delicacy in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines and are typically duck eggs. We don't have ducks but we were told that chicken eggs are also acceptable. Balut are fertilized eggs that are incubated for 17-21 days, depending on the culture. In the Orient the eggs are warmed in the sun and kept in baskets or sand to retain the heat during the night for incubation. This nearly developed duck embryo is then boiled and eaten like a hard boiled egg, with salt. At 17 days the bones have not hardened and the beak is not developed. At 21 days the embryo tends to be a bit crunchier but will soften when boiled. Duck eggs hatch at 28 - 30 days while chicken eggs hatch at day 21. There's where part of our problem began.

  Our first batch was a total of about 40 eggs - just for a trial run.  Half we spread out, like we would if we were incubating chickens, and the other half we stacked. We have a forced-air incubator and were told that stacking the eggs would not be a problem, and that it was unnecessary to turn them. If we were incubating eggs to hatch chicks I would either use a rocker or I would roll the eggs daily by hand. This allows the embryo to receive enough oxygen.  We had a 70 percent success rate, which is rather good because we did not candle the eggs to ensure they were all fertile to begin with. We found that it didn't matter whether the eggs were laid out in a single layer or stacked.

For the second batch we just loaded one of the bins of the incubator with eggs and marked the time for 15 days.

Three days before the eggs were due to Balut, I heard a sound as I passed by the incubator that was oh, too familiar. I ignored it. I mentioned it to Bob that night. He went out and had to dig down into the egg pile to rescue these:

While he was at it he spread the eggs out in the tray.

Now there are two theories: The first, which I was quite convinced was the truth, was that we have friends with young children who come to visit the farm periodically. Their favorite thing to do is to gather eggs, so I let the eggs collect for a day before they arrive.  Upon consideration I realize that I take it for granted that I know where the few hens are that are sitting clutches of eggs and are at different stages of hatching. I also know where the "neglected" eggs are - the ones I sometimes ignore because they've been there awhile and I just don't feel like reaching in to get them - the old "If I pretend it's not there maybe it will go away" theory.  I don't consider that a setting hen may be off her nest when the children gather the eggs or that they may happen upon a foul group of eggs carefully buried in the compost pile and collect them with gleeful exuberance, assuming they have uncovered a well hidden nest. This has happened in the past!
My thought is that these partially cooked eggs made their way into our Balut basket and miraculously hatched! Remember - I hadn't turned these eggs at all! (and, if the truth were to be known, I wasn't as diligent as I could have been to be sure the humidity was correct - I may have let all the water evaporate from the pan once or twice)  The fact is, I'm not so gung ho about the idea of Balut eggs anyway. To me it's pretty repulsive, like raw oysters and brussel sprouts, but I understand that it is a cultural thing, and another way to sell our eggs.

The second theory that occurred to me today was that perhaps I had my days wrong.  I remember specifically that the eggs would be finished on the 15th of the month. I even wrote the date on a piece of paper and put it in the incubator with the eggs. But now, I can't help but wonder if I confused the 15th of the month with the fact that the eggs should stay in the heat for 15 days?
Today the incubator looked like THIS...

We transfered all 30 chicks into the brooder...

Sheepishly, I just now went to check the date on the paper and I accept all the blame. The date? June 9th. Oops.  But on another note, I learned that turning eggs is not as critical as I once thought - nor is humidity.

I also learned that an overripe egg will spontaneously detonate when removed from a 100 degree incubator into cooler air. And baby, you don't want to be there when it does!

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