It can seem like an eternity for chicks to hatch in your incubator or in a clutch of eggs beneath a hen. Once you notice the first peck hole in the egg the excitement builds and you call for everyone else on the homestead to come watch and share in the joy of new life.
But, sometimes, a chick gets “stuck” in the egg, and it seems like it’s never going to make its way out on its own.
Usually – perhaps the bulk of the time, if the chick is left alone it will eventually make its way out of the egg all on its own… but it could take hours. Other times, a chick could be in distress, ill, or too exhausted to complete the hatching process, and simply give up and die.
Your instincts tell you to help the adorable chirping little struggling chick immediately, but that is definitely not always the best course of action.
Should You Help a Chick Hatch From an Egg?
So should you help a chick hatch? Yes, sometimes. First, you need to learn how to tell if a chick that is stuck in the egg actually needs help hatching, and only then proceed with extreme caution to get it out. Even if you are careful and the chick actually requires human intervention to hatch from the egg, it can be harmed in the process.
When You Should Consider Helping It
When everything works as it is supposed to, once a baby chick has pipped the first hole in the eggshell it will come out on its own in no longer than 24 hours. Unless there are visible signs of injury to the chick, like blood, do not try to help it hatch before the 24 hour mark.
Some chicks make their way out of the egg in record time, but others can take considerably longer.
Comparing hatching times is helpful to learn more about the process and to discover an average hatching time for a single clutch of eggs, but expect the hatching times to vary from slightly to greatly.
Some chicks peck constantly, while others might take a break – and a nap, for hours in-between each little crack they make in their protective eggshell.
It can be hard to curtail your excitement as the end of the 21 day (or so) incubation period comes to an end.
Once that first chick is out of the egg and wobbling around, the eagerness to see all of the baby chicks come out can get quite intense – especially if you have equally excited children also peeking into the incubator window.
Before taking a drastic step to help a chick out of its eggs, answer these simple questions first.
What Are The Chicks In The Other Eggs Doing?
Look in the incubator and see if any other chicks are showing signs of pipping – even if some have already hatched. The opening and closing of the lid will alter both the temperature and humidity levels inside and can impact hatching.
If you have been in and out of the incubator several times to get chicks out, the others may have just gotten chilled, and need to warm up again before going back to work.
The membrane can “shrink wrap” itself around the chick when these environmental changes occur, so minimize opening up the incubator unless it is absolutely necessary.
Depending upon the type of incubator you have, there is no real reason to immediately remove the chicks, they have the air and nutrients they need to survive inside most incubators for a full 24 hours.
Some chicks are over-achievers, so having one or two hatch and then a big lull in-between the next ones is really not uncommon.
Has The Chick Been Lethargic for More Than Two Hours Straight?
If the struggling chick shows signs of being lethargic for more than two hours, it may have given up the process entirely, and died or is near death.
If this happens and other eggs are still unhatched inside of the incubator, it is probably best to leave the unhatched egg right where it is to avoid causing membrane shrinkage that could harm the other chicks.
Is The Chick Still Trying To Fight Its Way Out Of The Egg?
If the struggling chick is still trying to get out of the egg but getting nowhere fast, help truly could be necessary. Just remember, there could be a health reason why the chick cannot hatch, and opening the incubator can harm other chicks, so choose wisely before reaching inside the incubator.
The loss of one chick is sad, but losing the rest of the eggs is going to be a lot worse. Letting nature take its course is emotionally hard, but sometimes it is the most humane option.
Is There Blood?
Look for visible signs of blood. If the struggling chick had not yet absorbed all of the yolk in the egg and there is either blood present or visible veins, resist the urge to do an emergency chicken delivery. The best chance at survival a chick in this state will have is on its own.
How Long Has The Chick Been Trying To Hatch?
Once you’re past the 24 hour mark and the chick still has not hatched from the egg, chances are great that it is not going to because it was simply not strong enough to survive.
Leaving the egg inside the incubator until the others hatch is likely the best option to avoid causing problems for other chicks.
In the video below you can clearly see the membrane left on the inside of an egg that hatched to get a better idea of how thick a wall a chick must get through:
The black “X” on each egg was placed there so that I could know for sure they were turning properly via the automatic arm attachment in the incubator.
Why Do Chicks Get Stuck In Their Eggs?
There could be many reasons why a chick cannot hatch on its own, but there are two that are far and away the most common.
Breaking through the eggshell is a whole lot of physical labor for the newborn chick.
Even though the shell seems quite fragile to us, to fully grasp how difficult it can be for a chick to hatch you must compare the process to the work a momma and baby partake to move the little one from the birth canal to the big wide world during labor.
Hatching from a shell is an amazingly strenuous task, and some chicks simply get exhausted quicker, and take longer periods of time than others.
Fluctuating or low humidity levels in the incubator can also significantly impact the hatching process – especially if you are incubating ducks or guineas and not chickens.
If the humidity levels are too high, a chick can actually drown inside of the egg. If humidity levels are too low hatching might never occur, or cause a chick to be ill-formed or too weak to complete the process.
Humidity levels in an incubator should be kept at roughly 50% for the first 18 days and then increased to 65% during the remaining days of incubation for the best chance of hatching healthy chicks that can break through the eggshell entirely on their own.
Humidity needs to be increased so the membrane that houses the chick inside of the shell does not become so hard the chick cannot penetrate it with its beak.
How to Safely Help a Chick Hatch
- plenty of light
- 1 bowl warm water
- Fill a bowl with warm but not hot water.
- Place a washcloth over the bowl so it touches the water – but just barely. Think of it as a soft safety net for the chick if you can get it out of the egg safely.
- Carefully lower the chick in the egg onto the washcloth and even more gently attempt to moisten the membrane at all points where it is attached to the chick.
- Using another washcloth that has also been slightly dampened with warm water, fold it over the chick in the egg for a few moments and then remove it.
- Repeat this process numerous times to weaken the membrane. This often requires extreme patience – at least in my opinion, but is essential to helping the chick hatch. Do not, under any circumstance, try to pull the membrane off of the chick, even if it appears to be smothering. Doing so can not only tear the chick’s tender skin but rip its veins.
- You can gently try to break parts of the eggshell with tweezers, if it seems vital to getting the chick out, and to reach more membrane. If the shell will not crack easily that usually means the membrane is still too dry, and needs to moisten again with the cloth again – maybe multiple times.
- You can use either the tweezers or your fingers to carefully and slowly detach only moistened membrane from the chick – if absolutely necessary because it is still struggling. ONLY do this with moistened membrane that lifts away easily.
- If the water in your bowl starts to get lukewarm or cold, replace it with more warm water.
- If you get a live chick out of the shell, gently wrap a dry washcloth around it so it does not get chilled, and pat it dry as thoroughly and quickly as you can.
- Return the chick to the incubator as quickly as possible so it can get warm and stay warm.
The survival rate of chicks hatched with human intervention fluctuates greatly depending on how long and hard the chick struggled, how much help was needed, and its health before it even tried to hatch.
I have had one out of four chicks survive after having to help them hatch. My little chick was one of the lucky ones that was not stuck in the egg because of poor overall health of deformities and went on to become a great laying hen.
The best way to ensure a good clutch of eggs that can hatch all on their own is to monitor heat and humidity levels closely throughout the incubation process, and refrain from opening the lid to the machine until it is essential to do so.
I understand the urge to not allow nature to take its course and to let a chick die without trying to help, I have felt the tug at my heartstrings, as well.
But, always consider the impact on the other potentially healthy chicks still in their eggs inside of the incubator before reaching in to save just one that does not have good odds at survival, anyway.