Help a Chick (Incubation Troubleshooting)
Spring is in the air and the incubators are humming away on the homestead. The excitement surrounding hatch day never gets old on our farm. And when the first peep is heard from a pipping chick, everyone rushes to the incubator.
When the first chick hatches everyone is relieved knowing that our incubation efforts were done right. But, what happens when a chick has pipped but doesn’t zip out of its shell.
Do you let nature take its course, or should you help a chick hatch?
Why Doesn’t a Fully Developed Chick Hatch?
While there are countless reasons chicks don’t make it out of their eggs, there are three main ones that we will examine before looking closer at assisting a failure to hatch.
1. Mother Nature Made the Call
First things first— sometimes there just isn’t an answer. In homesteading, we know that we cannot play Mother Nature, and often, we have little control over the outcomes on our homesteads.
The fact is, some chicks are weaker than others, and it’s through no fault of our own.
In other cases, there were things that we could’ve done to improve the hatch rate (we will get to that shortly).
2. Egg Rotation Problems
If you opted to forgo an egg turner, or your turner has stopped working without your knowledge, you may have a chick that has gotten stuck to one side of its egg.
In nature, mother hens turn their eggs regularly to ensure proper development. But in an incubation situation, it’s up to us to do the turning.
A proper egg turner is absolutely necessary and you must have one if you want to optimize your hatch rate.
And if you’re turner has stopped working, it’s time to purchase a new one. It can be hard to tell if a turner is no longer rotating because of the extremely slow speed, but you can monitor this by checking once an hour to get an idea.
3. Humidity Issues
When a chick pips but isn’t zipping, the problem is often due to a lack of humidity inside the shell.
The culprit is usually the membrane that surrounds the chick inside the egg. Once the chick pips and air enters the shell, the membrane should remain moist (hence the need for humidity).
But if humidity has not been maintained, or the incubator is opened before the chicks have hatched completely, the membrane may “shrink wrap” to the chick, become hard, and make it impossible to finish hatching.
If your chick is restricted by a hardened membrane, they cannot move around and continue to “zip” themselves out of the shell. A chick in this situation will remain immobile within the shell for a long period of time (or until it dies)
If this has happened to one or more of your chicks, you will be able to tell because the membrane will not appear moist, and it will look as though the chick is glued to it.
Should You Help a Chick Hatch?
If the chick in question is unlucky due to the humidity level in the incubator…yes, you can try to help. But keep in mind, it’s not an easy process and it’s extremely vital to keep other chicks (mid-hatch) safe.
I’ll admit, I was guilty of opening the incubator too early the first time I hatched my own chicks. I didn’t realize that I was putting the chicks in jeopardy by allowing cool, dry, air inside the incubator. Needless to say, I lost a few chicks that day, due to my own naivety and impatience.
But I also learned a lot, and I’m hoping to help those who have done the same and found themselves with a peeping chick stuck in its shell.
How to Help a Chick Out of Its Shell
If the rest of your chicks are either safely out of their eggs, or haven’t pipped yet, you can do the following to assist the unfortunate chick out of its shell.
You will need:
- A bowl of warm water (95 degrees)
- A rag that you don’t plan on using ever again
- Tweezers, now designated for chick emergencies only
- Paper towels
Here’s what to do:
- Make sure no other chicks are mid-hatch, or you’ll have more problems on your hands
- Once you are absolutely certain no other chicks are in the process of hatching you may move forward
- Place the rag over the bowl of warm water, allowing for it to become moist (keep it in the warm water)
- Remove the chick from the incubator
- Carefully hold the chick and egg on the warm, we, rag, allowing just a tad bit of water to flow on top of the rag (the goal is to re-wet the hardened membrane).
- Soak the chick, keeping its head above water at all times. You’ll notice the chick relax in the warm water.
- When the membrane is once again moist, carefully try to peel it off. There shouldn’t be resistance, but if there is, stop and re-wet until it is soft and supple.
- If, at any time, you see fresh blood, stop the procedure. This may mean the chick is truly not ready to hatch and you could do more harm than good. Return the chick to the incubator.
You can use the tweezers to remove the membrane in delicate areas, but always be cautious and never rip the membrane off the chick. This is one time where, “Rip it off like a bandaid” is not a good idea.
Throughout this extremely surgical process, It’s important that the chick does not become chilled. Rewarm water, or return the egg to the incubator if needed.
Once you’ve successfully removed the chick from its shell, immediately return the baby to the incubator to warm up, dry off, and fluff up.
Other Issues That Can Arise After Assisting in The Hatching Process
The hatching process isn’t just a single moment in a chick’s life that it moves on from once it has emerged from its shell. It’s also a test of strength and, in a way, livability. The hatch is a moment of truth for the chick, and some even believe that without hatching on its own, it will never be strong enough to survive.
Most of the chicks I assist survive…but not without issues.
Chicks stuck in their shell, without being able to move may have more problems down the road.
- Beak Problems – Being stuck in one position for a long time can cause growth problems and deformities
- Leg Problems – One chick needed to be propped upright for 24-hours after hatch to get there legs under them
- Weakness Issues – Tons of energy is used when trying to hatch, and when there’s no end in sight, the chick may become weak and unable to eat or drink…or withstand the hustle and bustle within the incubator.
- Respiratory problems – I can’t put my finger on why, but many chicks stuck in their shell have trouble breathing. You can actually hear a ticking or wheezing when a chick is struggling to breathe.
When it comes down to it, you must triage the situation.
If your chick gets stuck because of an error in humidity, there may be underlying issues that stack the cards against your chick. However, sometimes it’s worth a try. I’ve been able to assist a few chicks out of the shells and they’ve gone on to live happy healthy lives.
In the end, it’s a case by case basis, and you’ll have to decide what’s best for the chick in question, and the rest of the chicks in the incubator. But if you do find yourself in this predicament, just know that it is possible to help a chick hatch successfully.