Chicken Coop Chatter©
In our photo series you'll see the progress of a fertile egg, reaching the point of hatch. This process can take 12 to as much as 24 hours to be finalized, though we start getting concerned if they go over 12 hours.
Typically if they are not continuing to progress after 12 hours, it means something is likely wrong and they may be locked in the membrane of the egg shell. Commonly this is referred to as *shrink wrapped* and the baby is no longer able to move or finish the hatching process on its own. Shrink wrapping may be caused by low humidity, or from the baby tiring out before it can complete hatch, so the membrane begins to dry around the unhatched chick. Always check your humidity and temperature from the beginning of incubation, and especially on day 18 through day 21, to make sure both are optimum to prevent the possibility of the chick dying within the shell. At this point you have an option. Either let nature take its course and risk the loss of the chick, or intervene. To intervene, you will need to carefully remove enough of the membrane that the baby can get oxygen. With a q-tip, lightly dampen the exposed membrane to allow the baby movement, then wait to see if these attempts make it easier for that baby to finish hatching. Do not soak the membrane, you do not want the chick to be wet. We never recommend intervention until after at least 12 hours when it becomes obvious that the chick is no longer moving or the peeps are sounding weak. If intervention becomes necessary, you must be very careful that the chick has absorbed all of the egg sac, or any intervention can cause the chick to die if the bottom end of the egg shell is removed, which can pull on the abdomen, causing disembowlment and sure death of the chick.
It is not uncommon to hear an unhatched chick peeping within the shell prior to pipping. The eggs may even roll as the chick is trying to position itself to break through the shell. Another cause of chicks dying within the shell can be a *breach hatch*. This is where the baby was not able to turn in the shell toward the air sac. If the baby was not able to turn, yet you can clearly tell that the head is at the small end of the egg, you may have to intervene, by opening a vent hole so the baby is able to get oxygen. Once the baby has oxygen it may be able to continue hatching on it's own, but be prepared to intervene or make the decision to allow nature to take its course.
Once the chick is positioned for hatch, it will pip at the large rounded end of the egg, where the air sac is located. The chick then proceeds to work at the shell with it's egg tooth, feet and wings to free it from the shell. Chicks will rest many times throughout the hatching process as they wear out from the effort and it is not uncommon for them to fall asleep for awhile before getting back to the work of hatching. This is always the hardest part for anyone that has hatched eggs, waiting and wondering if all is progressing properly and the longer it takes the more agony and stress until that first baby finally hatches.
Bit by bit the chick will chip away at the egg shell, pushing with it's feet to attempt to free itself from all restraints. The head is usually the first part to become free, as the chick continues to push to attempt removal of the shell around the lower extremities.
Once the chick has removed the shell, it very often will lay completely still and rest before it attempts to get up and walk. Once the chick starts drying, it will become more active, and begin peeping loudly. That peeping is for several reasons; one it's lonely since it's the first one out there's no other chicks to keep it company. Another reason it's peeping is to encourage it's hatchmates to begin hatching. Once a chick has hatched, leave it in the incubator to dry and regain strength. As more chicks hatch, the incubator may become crowded and the hatched chicks may move the unhatched eggs around as they work their way around the incubator. If there is too much disruption of the unhatched eggs, you can then remove the hatched chicks to a prepared, pre-warmed brooder, with food and water.
Chicks do not need food or water the first 3 days after hatch, as they continue to thrive on the absorbed egg yolk, and it will still be a couple of days before it loses it's egg tooth (the hardened tip on their beak to aid in pipping and hatching). The food and water is just encouragement for them to check out their new environment and to keep them active as they explore their surroundings. It is because chicks do not require feed or water for 3 days, that chicks can be shipped across the country from hatcheries to arrive within those first 3 days.
Once all the chicks have hatched and dried completely they can be moved to the prepared brooder. Though 21 days is average incubation for chicks, that number is not set in stone. The eggs can hatch up to day 25, so once again patience will be needed if there are some stragglers. Never assume the hatch is over just because it's been 21 days of incubation. We've heard stories from others, where on day 21 they tossed the eggs into the garbage, and then heard peeping only to find the chicks had hatched in the trash. If these eggs were being incubated by a broody hen, she would not leave the nest until the very last chick that will hatch, does hatch, practice the patience of that broody hen. She does not kick out any of the eggs unless she is not feeling any activity. Though even nature can be fooled and some of those eggs may still be viable, they were just later than her inner time clock and her need to take care of herself and her brood of chicks. Don't remove those eggs unless you have a prepared incubator to assist finishing the hatch. Definitely check for any pips or cracks in the shells before any removal. It could be that the hen did not kick the eggs out, but all the activity of hatching chicks scooted them out of the nest and the warmth of the hen. If the eggs were not marked, it's possible that other eggs were laid in that nest after the broody hen began the process of setting, making those eggs newer and still developing. Always mark your broody hens eggs so you know the eggs she started with have not increased in numbers. Once the eggs are marked, you can remove any other eggs that are laid at a later date. Hens will also commonly steal eggs from other nests and tuck them under her, those eggs may be newly laid, and still developing when her own eggs have reached maturity.
We wish you many happy hours incubating and hatching chicks. We are always happy to answer any questions you may have about the process and available to direct you if you do ever need to intervene on a hatch. For urgent questions feel free to send us a private message through our Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Just-Fowling-Around-365743116845352/
To calibrate your thermometer and hygrometer refer to the link: http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/category/test-hygrometerthermometer
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