Death before hatch...can someone advice?


10 Years
Jul 19, 2009
Palmerston North
I was expecting a good hatch yesterday and today from my 25 chicken eggs in the incubator but it is turning out to be quite disappointing. A few have hatched on their own but quite a few were having trouble. So i intervened and gave a helping hand. It seemed like the eggs were too small for the developing chicks. Most of them that had trouble filled the egg completely and they didn't have any room to move to pip. I didn't get to a few time and they didn't make it. Looked like they suffocated in the egg. Is it a normal occurance for smaller eggs to have this problem?

I also has several gold laced wyandotte that have died in the egg before piping but they had broken the membrane on the inside.

It is a sad day for me
I'm sorry about your disappointment. Good thing you rescued some of them.

It sounds like either your humidity was too high or your temp was too high. My understanding (and I'm no expert--just been reading this board a lot) is that if your humidity is too high during incubation, your air cell doesn't grow enough so the chick continues to grow and fill all the space, including where the air cell should have been, and it means several things: There is not enough air in the air cell to sustain the chick while it rests before pipping, it means the chick will have a harder time orienting itself to the air cell and finding the right place to pip, so it risks rupturing the wrong membranes and bleeding to death or drowning, and it also means the chick grows too large to get out of the shell easily. Too high temps can also lead to problems because the embryo grows faster and either hatches early (sometimes with deformities) or gets too big before hatching.

What kind of eggs were you hatching? And what is your ambient (room) humidity (roughly)? What about the humidity in your incubator? Have you calibrated your hygrometer AND your thermometer, to be sure they are showing the proper readings?

I know that my thermometers both show a low reading, because I've been getting late hatches (and also a somewhat low hatch percentage). So I've had to start turning the temp up gradually, about half a degree each time I incubate, until I get it to a satisfactory level. That is the old fashioned method of calibrating the thermometer. I'm considering shelling out $20 for a liquid/air/solid milk/food thermometer from Hoegger's that has a guaranteed accuracy to 0.1 degrees and a nice long probe so I can calibrate my thermometers with immediate accuracy. But I haven't decided to do it yet--we'll see how this hatch goes.

I'm sorry you had such a rough hatch. I hope it goes better next time!
I have a digital thermometer and hygrometer that is pretty accurate.

They hatch bang on time almost to the exact hour of 21 days so I think the temperature is perfect. There is one that hatch on day 19 which surprised me and it is doing very well. I have always done well with quail eggs but chicken eggs I still need to learn a lot.

I had the humidity just under 50% until the last 3 day, 65-70%. Some eggs had good sized air sacs but some didn't. The lady sold me the eggs that I got for cheap did give me smaller eggs so I am thinking that the eggs are probably sub quality?

I was incubating, SLW, GLW, Light Sussex and Orpington/araucana cross.

DO you know what is the hatch rate of a hen vs incubator? I am thinking of setting eggs under a clucky hen instead.
Yes, it sounds like your eggs may not have been a good quality, based on your description. Did you notice whether it was the eggs with small air sacs that had the problems with hatching? Or was it all of them? I have never hatched chicken eggs (although I have six in the bator right now), only ducks, so I'm not the right person to answer the humidity question. Sounds about right though, if perhaps a *little* on the high side.

My understanding is that a good broody hen is likely to hatch a higher percentage of eggs, but it varies depending on the quality of the broody (clucky--is that your word for "broody"? It's cute--where are you from?).

Hopefully others will chime in here!
Oh--I just googled Palmerston North--you're in New Zealand. Cool. What is your humidity like there? It's a dry climate, right? That means your higher humidity is probably right on. But you still may need to calibrate your measuring equipment.
did you take the plugs out and make sure they got plenty of air? I think sometimes they suffocate because the last couple days they metabolize a lot in growth and moving around to get ready to hatch, then the huge effort to hatch out. Sorry for your loss. Better luck next time.
Smallish pullet eggs often require assistance. I'd evaluate your ventilation - see the ventilation thread in "read me's on hatching" at the top of this forum.

You can try fidgeting with the humidity downward if another hatch of all normal sized - good quality eggs goes poorly. High humidity affects available oxygen at hatch.

Glad you went with your gut and saved a few but it's always a nailbiter to help or not.

I fiddled with my temps til they hatch at late day 19, early day 20. It's what works here. Anything still in the incubator at day 21 is likely to need help and I know it and I'm usually in time to save it.

You get a feel for it. If you're not using a form of fake egg and thermometer set up, time to do it and see what your internal egg temps are running. See water wiggler threads for information on what and how.

Recalibrate your thermometers again if it's been a hatch or two.

Best of luck, stick with it, you'll get there.
humidity here is currently high at the moment as it is raining everyday but inside the house the humidity is about 50-60% as I have ventilation system in the house.

Yeah we use the clucky down here but we do use broody as well

Only the eggs that had small air sacs struggle to hatch. A few of the good eggs have good sized air sacs hatched without help.

I know it is a bad thing to help them so much but I just could bare losing so many. At current count I have lost 8 out of 25.

I also noticed that some of the eggs had really thick and hard shell and the chicks weren't able to pip through. They broke the membrane and they just stop there. Do you think the hens were on high calcium diet?

So for the remaining eggs that were due to hatch last night, I decided to break the top and let them do the rest and fortunately I managed to get to some of them in time as they have broken the membrane but could get through the hard shell. So they are doing alright at the moment.
Shell strength isn't usually the problem. Chick strength is. And that's a function of enough air to breathe and correct temps before and at hatch.

You never get to tell what the "strength/thickness" of an egg is if it hatches on it's own. Guineas throw some of the hardest eggs out there and those suckers pop out like popcorn.

It's about strength of the chick, not the shell. That egg tooth can whomp anything.

You're seeing a weakness problem. Small air cells are showing a chick not the right size, not breathing properly, all kinds of small things that are hard to diagnose are shown in those things.

So you're still really looking at the constants you can effect. Humidity - try nudging it down. Temps sound okay but you could nudge it a bit up for a hatch to see.
Ventilation - adjust it toward more, even if just at hatch time.

I don't even mess with my humidity here until hatch, then get it to 60 and forget it. The hatch raises it.

The only time I fiddle is with shipped and probably heated eggs, where I note a too steep water loss over the course of incubation, when I'm candling. Then I bump it up during incubation and at hatch.

Have a look at the air cell charts in the read me section, and the ventilation discussion. Try to get your air cells right with the humidity you're using and work on your air exchange during hatch.

Likely those two things will get you better hatches.

It's a matter of practice and feel for it that you do get over time. I'm glad you saved some of them. A lot of people fair far worse there first few times out.

I've seen broodies ruin whole hatches a number of times. In truth, they've really no better record than someone learning incubation, because each hen must learn and bad things happen to hens too.

Bad broodies, hurt broodies, eaten broodies, snakes, and found nests are why I got an incubator. I used to do it ONLY with broodies, then got frustrated. Now I've always got an incubator plugged in when I have a broody - so if mistakes are made I might be able to save some.

Sometimes nature sucks as much as artificial incubation.

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