It’s day 21 and your eyes have been glued to the incubator, waiting to finally meet your new baby chicks. It can be quite stressful when a chick “pips” through the eggshell, but then nothing else happens. When should you help a chick hatch?
A chick can begin the hatching process and stop for a variety of reasons, including:
- the temperature or humidity is either too high or too low during incubation
- eggs have not been properly turned during incubation
- lack of ventilation during incubation
If the conditions are not just right, it can result in the following problems:
- chick becomes “shrink wrapped” or “sticky”
- develop leg deformities, making it difficult or impossible to hatch
- chicks that are suffering an infection or disease may not completely hatch due to weakness
- genetic issues can cause a chick not to hatch completely
If a chick is imperfect in any way, it very common for that chick to die or stop hatching after it has pipped.
IMPORTANT: If you choose to help a chick hatch, it is important for you to know that this chick may be a special needs chicken. Ask yourself, “Are you able to raise a chicken with special needs?“
If you choose to help a chick out of its shell, read on for some good pointers that will help increase your odds of a successful hatch.
5 Important things You Need to Know -When Should You Help a Chick Hatch?
#1. Don’t Intervene Too Early
How Long Does it Take a Chicken Egg to Hatch Naturally?
Once a chick externally breaks through its shell or “pips,” it should hatch within 24 hours. Chicks that take longer than 24 hours MAY be struggling due to abnormalities or from becoming shrink wrapped.
Not all chicks break through or “pip” through their external shell and “zip” out within minutes. Some do, but this is not the norm.
Most chicks will break through their inner membrane at around 19 days and 12 hours, then break through their external shell around 20 days and 12 hours.
Once a chick externally pips though its shell, it is very common for them to rest for a few hours before “zipping” out of its shell.
Zipping out of the shell can take anywhere from a few minutes all the way up to 24 hours.
IMPORTANT: A chick needs to absorb all of its yolk before hatching. It is important that you give it this time to do so. Helping a chick out of its shell before it has completely absorbed its yolk will lower its odds of survival substantially.
#2. Know the Signs and Causes of a Stuck Chick
How do You Know if a Chick Needs Help Hatching?
A chick that is “shrink wrapped” or is a “sticky chick” is stuck and unable to rotate inside the shell to hatch.
In a shrink wrapped chick, its inner membrane dries out and tightens on the chick, restricting it from moving around. This makes it impossible to zip out of the shell.
Sticky chicks are surrounded with increased moisture throughout incubation. These chicks can also become shrink wrapped with a sudden drop in humidity.
DO NOT open the incubator during lockdown, days 18-21. Chicks can easily become shrink wrapped if the incubator is opened at this time. This is due to a quick drop in the humidity level.
For Step by Step Instructions on How to Open an Incubator During Lockdown, keep reading.
Once a chick pips through its external shell, you are able to see the baby chick open and close its beak and use its egg tooth to continue zipping out of the shell.
It is called “zipping” because the pips actually look like a zipper around the circumference of the egg shell.
Sometimes a chick will pip though the shell and begin to zip out of its shell, but then it stops. It is normal for a chick to take several breaks when trying to hatch. Any longer than 24 hours after pipping without hatching, something is probably wrong.
What Causes a Chick to Become Shrink Wrapped?
- If the humidity level is too low during incubation, this can cause a chick to stick to its inner membrane.
- If the incubator lid is removed, especially during days 18-21 (lockdown), it can cause chicks to become shrink wrapped.
What Causes a Sticky Chick?
- Too high of humidity throughout incubation causes increased moisture inside the egg, causing chicks to be smaller and surrounded by more fluid.
- Increased moisture in the egg means increased fluids around the chick during hatching.
- During hatching, if these fluids are exposed to a rapid drop in humidity they can harden. This hardened fluid sticks to the chicks body, making it impossible to hatch.
Signs of a Shrink Wrapped Chick
- Most chicks will hatch on day 21 and can take up to 24 hours from internal pipping to hatch. Anything longer than 24 hours is suspicion of some sort of a problem, including being shrink wrapped.
- No internal or external pipping after day 22. (You can listen for peeping to be able to tell if a chick has broken through its internal membrane and taken its first breath.)
- Chick externally pipped, began to zip, but stopped for longer than a 24 hour period from when it internal pipped.
- Chick externally pipped, but has not zipped at all in a 24 hour period from when it internal pipped.
For Suspected Shrink Wrapped Chicks
- Keep a close eye on them.
- Keeping the incubator closed, use a flashlight to shine inside to observe the chick.
- How is the energy level of the chick?
- Does the chick seem to be getting weaker?
- Watch for breathing.
- Listen for peeping.
- Watch for movement.
- Is it able to rotate?
- Are the membranes dried to the chick?
#3. Criteria for a Chick Needing Assistance With a Hatch
If a chick meets all of the following criteria, it likely needs assistance with hatching.
- It has been more than 24 hours since a chick internally pipped.
- Other chicks have already hatched.
- Chick has externally pipped, but is obviously shrink wrapped.
- You opened the incubator during lockdown and can see the membranes stuck to your chick, making it impossible to hatch -OR-
- Your incubator was set at too high of humidity throughout incubation and your chick has hardened fluid stuck to it, making it impossible to hatch.
Not all struggling chicks need assistance with hatching. Chicks that have certain problems are usually weaker and either do not fully develop during incubation or do not have the strength to hatch.
If you do decide to help, be prepared to be able to raise a chick with special needs. Be prepared for the possibility of the chick not surviving very long. It is not easy watching a chick suffer. This can be hard for many people to handle.
Chicks that You May Not Want to Assist in Hatching
- Chicks that are deformed (missing body parts, parts outside its body, crossed beak)
- Chicks that are not fully developed
- A chick with respiratory issues
- Nutritional issues (passed on from parents)
It is important to know what the signs of a stuck chick are, before you assist with a hatch. Helping a deformed or sickly chick hatch only prolongs its suffering before it passes away.
Sometimes it’s better to just let nature take its course.
How Long Should You Wait Before Helping a Chick Hatch?
24 hours. Most chicks will hatch within 24 hours from the time it has internally pipped. If after external pipping you notice a chick is obviously shrink wrapped to its membranes you can intervene at any time. See below for instructions on how to properly open an incubator during lockdown.
#4. Adding Warm Water to Incubator Trick
If done right, adding warm water to your incubator can be a “hands off” approach.
When the humidity suddenly drops, a chick can have trouble hatching because it is becomes “stuck” to the membranes, restricting it from being able to rotate inside the shell to hatch.
Adding warm water (not hot) to the incubator can help to quickly raise the humidity level. Check with your incubator instruction manual to see what the manufacturer recommends the humidity level to be at.
“Experts suggest relative humidity on days 1-17 to be 50-55%. Days 18-21, during “lockdown,” it should be raised to 65-70%. This can be monitored and maintained with the use of a hygrometer and using a wet sponge inside the incubator.“15 Essential Incubation Tips – How to Improve Hatch Rate
The trick to adding warm water to your incubator is to do it without opening it! Opening the incubator predisposes all chicks that have internally or externally pipped to becoming shrink wrapped inside the shell due to a quick drop in the humidity.
How to Add Water to an Incubator Without Jeopardizing the Other Eggs?
- On the first day of “lockdown,” place a clean sponge inside the incubator, directly under one of the vent holes.
- Place a straw through this vent hole until it touches the sponge below it.
- Use warm, distilled water and a medicine dropper to add the water through the straw.
- It doesn’t take much to start seeing the humidity level begin to rise. Only add enough water to bring the humidity level up to the recommended level, usually 65-70%.
- Remove the straw after adding the warmed water. Chicks need increased oxygen during hatching.
The added moisture should help to loosen the membranes grips on the unhatched chick, hopefully allowing it to rotate in the shell and continue pipping.
#5. How to Properly Open an Incubator During Lockdown
Open Incubator in Humid Bathroom
“If you find it necessary to open up the incubator during lockdown, bring the incubator into a humid bathroom. You can increase the humidity in a small bathroom quite easily by running hot water in your shower. Bring your hygrometer in the bathroom with you and wait until it reaches the same humidity as in your incubator before opening it up.
(For safety, keep your incubator away from any running water.)”27 Clever Chicken Egg Incubation Tips for a Successful Hatch
CONCLUSION: 5 Important things You Need to Know -When Should You Help a Chick Hatch?
It is important to know what the signs of a shrink wrapped or sticky chick are so you can decide if you are going to assist with a hatch.
5 Important things You Need to Know -When Should You Help a Chick Hatch?
- Don’t intervene too early.
- Know the signs and causes of a chick that needs help hatching.
- Know when you should and shouldn’t assist a chick with hatching.
- Add warm water to incubator(without opening) trick.
- How to properly open an incubator during lockdown.