Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Causes of chicken hatching problems

Day old chick

Our first trial hatch in the
Brinsea Mini Advance incubator was better than I'd expected but worse than I'd hoped.  Four eggs  out of seven pipped, two chicks hatched, and one survived.  Although it was emotionally tough, I chose to autopsy all of the dead eggs in hopes of improving my hatch rate for next time.

  • Chick dead in shellOne chick was speared by another's claw as it tried to hatch.  The dead chick was hatching about half an hour later than its sibling and had just reached the stage where it was beginning to push the mostly detached egg top aside when its precocious sibling clambered over top of it and stuck its foot inside the crack.  In a way, this is a crazy fluke, but the experience also makes me think that it might be smart to have somewhere else for newly hatched chicks to fluff out rather than on top of their hatching siblings.  Since I've read that it's best not to move chicks to the brooder until they're fully fluffed out, that means a spare incubator or other enclosed, warm space.
  • Chick dead at pipping stageAnother chick started pipping, but only seemed able to push small chips out of its shell.  (I've enlarged the hole after death to see in.)  I don't know whether the shell was abnormally hard or the chick was abnormally weak.  I'd read not to help chicks out of the shell, so I stood back, and the chick eventually perished (perhaps in part because an earlier hatched chick (not the same one as above) rolled the egg over so that the hole was face-down on the ground.)  Since the chick died anway, I wonder if I wouldn't have been better off helping this obviously struggling chick?  On the other hand, it might have come out weak and had to be culled anyway.
  • Air pocket in dead eggThree eggs had nearly full-formed chicks inside but they didn't manage (or, apparently, even try) to pip.  Some sources suggest that late stage dead in shell chicks are signs of incorrect humidity, often too high.  I didn't keep track of the size of the air pocket over time by candling, but I may try that next time around to help me keep the humidity in the right range.
  • Finally, one chick hatched on day 22 but died less than a day later.  Chicks that hatch late and are "soft" are indications of the average incubation temperature being lower than optimal, and temperature was definitely the spot where I did the worst job during incubation.  Air temperature in the kitchen fluctuated between 45 degrees and 85 degrees and the incubator's high and low temperature alarms went off several times.

The good news is that all of the eggs were viable and made it nearly to hatching time, which means our rooster and hens are all fertile.  And watching the first chick hatch was quite an experience --- well worth the price of the incubator by itself!  Hopefully I can fix my mistakes and have more living chicks next time.

Our first chick took to the chicken waterer when it was even less than a day old.

Incubation HandbookSince writing this post, I've experimented much more with incubation.  I developed a dichotomous key that makes it easy to figure out exactly what went wrong (and how to prevent the problem from reoccurring).  Learn more about troubleshooting the hatch in my 99 cent ebook.

Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook walks beginners through perfecting the incubating and hatching process so they can enjoy the exhilaration of the hatch without the angst of dead chicks. 92 full color photos bring incubation to life, while charts, diagrams, and tables provide the hard data you need to accomplish a hatch rate of 85% or more.

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Hi Anna,

I was talking with a friend who has a lot of experience in incubating chicks. He said in the beginning he had a lot of wrecks but learned some things...

He said when he saw the incubator .... that it is so small ... that you will have to move the chicks immediately but not to touch them.. let them climb on to a piece of cardboard. He would move them almost the minute they come out and put them in a styrofoam box with a light. The chick will move to the light... it will know the best distance... and can fluff out there... the box must be big enough for them to be able to self-adjust to the heat they require. A 40 or 60 watt bulb is good. He said to try not to handle them because their membranes are so fragile that you can burst blood vessels very easily in the first few hours. When you have them on the piece of cardboard and transfer them then let them walk off the cardboard themselves to the light bulb... they instinctively know how close to get.

He said the shells looked really hard in the pics so he would get a water mister bottle with really warm... not hot... water and mist the eggs when hatching to soften the shells. Never peel the shell off the chick or they will bleed to death very quickly.... you usually tear their membranes if peel.

He says he never had any luck with an egg on the 22nd day.... he would wait till the end of the 22nd day and open to see if he could figure what happened. Some times the chick would be fully formed but did not hatch. Other times the egg was not fertile. He never candled his eggs.

He turned his eggs himself and would talk 'hen' clucking to them. They recognised him this way when hatched.... would cock their little heads to the side when he did it after hatched.

Hope something here is helpful. I am learning a ton of stuff from this guy... he grew up on a farm.... and generous with his knowledge.

Comment by Chelle in the wee hours of Sunday night, April 25th, 2011
Chelle --- that is extremely helpful! Some of that information I was starting to decide was true on my own, but it's wonderful to hear it from an expert. It's also very good to know that you shouldn't touch a chick for the first few hours even if you need to transfer them. Hopefully my next hatch will be more successful with all of that to go on!
Comment by anna early Wednesday morning, April 27th, 2011
I find it strange the warning about not handling newly hatched chicks. To get mum hen to start laying sooner( after 2 wks), I've always carried the new chicks to a brooder without ill effects.
Comment by Tom Thursday afternoon, June 19th, 2014
We have hatch several clutches. My last batch of eggs I had several with the hole on the stomach area still open. I'm unsure what would cause this. Could temperature, humidity, or something else cause this.
Comment by B.Gray late Wednesday evening, June 24th, 2015
  1. Gray --- I'm not entirely sure I know what you mean by the hole in the stomach area still being open. But that might mean that the chick wasn't entirely ready to hatch, or that high humidity had made the chick flabbier than it should have been at hatching. Sorry I can't be more helpful!
Comment by anna Monday afternoon, June 29th, 2015
This last batch of chicks hatched, I've had several (after they fluffed) and were moved out of the incubator to appear to be strong chicks. Then, after a day or two, I had several to have their heads to start drawing backward and they were unable to stand. Do you have any idea as to what is taking place? Thanks.
Comment by Carolyn Smith Friday afternoon, April 28th, 2017

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