Should You Help A Chick Hatch?
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It’s one of those controversial chicken raising topics: should you help a chick 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?
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Should you help a chick hatch? Do I ever help a chick hatch?
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 my many years of incubating, I’ve tried to help four mostly hatched chicks. Only one of those chicks survived. In the other three cases, it was obvious they weren’t “supposed” to make it out. Two died soon after hatching and one ended up being euthanized.
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.
The one chick that did make it was the oddest situation I’ve seen yet in an incubator. The chick was trying to come out breech. His bum and one leg were sticking out of the shell and it was almost as though he was trying to get traction with his one leg to pop the rest of his body out of the shell.
I decided to help him hatch. The shell came off pretty easily. He had trouble walking for a few days but he ultimately survived.
In 90% of cases, if a chick can’t make it out, I assume it isn’t strong enough to make it in the outside world.
If you do decide to help a chick hatch, 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.
Do my friends help a chick hatch?
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 whether or not they help a chick hatch, and they had a lot to say.
Heather from TheHomesteadingHippy.com:
“We tried to help a chick when the shell seemed to be stuck…and learned that was a bad thing to do.“
Maat van Uitert, TheFrugalChicken.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.”
Jess from 104Homestead.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.“
Liz from Eight Acres:
“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.”
Janet from TimberCreekFarmer.com:
“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.”
Katherine, formerly of GrannyMiller.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.“
Brandon from LoneStarFarmstead.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.”
So, should you help a chick hatch? 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).
Incubating or hatching baby chicks at your homestead? Here are a couple other articles you might want to check out…
Slow Hatch? Don’t Turn off The Incubator Just Yet…
Three Reasons We Don’t Use Chick Starter
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2 thoughts on “Should You Help A Chick Hatch?”
I’ve never helped chicks out, but I have ducklings. I had a styrofoam still air hand turning incubator and it worked great for chicken (and quail, pheasant, and guinea) eggs, but less so for duck eggs. With a hand turning incubator, it is nearly impossible to do the amount of turning you need to do to get the ducklings strong, especially if you are away at work. So I ended up helping out most of the ducklings that I hatched in it. But the good news was that most of them did fine once they were out. If you intend to hatch a lot of duck eggs, I’d definitely invest in an incubator with an automatic turner. Hand turning twice a day works fine for chicken and upland fowl eggs, but not duck eggs. I know this because I lent that incubator to a colleague of mine whose son was doing a high school science project with duck eggs. He hatched them during a school break and was therefore able to turn them every two hours, and he got a nearly perfect hatch .
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching a little chick struggle to hatch! However, I’ve never had one survive when I helped. While nature has its ways, it can be a difficult decision.