For more information about hatching eggs at home read my articles How to Hatch Chicken Eggs in an Incubator and 15 Helpful Hints for a Successful Hatch.
Poor Hatch Rate ~ What Went Wrong?
Although hatching baby poultry in an incubator can be a fun and educational experience, sometimes we have a poor hatch. It’s very disappointing to spend 21 days turning eggs, filling the humidity trays and waiting patiently, only to have few, or no, chicks hatch. So how do you know what went wrong?
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Top 5 Reasons for a Poor Hatch Rate
Here are the most common reasons that few, or no, chicks hatch:
- Eggs were infertile, old, or improperly handled before hatch.
- Temperatures were too low, too high, or unstable during hatch.
- Humidity levels were too high or too low.
- Eggs were not turned often enough, resulting in leg deformities.
- Incubator was opened while chicks were hatching.
How Can I Find Out What Went Wrong?
You may never know exactly what caused a hatch to go bad. However, you can do some detective work to get a better understanding of what happened. I usually wait 2-4 days past the expected hatch date before I clean out the incubator. If the temps are slightly low during the hatch, you may have a few chicks that start to pip a couple of days late. Once you are sure that no more eggs are going to hatch, take them outside and break each one open. Don’t do this in the house (just in case any of the eggs are rotten).
- If an egg looks old and runny with no embryo inside, it was most likely infertile, kept too long, or stored at temps that were too warm or cold before incubation, or in the very early stage of incubation.
- If you find embryos that stopped developing at different stages, it’s likely that the temperature in the incubator experienced too many ups and downs, or the humidity trays dried out several times.
- If the chick was fully formed, but never broke through the shell, the humidity or temperature may have dropped too low and the chick died. If the humidity was too high from day 1 – 18, the chick may have drowned during hatch. The albumen (egg white) needs to dry out a certain rate so the air space is large enough for the chick to breathe as it prepares to pip through the shell.
- If the chick pipped through the shell, but didn’t progress past this point, the humidity or temperatures might have dropped too low, or the chick may have had leg deformities or weakness (likely caused by improper turning).
It’s a good idea to candle the eggs every week during incubation. Eggs that never develop an embryo may be removed early in the incubation to prevent rotting and bursting open. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen.
Take Notes During Incubation
It is also advisable to make notes during the incubation period if anything unusual happens. If the temperature drops or spikes, the humidity trays dry out, or you forget to turn the eggs… make a note of it on your incubation calendar. This will allow you to compare the end of embryo development to the dates that problems were noted. If the eggs were not turned and fully formed chicks were unable to hatch, you’ll have notes about forgetting to turn the eggs properly. Hopefully the next hatch will be more successful after you learn what mistakes were made this time.
Here is a chart of embryo development that is very helpful for determining when the death of an embryo occured during incubation.
This is by no means a complete list of reasons for an unsuccessful incubation. There can be genetic problems with the embryos, too much humidity early on, and eggs that were jostled before (or during) the hatch, to name just a few.
To reduce problems that cause poor hatch rates, review proper egg care and incubation procedures prior to starting your hatch.