Assisting Hatching - What you need to know BEFORE you assist

Posted by Susan Lenz on

Because MOST New Hatcher's ASSIST too SOON & too FAST!

Below is the result of a BEAUTIFUL Chick that will die.
This chick clearly was NOT ready to hatch as her yolk sac has not yet been drawn inside the
abdominal cavity, nor have blood vessels receded.
I can not express how necessary it is to understand the hatching process!

Anxiety at this stage is tremendous for the first timer and they can quickly misinterpret the well being of their chicks and prematurely intervene with disastrous consequences.

Understanding The Hatching Process

Between the 15th and 16th days, the chick orients itself so that its head is near the air cell at the large end of the egg. Not long before the chick is ready to attempt to make its way out of the shell its neck acquires a double bend so that its beak is under its right wing and pointed toward the air cell. The chicks PIP first then REST then Zipping begins up to 24 +/- after initial pip depending on breed!

Quote: About three days before hatching, the embryo's head burrows beneath the right shoulder so the beak is positioned under the wing & against the two membranes separating the embryo from the air space at the large end of the shell. Sometime that same day, the beak pierces through the membranes into the air space & pulmonary respiration begins. About a day later, with a dwindling oxygen supply, the embryo begins to kick, to twist and to thrust its head and beak backward, until the egg tooth pips the first hole. The chick can now draw breath. As fresh air enters the shell and circulates, the membranes inside begin to dry, and the blood vessels within those membranes begin to shrink. The embryo continues to pip, kick and twist. Small cracks advance counter-clockwise by millimeters around the big end of the shell. A special "hatching muscle" on the back of the chick's neck (see photo to the right) swells to several times its normal size with a great influx of fluid from the embryo's lymphatic system. This swelling accentuates sensory signals sent through the neck, stimulating the embryo to further activity. Eventually, the cap of the egg is cracked enough. The embryo pushes it off, unfolds from the tuck, and escapes from the shell

21 DAYS is just a baseline for hatching eggs.
Many chicks can take 23 - 25 days!
Some pip internally and fully hatch in hours while others will be 24 hours or more.

Egg movement! Eggs can “Rock n Roll” days before they are due to hatch!
In regards to opening and closing the bator to remove already hatch chicks; It is important to remember that chicks can go 3 days without food/water. It is better to wait for the remaining chicks to hatch to insure reducing the impact to unhatched pipping eggs.

But my new chick is running around in the bator knocking eggs around!

When to assist?
Assisting a chick should be your LAST RESORT
A chick’s failure 
to progress normally at hatching stage can be caused by genetic problems resulting in malpositioning, deformities or weakness, in which case assistance may promote the survival of birds with deleterious genes. However, hatching difficulties may also result from imperfect incubation procedures with a chick which is genetically viable, or an abnormally thick shell. A lot of the deaths due to the above situations occur immediately before hatching during the transition between embryos to breathing chick. The chick can have difficulty positioning for pipping, absorbing the yolk sac, or changing to breathing air. A chick’s chorioallantoic circulation remains functional until shortly before hatching and remains even when yolk absorption is complete and the embryo/chicks are vocalizing? Therefore the correct time to assist an egg is hard to judge. It is essential that the chick is given as much time as possible to fully absorb the yolk, for the vascular system to shut down, and for the chick to complete the normal physiological processes of hatching.
Do not rush the hatch! 


If a chick HAS pipped a hole in the shell

It’s at this point that it’s difficult to judge when intervention is both necessary and safe.A chick rests during this QUIET phase as it is preparing for hatching. This is a VERY quiet stage that is easily misinterpreted. Inside the egg the chick is resting and learning to breath. They will sleep while occasionally opening and closing their mouth. The chick will move it's head in a jerky pipping motion as well as chirp lightly. The lungs are maturing and with this change in chest pressure it causes contractions which helps the yolk sac to be drawn inside the abdomen. Blood vessels at this stage also start to recede. If assisted prematurely it can cause hemorrhaging from the blood vessels and the yolk sac will be unable to absorb.

WHEN should I help?
You can tell the chick is having trouble if it gets stuck for several hours in the MIDDLE of the unzipping stage, either pointlessly banging its beak against the hole without making further openings in the shell or mostly unzipped but unable to kick free.

A chick is troubled if it's pipped but hasn't started unzipping AFTER 18-24 hours, or if the bit of exposed membrane around the pipping hole is starting to turn tan and dry.

If the pipping marks look erratic or irregular, the chick may also be in trouble.
Anything past 40 hours there is a very real possibility that the chick will never get out of the egg without assistance.

A chick that has pipped the wrong end of the egg is also in trouble, and sometimes may be assisted as well.

It takes HOURS and HOURS for the complete absorption of the yolk sack!

Below..... a Good Looking Membrane!

(pipped wrong end) FOR MALPOSITIONS 
      TIMELINE of a silky HATCHING!
      MONDAY 5 PM noticed external pip


      hole slightly larger but chick is NOT zipping!


      missed the last quick zipping!
      Silky on the left, two CCL hatched at the same time!


      THIS CHICK TOOK WELL OVER 24 hours to hatch! and absolutely normal!

      EXAMPLE of why I tell everyone if they have a malposition (pipped wrong end) 
      its chirping and getting air LET THEM ALONE just note the time and keep an eye on them! These are usually the first pips you can see, because they are both the internal and external pips.
      I got lucky to catch a video of one today....

      Step by Step Guide
      Pipped Chick in distress

      That’s right, take a deep breath, calm your nerves and RELAX!
      There is no rush to get a chick out of the shell!

      "The developing embryo has lived in this shell for well over 3 weeks.

      It has survived off of the contents of the egg for that entire time. The only thing it has absorbed from the outside is Oxygen. As long as the chick is getting Oxygen, there is nothing urgent. Too many people feel the need to rush in and pull a chick out of a place that has served it well for 3-4 weeks. There should be no rush to get a chick out of the shell if it can breathe. As long as it has access to air through the pip, it can sit there all day, even after the blood vessels recede. It's not going to starve. It has plenty of yolk. It's not going to dehydrate, unless you get impatient and begin removing shell before it's time to do so causing bleeding or too much exposure to outside air." 

      If the majority of your chicks have hatched or
      its past day 21 (for Chicken eggs), it's time to....
      CANDLE & Tap!
      Candle and look for an internal pip. Pencil mark the air cell.

      Below is what an internal pip it looks like.
      The beak is thrust through the inner membrane into the air cell.

      Tap with your fingernail GENTLY on the air cell and hold to your ear, Can you hear a peep?

      **IF** YOU DO NOT HAVE AN INTERNAL PIP AND YOU CAN’T HEAR CHIRPING and but you do SEE MOVEMENT, place that egg BACK in the incubator and WAIT, this EGG DOES NOT need assisting at this point!

      **IF** however YOU DO NOT HAVE AN INTERNAL PIP AND YOU CAN’T HEAR CHIRPING and YOU DO NOT see MOVEMENT please proceed to The Float Test ~ Checking Egg Viability. Give Eggs A Full 24 Hrs Overdue Before Float Testing ONLY AFTER CANDLING and NO Internal pips and NO internal MOVEMENT or CHIRPING! This procedure takes very little equipment Or time to do and Is Easy To Perform. If your egg is still viable, place back in the bator and wait! 

      Now its time to assist if…
      Your Beyond THE WAITING PERIOD and you’ve followed ALL steps above!
      AND you clearly understand the hatching process,
      AND you are CERTAIN its time to intervene,
      AND you understand THE STEPS to ASSIST,

      Creating an Artificial Pip or "View Hole"!
      Disinfect & WASH your hands!
      Begin this step by making small hole at the pip area
      (or closest to where you hear him chirp)
      TYPICALLY his beak is towards the LOWER DIP IN THE AIR CELL as shown below

      so you can see that the little beak is free of the inner membrane. Use a flat tipped tweezers or a knife. Make "Only" a small hole ENOUGH DO NOT POKE just chip and then use tweezers to pull that white outer membrane away a tad until u can see his beak. Remember, THERE is an OUTER white membrane and an inner membrane. It is very important at this stage not to damage the inner membrane that holds all the chick's blood cells.

      If you need to create a pip its best to keep scoring a tiny X until you can chip the hole. You can also use a tiny sharp drill bit, NOT in the drill, I just use it to score the X, but DO NOT harm the chick! DO NOT CRUSH THE EGG with force! It is very hard to start a pip if you dont have one, so be prepared with multiple tools if one isnt working for you....

      If you open that pip and can see her beak like below, then leave the egg like this.... set her on a dampened paper towel, and put her back in the incubator and raise the humidity. Then WAIT.... WAIT WAIT!


      If you have made a pip AND CANNOT SEE THE BEAK, open a larger hole in the shell little by little, in the AIR CELL Area ONLY, DO NOT GO BELOW THAT LINE. As you can see in the photo below this little bugger was a hard one to find! Again, only clear the beak then dampen the membrane with a finger dipped in sterile/clean water (DO NOT GET NEAR HIS NOSTRILS and DO NOT PULL any MEMBRANE with blood in it!)
      Set the egg on a damp paper towel and return to the incubator.


      TIME TO LEAVE HER ALONE and keep that humidity up!! 75-80s even!!
      What did you read that is most important right now???

      LEAVE HER ALONE! Do not pick at her shell do not remove any more membrane at this point! Wait, every 2 hours dampen her membrane and place her back in the bator! There is A LOT of stuff for them to absorb!!
      Not just that blood, that yolk is HUGE! look!

      Now that you created a pip she still CAN finish up the job!

      What if she DOESN’T Finish and ZIP ?

      The first thing to remember when helping is to watch for blood. If bleeding, STOP right then and there. Put the egg back and wait a few hours before trying to help again. Once you start helping a chick at this point, it won't be able to finish by itself.

      If after 6-8 hours and there is still NO PROGRESS in her pipping you will need to remove the “CAP” Air cell end of the egg. ONLY ABOVE the Pencil Line! I start by taking tiny pieces of shell off just like a pipping line and follow just above the pencil line. IF YOU DRAW BLOOD you went a bit too low, so move a bit higher…

      In the picture below you will see an inner pip with the beak in it… Dampen first for better viewing of membranes. Clear a tiny bit of membrane from the nostrils, but DO NOT to hit any veins. If you dampen that white membrane you can see it’s fairly clear when wet but still filled with full vessels. If you do hit a little blood in a vein gently press a dry paper towel on the spot to stop the bleed. Below are pics of THE SAME chick dry membrane and the other dampened.
      This chick CLEARLY is NOT READY to COME OUT OF THAT SHELL or have its membrane removed!
      Put BACK in the bator on damp towel!


      I will also add that I have recently switched from using sterile water in an assist to using Q-tips or "Ear Buds", and adding antibacterial CLEAR OINTMENT called bacitracin (NOT NEOSPORIN) to inner membranes, because you do NOT have to keep wetting them and you can see in the pic below that the ointment makes that membrane clear, and it is ANTIBIOTIC it wont have bacteria in it that water can! 

      NEVER remove this membrane until THOSE VEINS RECEDE and blood is absorbed!

      Every 2 hours you will check and if necessary dampen that membrane or add more ointment if your using it. Continue looking for the recession of veining. This will probably take at least 8-12 hours if not more!

      If the blood is not absorbed THE YOLK SURE ISNT!

      Nope still needs a little time!

      How do I tell if the chick is READY?

      Below is how the membrane looked in a healthy hatch! Once the blood has been drawn into the body the veins will look thin, webby and the membrane will look transparent.
      Very thin tiny veins like hair strands! Enlarge photo.

      WHEN THE chick is READY they will again chirp LOUD!
      BUT ONLY GO BY THAT MEMBRANE and its veining!!

      She is READY!
      WHEN she has absorbed all that blood check the position of the beak and ease the membrane away by stretching rather than tearing if possible. If no bleeding occurs continue to gradually ease the membrane from the beak towards the sides of the shell and I sorta of stick them OVER the shell and they stick to it, as if putting a trash bag in a trash can. Continue until the chick is exposed by dampening the membrane, I use a tweezers with a flat tip (not pointed). If the membrane is sticking to the chick just keep dampening and use a clean damp paper towel and wipe gently with the feathers and it will come off.

      Now that you have the membrane pulled off the top of the chick wet along the outer shell membrane 1 more time & PUT THE CHICK BACK IN THE BATOR!
      DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PULL OR TILT the chick out of its shell!!

      LET the chick do that part when it’s ready!!!


      Oh NO!
      It PIPPED the WRONG END!

      It is common to lose about 1-2% of the chicks due to deformities and malpositions. Deformities occur during embryo development, while malpositions occur the last week of incubation. Malpositioned embryos are unable to pip the eggshell and escape due to improper positioning within the egg. The chicks can have difficulty positioning for pipping, absorbing the yolk sac, or changing from embryo to chick breathing air. The majority of malpositioned embryos that have died in the shell probably resulted from exhaustion and/or lack of oxygen. One GOOD thing to remember is that SOME malpositions are Lethal and some are not! Occasionally, malpositioned chicks will hatch unassisted but the hatch does need to be monitored closely to ensure that the chick is not becoming stressed, or stuck. Often as a result of the position in the shell they have been unable to absorb all of the yolk. Please refer to Navel SECTION BELOW.

      Common reasons of Malpositions are:

      Eggs are set with small end up.
      Advancing breeder hen age and shell quality problems.
      Egg turning frequency and angle are not adequate.
      Inadequate % humidity loss of eggs in the setter.
      Inadequate air cell development, improper temperature and humidity regulation, and insufficient ventilation in the incubator or hatcher.
      Imbalanced feeds, elevated levels of mycotoxins, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
      Lower than recommended temperatures in the last stage of incubation.

      Be extremely careful not to puncture the membranes directly under the shell as this is likely to cause a bleed. The external pip of a malpositioned chick is actually both an internal and external pip, these are also the hardest to deal with because they are made directly into a fully active membrane and not into the safety of the air cell.


      The decision to intervene and how fast to progress with assistance is not simple and there are NO RULES except… SLOW SLOW SLOW HOURS HOURS HOURS and MORE HOURS!

      A chicks chances are slim with these kinds of malpositions so recognize that your trying to give it a chance to live! I have lost a few malpositions and saved a few! EXPERIENCE WITH ASSISTING is VERY HELPFUL! Assistance should take place in stages. Stopping after each stage of assistance gives the chick a chance to complete the hatching by itself.

      Assisting Chicks that have ALREADY pipped the wrong end

      or have pipped in an air pocket within the egg (seen while candling, or hearing their chirps). If the chick has made a successful external pip at the wrong end or somewhere in between, you can monitor them and see if they can hatch out themselves, if no progress in say 10-12 hrs begin a slow assist, keep reading. If the pip is not successful you will need to create one, chip a tiny bit of shell away from the center of the crack. Make sure there is a slice through the outer membrane so air can get in. TINY means less than 1/4”. If the pip has fluid running out of it create a viewing hole to check if its still viable.

      ASSISTING~ If the chick does not progress, membrane looks brown or seems exhausted after (give or take 8 hrs), begin assist by slowly chipping outer shell as to create a viewing hole to see whats going on in there. CAUTION ~ SLOW as the view hole in the case of a malpositioned chick is actually the external and internal pip in ALL cases. They are difficult! More so than the standard view hole, as they are made into a fully active membrane area and NOT into the safety of the air cell. The membranes directly under the shell should not be punctured accidentally as this is likely to cause a major bleed.

      Assisting CHICkS that you SUSPECT Malposition

      THIS is by FAR THE WORST SENARIO and SO HARD to Distinguish between Not ready to hatch and malpositioned! If you suspect you have a malpositioned chick (the egg is overdue for hatching) and HAS GONE PAST day 21 and the hatch of everyone else…. you can open air sac, (DO NOT OPEN BELOW AIR CELL LINE!) follow the instructions above on opening the air cell CREATING an EXTERNAL PIP. BUT FIRST Study the common malpositions as pictured in this article so you are familiar with its anatomy!….

      After carefully removing air cell end, wet a finger and feel and look for the beak through the membrane. IF there is A LOT of fluid under the membrane you may have a wet/mushy chick or one that simply isn’t ready yet, place them back in the incubator and wait! DO NOT OPEN THE INNER MEMBRANE! If a lot of fluid is NOT present, look for its big round eye, or beak, or even wing to help you find its head. JUST LOOK AND FEEL THROUGH THE MEMBRANE AT THIS POINT DO NOT OPEN IT!

      take your tweezers and create a small hole in the inner membrane AVOIDING ANY BLOOD VESSELS! Depending on position you may need a larger hole, just AVOID vessels as much as possible. You may need to gently lift/pull the head from under the wing and by gently extending it may be sufficient to allow the chick to complete hatching. (If you do hit a vessel quickly using a dry clean paper towel or gauze hold for a few seconds and bleeding will stop.) After this stage the chick will look as though he is gasping, place in incubator & let it rest at this point. Let the chick rest until the blood vessels recede, follow instructions for assisted hatch above from this point on. WAIT WAIT WAIT! Oh and WAIT SOME MORE! AGAIN. this is the HARDEST position to get a chick to live, but at least your giving it a chance at life! If you find its beak/eye/wing

      can make a guess as to where you think it is after refering to that link and its pictures on malpositions, and carefully chip ONLY OUTER EGG Shell away at the guess area. (Example: If you see the butt or yolk sack when you took the air cell end off, you have the bottom of the chick, you will refer to the link with malposition pictures and take a guess at how the chick is situated at the other end or SIDE of the egg) The membrane will often be brown where the beak is trying to break through. If your lucky and find its beak, create an air hole there so the chick can breathe and if you didn’t find it DO NOT open the membrane, refer back to the position ANATOMY pics and try another spot and keep trying! As LONG as your only taking the Shell off and not causing blood loss and NOT disrupting and inner membrane your ok! ITS HARD to figure out a position and I am finding alot of times their head is tucked in the middle of the egg between butt and feet! After you found its beak establish clear beak for breathing, let the chick rest until the blood vessels recede, follow instructions for assisted hatch above from this point on. WAIT WAIT WAIT! Oh and WAIT SOME MORE!IF YOU DON’T FIND its beak/eye/wing from the air cell end or see a yellow/orange sack DO NOT break the membrane! I HATE HAVING TO DO THIS STEP AND depending on egg cost I WONT EVEN TRY AN ASSIST! It is Hard understand and find how a chick is positioned! IF YOU CANT FIND ITS BEAK, you

      SHIPPED EGGS & Malpositions!

      SADDLE SHAPED AIR CELLS are very COMMON with shipped eggs! 

      Saddle shaped is when one or both sides have a large "dip" in the air cell. 

      A lot of times with saddle shaped cells the chick doesn’t position correct for hatching and their feet can easily get stuck behind their head and “smoosh” the chick so they can’t move, it can also force the yolk sack and everything more north in the shell.... First lets Look at this position.....

      Note the top of the egg (air cell end) and how far down one side of the egg this air cell goes. Some times the chicks CAN do the internal pip but cannot hit that outer membrane/shell. This is why you should pencil mark the air cells and keep a close watch on them at hatch, especially if they seem "later" that the rest by about 6-12 hrs. I will begin an assist by candle and tapping to make sure I have that internal pip, HOWEVER in this case you cant see the internal pip too well because of the angle, so I always tap to see if I hear them. IF you DO hear a chirp or see an internal pip then follow the Assist steps first in this article. If not I check again in another 6 hours and repeat...

      She HATCHED! But what's with her butt?

      If there is slight bleeding at the navel use corn starch or a dab of cold water to stop the bleeding. You can also swab the umbilicus area with a 1% solution of Betadine and place the chick back in the bator to dry. If you do see this and the chick is already out of the shell dangling with this, use a clean sterile scissors to cut through them, DO NOT PULL as you can harm the chick’s navel!
      But only the cords!
      Please see below for info on unabsorbed yolk.

      Below is a photo of a "Duck in a Cup" waiting for its yolk sack to finish up!

      The chick BELOW had a large navel at hatch.

      With some iodine / betadine she had quickly absorbed the rest of that navel area and is now a fine young pullet!
      You want to DRY the navel not keep it wet if the chick is already out of its shell!

      YES this CHICK MADE IT through with proper Care!


      And this one MADE IT! Say Hello to "Yolk"

      Yolk, a WONDERFUL Story of a Chick that stopped pipping midway and ended up having a yolk sack rupture and a bunch of other issues! It is well worth a read and "Rock" has all the footage to boot!


      New Chick Care Links and Info

      DIP THE BEAK OF THE CHICK IN THE WATER BEFORE YOU TURN IT LOOSE in the brooder. A taste of water right away helps them to find more water soon. If your chicks are at all stressed, add about 3 tablespoons of brown or table sugar to each quart of water for extra energy. Most baby bird loss is caused because the bird doesn't start to eat or drink. Never let your bird run out of water. 

      AND ITS CHEAP at TSC its Balanced electrolytes supplement for newly hatched and adult chickens, ducks, turkeys, and other domestic poultry. Fortified with vitamins A, D3, E, C, K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12. Convenient, single-use packets each mix into one gallon of drinking water. Use during hot weather or other stress to support optimal hydration and bird health. JUST IN CASE you have a weak bird! OR You can add sugar to the water in the first couple of days.
    • We recommend Anitone in the drinking water 

    • Homemade Electrolyte Recipe for weak/ill chicks
      2 C. Water
      2 TBL. Brown Sugar, honey or molasses
      1/2 tsp Salt
      1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
      Mix until all dry ingredients dissolve & Keep refrigerated
      You could also use electrolyte drinks Gatorade or Pedialyte, or
      3 drops of POLYVISOL (liquid childrens A-B-D vitamins)
      Slowly drip along inner edge of lower beak.


      Splayed Leg & Curly Toes
      On occasions “stuck” chicks are affected with splayed or rotated legs. This may be a result of an unusual position in the egg, a fall resulting in injury to the leg, or slipping on a smooth surface in the hatcher & brooder. Splayed legs are preventable by the use of non-slip brooder matting and can be corrected with hobbles, if identified early enough.
      FINISHED ~

      SANITIZE EQUIPMENT & PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK or throw the bator out the window!

      A few Cool Videos!

      Disclaimer: Please note this information is offered as friendly advice only and, whilst I have made every effort to ensure it is accurate, I can not be held responsible if it proves not to be useful in your case!

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