Rescuing poults during hatching


11 Years
Mar 11, 2010
Blount Co., TN
This is the second season I have hatched out Narragansett turkeys. In two years, I have yet to have a single poult that could hatch on its own. I use the same cabinet incubator for both chickens and turkeys with a temp setting of 100.4 and humidity 60-70%. Chickens have never had a problem hatching themselves, but poults pip and die if I don't break the membrane (which is like leather) and extract the head. Once I get this far, they manage the rest of the way. But both last year and this one I have lost the first few poults because they crack the shell and then die before they get any further.

Even the ones that live just seem to be much weaker than any chicks I have hatched out over the years. Does this sound typical for turkeys?
I work for a large commercial turkey grower. Are you turning the eggs? We turn/tilt ours to a new position about 2-3 times a week. Also they discovered that turkeys hatch better if they are incubated with the pointy end pointing down
Only two or three times a week?
Are not commercial incubators self turning that rotate daily?
Could be a few different issues.

I have read that if a poult has their head to the wrong side while hatching it could pick a hole and then be stuck.
And this could be a dna gene issue.
So if one helps a poult hatch that has this dna gene issue it will pass it to all its off spring.
So next time write down which side its head is in during hatch position.
One's in the wrong position should not breed.

Weighting an egg before putting it in the incubator and then again at lock down will tell you the moister percentage loss.
That will tell you if you have to much humidity or not enough.
To much moister left in the egg crowds the hatch and can prevent moving.
Not enough moister in the egg can leave a dried out membrane which can shrink wrap a poult at hatch.

Are they hatching early or late? Or right on timing?
Early is on the warm side later is on the cooler side.
1) their heads are positioned the same as chicks, tucked under their left wing, next to their heart.
2) The incubator has an automatic turner and all the eggs are in trays with the large end up.
3) There are two membranes between the shell and the poult. The inner membrane, the one susceptible to shrink wrap is fine; good blood supply and easily breakable. The problem is with the outer membrane, the one closes to the shell and with the shell itself. The poults that have died have been found with a pip in the shell and the tip of their beak out, but no other progress. It seems as if they have just exhausted themselved with no progress in breaking the shell.
4) These experiences have come from the offspring of multiple genetic lines from a couple of diffenent hatcheries, so I don't believe it to be genetic.
How have your hatches been lately? I'm getting ready to incubate, and could use some good advice. The pipping you described above was the same as with my geese. Never had this problem with pheasants, chicks or ducks.
I have had sixteen pip in the last 24 hours. I found the first dead, as described above with the tip of the beak through the shell and no further progress. From that point I have assisted with all the others. We hatched 246 poults last year with a 92% survival rate, so here's some hard-fought advice about assisting with turkey hatches.

You should not do it all at once, especially the first few that pip. The earliest ones to begin hatching sometimes have not fully enveloped their yolk. Nearly every loss from last year was a poult that still had a considerable amount of yolk exposed. I peel only enough shell and membrane to extend the wing and extract the head. I then leave the poults for at least a couple of hours. Most will be able to fight their own way out, but the ones that don't usually have a large portion of the yolk attached to the inner membrane of the shell. I only remove the portion of the shell/membrane that is starting to dry to the feathers (shrink wrap).

Some are able to complete the envelopment of the yolk, so still don't make it. As I said in my initial post, the poults that we have hatched aren't nearly as resilient as chicks and ducklings. Checking the incubator and hatching tray every few hours is time consuming, so we try to schedule hatches on Saturday/Sunday. This hatch began Monday afternoon with the most activity occurring Tuesday morning between 0300-0500. I work a full-time job, so I was faced with a dilemma this morning. I could either leave the ten pipped eggs and lose most of them, or I could do a complete extraction and risk having some die due to poor envelopment. I chose the latter and sure enough, four were still attached to the shell. I peeled enough shell to allow their feet to move and hoped for the best. When I got home this evening, two of the four had died. So now out of 16 pips I have thirteen fluffy poults. That's still a pretty good hatch rate. This was the first week of eggs, so the fertility rate was only about 70%, but we will hatch 25-30 poults every week from now until the end of July barring a disastrous heat wave in June.
Are you increasing the humidity and lowering the temperature for the last several days. If the humidity is not high enough, the membrane and the shell will be tougher. 60% is way too low for lockdown. 70% is barely enough. Some people like to go much higher. And 60 to 70% may be too high for the first 25 days. There are diagrams that show approximately how big the air sacs should be after so many days. You might want to compare your air sacs to the pictures to see if your humidity could be a problem.
It's easy to adjust levels of humidity when you're hatching one set at a time, such as with a hovabator. I am using a cabinet incubator adding a new tray of eggs each week. So the 60-70% is the middle of the road for the various stages of incubation. As I stated earlier, I am also hatching chicks (BR, BO, Aussie, Ameracauna, and RIR) and there are no issues with membranes or with exhaustion.

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