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.