Assisted Hatching

As if my last clutch of incubated eggs wasn’t dramatic enough, I had a chick that didn’t pip until day 23 and was still working on hatching by 72 hours.  The hatching process is completely exhausting for these guys and I’ve always went by the rule of thumb “if they’re too weak to hatch, they’re too weak to live.”  Granted these chicks were in my incubator that spiked temperature, I expected none too hatch or at least the ones that hatch to have some mental issues or something.  Surprisingly, all eight were healthy and moved to the brooder.  When I was inspecting the remaining eggs, I saw a small pip and heard weak peeping from inside the shell.  So I placed the incubator top back on, checked the humidity and temperature and went to bed hoping to have my ninth chick in the morning.

When I checked in the morning, the chick had only progressed to making the pipped hole a little bigger.  I could hear faint peeping and the egg was wiggling, so the chick hadn’t died.  That was good.  Plus it had only been about 10 hours from the last time I checked.  By the time 24 hours passed, the chick had made no progress.  Then 48 hours passed, only another small pip beside the first one.  Usually, in my experience, by 48 hours the chick hatches or is at the very least partially zipped out of the shell.  This chick was having a time.  I raised humidity a bit to prevent the chick from gluing in the shell and made sure it was still alive, and it definitely was.  By 72 hours after the first pip, the chick had only zipped about 25% of the way around and was not peeping anymore and was barely moving.  This was when I decided to assist the hatch.

To assist the hatch, you first need to understand the incubation periods and stages of hatching.  TOO MANY  times newbies at incubation and hatching assist a chick to hatch way too soon.  When a chick pips, they may have not fully taken in the egg yolk (which provides sustenance for up to the third day of life) and gives them the boost that they need to start their lives.  A hatch should never be rushed.  Chicks take their good, ol’ time with this.  Think about how exhausting it would be trying to peck your way out of a thick membrane and shell while stuffed into a tiny space and twisted into a pretzel.  Let’s just say it’s no walk in the park.  Some chicks are just not viable enough to survive hatching due to genetic issues, which we don’t want in adult birds anyway.  But others can be malpositioned for hatch or problems can arise from imperfect incubation procedures (which is probably what happened to mine because it seemed like all the chicks struggled).

I normally NEVER assist a hatch, especially in breeding birds, because I don’t want to risk passing on genetic malignancies in my flock.  But I knew these birds weren’t breeding stock and never would be, and I have a soft spot in my heart, especially since these little guys decided to hatch for me when my incubator wanted to cook them.  Mainly, if  the majority of my chicks hatch and two days go by without pips, I do the tap and candle test.  Candle eggs and search for an internal pip.  Chicks pip away at the thick membrane and press their beak into the air cell first.  Then tap the egg shell and hold it up to your ear; you should hear peeping.  With my chick, I already knew it was alive because of the external pip and interval peeping, but it had stopped peeping.  This is by no means an emergency.  As long as there’s a hole and the chick can get oxygen, breathe.

Two rules to go by before assisting a hatch:

  1. If there is no internal pip and you don’t hear peeping, place the egg back into the incubator.  Make sure and verify the chick is still moving.  If so, the chick just isn’t ready to hatch and by no means needs assistance.
  2. If there is an internal pip and possibly an external pip, you cannot hear peeping, and there is no movement, then hatch assistance may be required.

BEFORE you even think about touching that shell, make sure you completely understand the hatching cycle and know what you’re getting yourself into.  Make sure you have waited enough time for the chick to hatch on its own.  I will never, ever artificially pip a chick.  If a chick is unable to do that, then they will not be strong enough to survive outside the shell, in my opinion.  People may think this is mean, but a chick that is too weak to hatch will most likely to too weak the rest of its life.

Before assisting a partially pipped chick to hatch, wash those paws!  And wash ’em good.  You don’t need to be sharing cooties with your chick.  Make sure you can see the chicks beak clearly to keep them breathing.  Place the egg on a dampened paper towel under a warm heat lamp and get to work.  Work slowly, peeling small pieces of egg away from the pip.  Do not touch the membrane, just dampen it lightly with warm water.  Watch for blood vessels in the membrane, I cannot stress this enough!  If the membrane is peeled from the chick and the blood vessels have not contracted and “dried” the chick can bleed to death.  If you see bleeding, wet the membrane and stop what you’re doing immediately.  Place the chick back in the incubator for at least 2 hours and see if the chick will hatch on its own.  If there’s no bleeding, gently peel back part of the membrane to allow the chicks head to fall out of the shell.  By this time, the chick should be able to kick itself out of the shell.  I wet the membrane and place my chick back in the incubator with half its shell.  It kicked the shell off in about 20 minutes.  I figured giving it something to do would strengthen it, rather than doing everything for it.

And now I have nine cute naked necks. We named the hatch assisted one Tiny because this chick is a fourth of the size of the others. It’s very energetic but occasionally acts like nobody’s home upstairs. My mom took to Tiny immediately and he/she is now her little baby.

Tiny in my hand. He/she is about 1 week old today while the brothers and sisters are going on a week and a half.

I wrote this hoping to help people understand hatching a little more. I’ve seen too many people jump in to help and actually kill their chicks rather than help because they intervened too soon. Do your homework and understand the incubation and hatching processes. The standard 21 days is just a guideline, as yours may hatch a few days earlier or later, like mine did. Just remember: if they can breathe, it’s not an emergency! Happy hatching!

Tiny on the far left with the Lavender Orpingtons.


8 thoughts on “Assisted Hatching

  1. mountaingmom

    So far I haven’t gotten bold enough to try hatching. I am hoping that my girls will start raising chicks on their own so I don’t have to go through the stress of trying to introduce the brooder raised babies that I have acquired from local breeders into the flock. The big girls and Cogburn, my roo are now tolerating the 7 1/2 week old chicks in the coop, but every time one of the littles pokes her head out to come outside, she is quickly chased back inside by the adults. I separated 6 of the adult culls into a chicken tractor and run before introducing the littles to the remaining 3 hens and Cocburn. Hopefully they will work it out among themselves soon. Your littles are so cute.

    1. agirlandherchickens Post author

      Introducing newbies is so hard! But they have to figure out the pecking order (no pun intended). I had a broody hen hatch eggs for me, but she was so stupid she ended up either killing/leaving her 5 chicks she hatched and abandoned the last 2 hatchers. I know letting mama do it is best, but I can’t stand to put my trust into a pea brained chicken again after witnessing chicks being eaten! I’ve not had too much trouble adding new chicks to the existing flock. I usually wait til they’re about 6 months and throw them in at night. There might be a little squabble here and there, but usually in a couple weeks they’re fine and dandy. Good luck!

  2. FarmersDaughter

    Wow that was stressful! At least you taught about the future of the animal. I know to many people who get fed up of waiting and tear the poor chick out of the egg. Then they come crying to me because the chick is very sick. Also they fact you taught about it being used for breeding or not was very responsible. As an owner of the cuties you have to consider these things. I’ll not lie, I did once panic and tear a silkie chick out but I was a lot younger and it was my first hatch. I, unfortunately, learn the hard way.

    In relation to introducing chicks to flocks. I have the chick run (the original small chicken pen) that has a big green wire fence around it. I let the chicks out into that once they are off heat and wait until they are big enough to defend themselves to let them into the main flock. I also feed both chicks and the main flock at the fence. They eat together for months with the security of the fence between them. Never had a problem when they are let out. The others don’t even bother with them. 🙂


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