Sometimes people feel sorry for a chick that appears to be having trouble
getting out of an egg. It may have pipped (made a tiny hole) and have its beak
out, but it may seem unable to proceed any farther.
The temptation is great to help these chicks, but doing so can cause more
harm than good. You can’t just pull the shell off. Hatching is a slow process
even in ideal conditions — you have to be patient.
Generally, when eggs pip but then fail to hatch, the temperature, oxygen
level, or humidity is too low. The temperature may drop because someone is
constantly opening the incubator to check on the chicks’ progress. Poor ventilation
may cause the chicks to become weak because of a lack of oxygen.
And humidity can get too high and actually drown hatching chicks because
they can’t breathe. Many experienced chicken owners believe that chicks
that can’t hatch on their own when conditions are right are doomed to either
die anyway or live a weak, unhealthy life.
Sometimes the membrane has dried out too much around the chick, or the
chick is in a bad position for hatching. If the pipped hole isn’t in the large end
of the egg, the chick is in the wrong position. If you see no hole but hear peeping
inside, the chick also may be in the wrong position. If there’s a hole in the
right area but the chick can’t seem to finish hatching, the membranes may be
In these cases, helping — slowly and carefully — can save a healthy chick.
Make sure the chick is still alive — it will move or peep if it is. If you’ve
decided to try to help the chick, start by making a warm operating area with
a padded, clean surface. Sterilize a small pair of nail scissors and a pair of
tweezers with rubbing alcohol or by boiling them for a few minutes. Have
some clean, warm water nearby.
Under the shell is a thick membrane, loaded with blood veins. The chick has
already pierced the membrane in one spot if it has started to hatch. If you tear
the membrane too early, it will bleed profusely and either weaken the chick or
With the scissors and tweezers, carefully pick little pieces of shell off the
membrane, around the hole in the egg. Ideally you work like the chick would,
circling the large end of the egg and removing half the shell. Around the air
cell there may be no membrane, allowing you to remove shell pieces easily. If
the chick has started a hole in the side or small end of the egg, the chick is in
the wrong position, which is why it’s having difficulty hatching. You need to
be even more careful in this case.
Be careful not to cut the chick. If you cut a vein in the membrane and it
bleeds, stop at once and put the chick in the incubator. There’s nothing you
can do to stop the bleeding. The bleeding will probably stop, but it weakens
the chick. You can start again in an hour or so if the chick is still alive and
If half the shell is removed and the head and neck are exposed, the chick
should become active and wiggle out of the rest of the membrane and egg.
Moisten the membrane that’s left with a little warm water and place the chick
with some shell still attached back in the incubator. It will probably just lay
there for awhile. If the chick isn’t up and walking within an hour or so, it’s
probably too weak to survive.
When you’re incubating eggs, you may want to know what’s going on inside
them. If you’re new to incubation or you have children, you may want to
open an egg every couple of days and look inside. This will kill the embryo, of
course, but it gives you a fascinating look at the miracle of a chick forming in
just 21 short days — from a glob of cells to a baby chick that can run around
and feed itself. If you decide to open eggs and look inside, we suggest opening
them on the 3rd, 7th, 12th, and 16th days of incubation.
You may even want to set extra eggs so you have eggs to sacrifice for this little
biology lesson. You may hit some eggs that didn’t develop embryos, so set
even a few more. For example, if you intend to open four eggs, you may want
to start eight more eggs than you want to end up with.
If you don’t want to open eggs and sacrifice the chicks inside just for a biology
lesson, you’ll be relieved to know that you can get a glimpse inside without
opening an egg. In this section, we show you how.
On the 18th day of incubation, you also need to increase the humidity in the
incubator to 65 to 70 percent. You may want to increase the ventilation —
refer to your incubator’s directions to see whether doing so is advised. Get
your brooder set up and warmed on the 20th day so you can transfer the
chicks to it (see Chapter 14 for more on brooders).
Eggs that were put in the incubator at the same time should hatch within
18 hours of each other (see the section “Knowing what to look for: Stages of
embryonic growth” later in this chapter for more on embryo growth). Chicks
struggle to get out of the egg, and it may take some time for a chick to fully
hatch. If a chick requires help hatching, it usually isn’t a strong, healthy chick.
When chicks start hatching, people get excited, and they want to open the incubator
and handle the chicks. Stop right there!Leave the chicks alone until they
are dry and fluffy. They’re fine in the incubator for a few hours while the others
hatch. Remove the dry fluffy ones every six hours and put them in the brooder.
Every time you open the incubator, you lower the temperature and humidity
and make it harder for those still hatching. If there are eggs left after 18 hours
from the time the first chick hatched, you can leave them for another 24 hours,
but after that, examine some of them for signs of pipping or just throw them out.
A mother hen seems to know instinctively what her eggs need. If it’s very hot,
she gets off the eggs to let them cool a little; if it’s cold, she sits tightly. Her
body provides the perfect humidity, and she fills it with water herself. When
you take over the job of incubation, you can never be as good as a hen, but,
with careful attention to details, you can have a successful hatch from an
Hens don’t actually turn their eggs with their beaks on a regular basis as
many people think. (They do occasionally rearrange them with their beaks,
but it’s usually for their own comfort.) Instead, their coming and going from
the nest and shifting positions to get comfortable alter the position of the egg
several times a day.
There’s some debate about turning eggs, but most experts believe the position
of eggs should be changed two or three times a day for the first 18 days
of incubation. Automatic egg turners can do this for you, or you can do it
yourself by rolling the eggs to a new position. The turning keeps the embryo
from becoming attached to the outer membranes and the eggshell. If you’re
turning the eggs yourself, do it quickly so you don’t chill the eggs too much.
If you have egg racks for turning eggs in your incubator, place the eggs in the
racks with the small end down. If you’re using an incubator without racks, lay
the eggs on their sides. Cluster them in the center of the incubator if there’s
lots of room.
Wash your hands before handling eggs. Oil or bacteria from your hands
can cause hatching problems. Warm hands are much friendlier to eggs than
cold ones. (How do you feel when someone touches you suddenly with cold
hands?) And be sure to wash your hands again after touching the eggs.
On the 18th day, stop turning the eggs. If you’re using an automatic egg
turner, be sure to turn it off. The chicks are getting in position to hatch, and
they don’t have much room to move around anyway. If you change the position
of the eggs at this point, the chicks have to reposition themselves for
hatching, and doing so wastes valuable energy and may even make it impossible
for them to hatch.
The most important thing to remember about fertile eggs meant for hatching
is that they’re living things — they must be handled gently and kept at the
right temperature or they’ll die. Don’t shake them or toss them around — if
you do, you may kill the embryo.
Don’t wash fertile eggs intended for hatching!Washed eggs are far less likely
to hatch than unwashed eggs, and the unhatched, washed eggs may also affect
the hatching of eggs around them.
When you wash eggs, you remove the protective coating that the egg gets as
it leaves the hen, and the egg’s pores often draw in bacteria. The warmth of
incubation turns the contaminated egg into a factory for bacteria reproduction,
often killing the embryo and spreading to nearby eggs
The fertilized egg starts dividing to become an embryo as it travels down
the oviduct on its journey out of the hen. When it’s laid and cools below her
body temperature, it goes into a state of suspended growth until conditions
are right again. Eggs being stored for hatching should be stored at temperatures
between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If the egg temperature drops
below 45 degrees for very long, the embryo will probably die; if it goes above
65 degrees, it may start to grow.
Growth at less than optimum temperatures makes weak chicks that seldom
survive the whole incubation period and can cause deformities in those
chicks that do survive. In cold or very warm weather, eggs should be collected
from your hens for hatching as soon after they’re laid as possible and
then moved to the right conditions. If you’re collecting your own eggs, you
may need to put them in a cool basement or even in the bottom vegetable
drawer of your refrigerator to suspend growth.
Store eggs for hatching with the small end down. An egg carton is good for
this purpose. Eggs can be stored for about a week without much drop in vitality,
but after a week of storage, the percentage of eggs that will hatch drops
sharply. After two weeks of storage, few eggs will hatch.
Eggs that are being stored for incubation should be rotated from side to side
twice a day. This keeps the early embryo from sticking to the shell in a bad
If you’re getting eggs from anywhere but your own hens, have your incubator
set up and ready to put them in as soon as you receive them. If you’re collecting
eggs from your hens, store eggs until you have about a week’s worth;
then set up the incubator and put them into the incubator all at once. Using
a pencil or nontoxic marker, mark the eggs with the date you set them. If
you’re going to be hand turning the eggs, put an x on one side so you know
which eggs have been turned.
It’s best not to have several different hatch dates in the same incubator unless
you have a cabinet incubator with multiple shelves or drawers. Eggs at different
stages of incubation require slightly different care.
Try to find a local source of fertile eggs if you can. Sending eggs through the
mail and getting a high percentage of them to hatch is very difficult — the
average rate of hatch under ideal conditions for fertile eggs sent by mail is
only 50 to 60 percent. Normally, you don’t get any guarantees when fertile
eggs are mailed to you because the seller can’t control the shipping temperatures
and the way the eggs are handled in transit.
If you’re saving your own eggs or you have the chance to pick and choose
which eggs you want, choose the cleanest ones. You can brush off dirt with
a dry cloth; some people even use fine sandpaper. If eggs are heavily soiled,
it’s best not to use them. Discard any cracked eggs and any eggs that have
very thin shells or are oddly shaped; oddly shaped eggs seldom produce good
Eggs you buy from the supermarket won’t hatch because those hens aren’t
kept with roosters. Even the eggs labeled organic are probably from hens
without roosters. We’ve heard of eggs that were bought at farmers’ markets
from free-range hens hatching, but don’t count on hatching eggs that were
meant for eating.
Diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses in chickens. Your chicken’s environment and diet can contribute to diarrhea, but some simple remedies can get rid of diarrhea and can help prevent it.
1. Isolate the sick chicken if you can. Treat her until she is looking better and then let her back in with the other hens.
2. Keep environment clean and dry. Disease can spread on damp floors. Change coop shavings regularly and disinfect feeders once a year, or as you see sick hens.
3. Make sure chickens have enough room. Crowded spaces can spread disease quickly.
4. Put water containers and feeders at a height level with the backs of the birds, so they cannot defecate or scratch litter into them. Keep birds from roosting on the feeders with anti-roosting wire. Suspend water containers or put them on wire-covered platforms to help keep them clean.
1. Potassium permanganate can be used to treat diarrhea. (Potassium permanganate is the inorganic chemical compound with the formula KMnO4. It is a salt consisting of K+ and MnO4– ions. Formerly known as permanganate of potash or Condy’s crystals. It is a disinfectant for the drinking water.
Dissolve 1 tablespoon in 1 quart of warm water. Feed each chicken 1 tablespoon of the concentrated solution diluted in 1 cup of warm water. In a case of severe diarrhea you may need a stronger solution, one that is potent enough to turn your finger slightly brown when you dip it in the liquid. Do not keep the potassium permanganate mixture in a metal container.
Feeding Schedule for Brown Egg Layers and Leghorns:
0-6 weeks20-21% protein chick starter
6-10 weeks16-19% protein pullet grower
18-22 weeksat onset of egg production16-18% protein layer diet (20% layer feed is fine for free range hens.) As soon as hens begin to lay, offer oyster shell as a free choice, available at all times during the day.
Dual-purpose breeds like Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Delaware, etc.
0-6 weeks 20-21% protein chick starter
6 weeksprior to egg production15-19% protein pullet grower/developer
At onset of egg production16-18% protein layer diet (20% layer feed is fine for free range hens..especially heavy breeds.) As soon as hens begin to lay, offer oyster shell as a free choice, available at all times during the day.
Giving your hens the proper feed diet will help with egg production and overall health.
Candling eggs is a very exciting time. Candling a week after incubation allows you to find out if an egg is fertile and allows you to remove clear eggs. Candling again after another week allows you to remove any ‘dead in shell’ embryos, those that haven’t developed further and usually only show a blood ring inside.
A dark room and a bright torch is all you really need, even an old toilet-roll cut to fit the shape of the egg and held up towards the sun will work well.
With a freshly laid egg, you will see an almost clear egg. There is a feint shadow which is the egg yolk. This is called a ‘Clear Egg’ and is how the egg will remain during the first week of incubation if it is not fertile.
As the embryo develops, over the next few days, a very small darker patch will develop on the ‘shadow’ of the yolk. This is the germainal disc and takes an expert eye to spot this.
As time goes on, blood vessels begin to develop and become thicker and more visible and the embryo grows in size, until day 8 when the eye and the heart have developed and the embryo is starting to take the shape of a chick. If you are lucky, you may see the little peeps heart beating!
The air sack is easy to see. This grows as the egg develops and contains the first few breaths of air the chick will take when it pokes it little beak through on day 21.
The yolk sack itself I have shown in red (why? Because yellow didn’t show up too well and the yolk sack is so full of red blood vessels, it’s now pretty much all red).
The blood vessels emerge like spiders legs into the alubumen (egg white), the thicker of these can be seen when candling your eggs.
When eggs go into lockdown on day 18, they prepare to hatch by positioning their beaks towards the wide end of the egg where the air cell is. For much of the journey thus far, the embryo has been supplied with oxygen through the eggshell’s pores via a network of blood vessels called the allantois. Just prior to hatching, the chick pokes its beak through the membrane (pips) into the air cell and begins breathing with its lungs.
Chicken eggs are expected to hatch on or around day 21 into incubation and should generally hatch within 24 hours of the first pip in the batch. Various factors play into the process that can either advance or delay that schedule, primarily temperature fluctuations. Temperatures slightly higher than ideal can result in a premature hatch and physical challenges for the chick. Temperatures slightly lower than ideal can cause a delayed hatch and physical impairments.
It is reasonable to expect a chick to hatch within 12-24 hours of pipping.
If a pipped egg does not make progress by expanding the hole and chipping around the circumference of the shell within ~12 hours of the first pip, they may be unable to accomplish the job alone. Whether or not to assist in a hatch is a matter of personal preference. If the decision is made to help, the chick must have absorbed all of the blood in the membrane as well as the egg yolk in order to survive outside the shell. Helping risks severing a blood vessel in the membrane, hemorrhage and death. Any assistance rendered should proceed very slowly and cautiously, stopping at the first sign of bleeding.