It’s one of those controversial chicken raising topics: do you assist a chick that is struggling to hatch? Some say yes, it’s your duty, while others say you should let nature take its course.
It’s hard to know what to do. If you’re looking at a chick who has pecked through their shell, has been working on it for a significant amount of time and isn’t progressing…should you help?
Experience is a Teacher.
I do know people who have been successful in helping a chick out. I also know that assisting with a hatch takes a lot of patience and careful work. Sometimes the survival of the chick has little to do with the fact that their hatch was or wasn’t assisted, and has more to do with the reason they were having trouble hatching in the first place—which unfortunately is almost impossible to identify while they are still in the shell.
In the early years of my incubating, I tried to help 3 mostly-hatched chicks out. None made it. In all cases, it was obvious they weren’t “supposed” to make it out. Two died soon after hatching and one ended up being euthanized. And I don’t care what anyone tells you. Having to euthanize a chick that you helped out of a shell is way worse than watching it struggle to get out of a shell.
In 90% of cases, if a chick can’t make it out, I now assume it wouldn’t be strong enough to make it in the outside world. If you do help, know that the chick might not live, or might be fine…or might “survive” but have “other issues”— which means you’ve possibly increased the work for yourself. A friend once helped a chick from a shell that had completely misshapen legs. The chick struggled to walk and my friend did everything she could to help him get around. He required a lot of extra attention and work.
That’s not to say that every chick that struggles to get out will have time consuming issues. Every situation is different, and since none of us speak chicken language, it’s sometimes difficult to decide what to do.
But you know what? It’s great to have friends who have been there, done that to give advice. I asked some of my homesteading buddies share their experiences and opinions on assisting with struggling hatchers, and they had a lot to say.
“We tried to help a chick when the shell seemed to be stuck…and learned that was a bad thing to do.” – Heather from TheHomesteadingHippy.com
“You should only try to help a chick hatch if it’s partially zipped the shell, but hasn’t advanced at all in the past 24 hours, assuming the chick is at term. It can take a while for chicks to fully zip, but in my experience, if it started, but has gotten stalled, it might be malpresented. You can carefully chip at the shell along the zip line, giving the chick a chance to complete the zip after every chip. It’s best to allow the chick the chance to complete the hatch process itself and to interfere as minimally as possible. You want to make sure you’re not causing more harm than good. Despite popular belief, interfering doesn’t necessarily cause the chick to be less healthy, especially if the chick made it through the full 21-day hatch, pipped on time, and began zipping. It just means that the chick needed a little extra help completing the hatching process.” – Maat van Uitert, TheFrugalChicken.com
“I’ve assisted quite a few times with chicks and ducklings. I’ve never lost a bird. Having said that, I don’t advise others to do it because if they think they should, they will intervene too soon. Almost every assist death is a result of not waiting and therefore doing more harm than good. At day 22 people are tearing apart eggs and killing chicks that were just behind a little. People start opening eggs not knowing where the right place to do it is. I don’t even manually pip an egg that hadn’t been marked so I know for sure where the air sac is. I typically don’t assist unless the chick has tried to get out on its own first.” Jess from 104Homestead.com
“I only help as a last resort. Generally I try to leave them alone. I take the view that the healthy and vigorous chicks will hatch. Often if i help them they end up with other problems anyway. Its important to have all the conditions in the incubator right and healthy hens to give the chicks the best chance of hatching safely.” – Liz from Eight Acres
“The times I have helped are few because I do think that nature knows best. If it’s because of humidity level not being high enough, I have opened the incubator during hatch to add more moisture. I have had both success and failure at helping but prefer to not intervene. If I intervene it is towards the end after at least a day of watching the chick work on it themselves.” -Janet from TimberCreekFarmer.com.
“I’ve done before with both success and failure. In general I don’t recommend it. Nature really does know best. When I have helped it’s always with the understanding that the chick will probably not survive or will not thrive. I use a warm saline spray to keep the chick moist while I help. I never help if the chick hasn’t been able to make it out to at least 75% on its own. Life is precious and I hate to see needless suffering or loss. But sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away when the hatch isn’t going smoothly. When I incubate eggs I follow the old timer’s advice and time the hatch so that the chicks hatch out on a Cancer day during a waxing moon.There’s a moist and watery quality when the moon is in Cancer.” -Katherine, formerly of GrannyMiller.com
“I only help if they’ve pipped but have not progressed in 24 hrs give or take a few hours. I’ve done it 3 times, all successful. I use a small dental pick and start at the pip, carefully working my way around to zip the egg. I do it with very small, light touches. Any sign whatsoever of blood and I stop and shift somewhere else. Once it’s zipped I place it back in the incubator and let the chick finish making its way out so as not to cause any damage, especially if the chick really is behind and so hasn’t fully absorbed the yolk. The two chicks and one duck I’ve assisted in this manner have done very well and are healthy birds. The key to assisting, if you are going to, is to wait as long as possible, don’t try to take large pieces of shell off, and don’t try to pip the egg as you won’t know where exactly that it should be pipped. I also don’t recommend trying to actually pull the chick out of the egg if at all avoidable.” – Brandon from LoneStarFarmstead.com
The choice is yours.
The choice is ultimately yours. Let nature take its course or decide to intervene. Hopefully all these shared experiences will give you a little taste of what you’re signing up for, regardless of what you decide.
Whew. This baby chick thing, right? Sometimes, it’s hard to be a chicken mom (or dad).