Updated: Jun 9, 2020
Hatch Day can be an experience filled with joy and the miracle of life but it can also be an emotional journey, occasionally a journey of loss. For all of you chicken enthusiasts who have incubated your own eggs at home you can attest to the joy you experience when the eggs slowly began to open and a tiny little living creature emerges. Many of you likely have anecdotes about the experience of witnessing the miracle of life but may also have anecdotes of the loss of life. At Happy Hen Haven we have until our recent hatch been very fortunate during our incubating adventures to have never lost a baby chick. Throughout the incubating process you will always have eggs not maturing into a living breathing hatching chick, but we had never lost a chick during or following a hatch. This could have been fortunate stroke of luck, but it may also be a result of our obsessive constant viewing and monitoring of the temperature and humidity levels in the incubator itself.
Watching an active chick begin to pip and zip their way out of the 21 day shell cell is momentous! The journey from a fertilized egg to a fuzzy little fluff ball seems miraculous on so many levels. The process these little chicks go through once the pip begins is usually natural and flawless. But there are occasions, if when one step of the process is disrupted, things can quickly turn scary. One such experience occurred during our most recent hatch.
We are always filled with anticipation leading up to hatch day. And our most recent hatch day was no different. We had a mix of Silkie and Buff Orpington eggs in our incubator for our last hatch. A couple Silkies had already hatched early the evening prior and by early morning they were fluffed up and ready to see daylight. Sometime mid morning a third egg had pipped, one of the Orpington eggs. The tiniest little break in the shell opened up and you could see her little beak poking through. We watched closely with anticipation as we almost always do. A few minutes passed and she wasn’t breaking through any further. The poor thing just kept poking and prodding, but she wasn’t having any luck zipping. We watched helplessly as 30 minutes passed. The minutes then turned to an hour, and an hour turned to three, and four. You could see her struggling and breathing so heavy every time she would pound away at the membrane with no success and stop for a break to catch her breathe. We began to realize something wasn’t right. We knew at this point we were faced with a decision. Do we let nature take its course or do we intervene and try to help? We knew if we didn’t step in, this baby chick would not be able to safely emerge from her shell and would likely die. The events about to transpire would be a challenging emotional event filled with worry, fear and nervous apprehension.
As we watched this baby chick seemingly give up trying to chip away and escape her shell, we made the decision to pull her out of the incubator and attempt to assist the process of emerging. We knew pulling her out would cause her membrane to quickly dry up. This would make saving her a time sensitive challenging prospect. We carefully began to break away the shell with a small cutting tool and carefully cut away the membrane in a circle just as if she herself were pipping. Time was of the essence as she was quickly becoming cold. The membrane by this time had completely dried out and was very tough and almost plastic like. There are multiple blood veins and a large yolk sac in which we had to be very cautious not to sever. One wrong cut and she would surely bleed to death. This is a risk even with a natural hatch. We made the decision to leave the membrane and yolk sac attached to her so it could naturally dry out and fall off, just as it would had she just pipped her way out off the shell on her own. After successfully removing her from her shell we quickly returned her to the incubator. She was breathing but seemed lifeless, colorless and limp. Though we were hopeful she would somehow be survive, we were still apprehensive and doubtful. She wasn’t moving around, she wasn’t making any attempts to stand like other newborn chicks. She just laid there, lifeless, curled up in the fetal position lightly breathing.
Believing we may indeed be about to lose our first hatch, we made the tough decision not to watch. We darkened the room in hopes of giving her peace and made the mutual agreement to occupy ourselves as we wait for fate. It was very unlike us to try and disconnect from the situation and give up any emotional investment in the creature. I don’t think either of us could remain disconnected for more than 5 minutes. We each kept peeking in, almost believing our checking on her would somehow increase her odds of survival. She laid there for a nearly an hour, just panting. We struggled with the idea maybe she hadn’t fully developed. Maybe she wasn’t meant to survive and we made the wrong decision trying to save her? We began to wonder if she was experiencing pain? Was culling her the humane thing to do? As we stood there watching, having these mental struggles and open discussions, it happens; another egg in the incubator begins to shake back and forth. It continues shaking for the next few minutes. It then pips. And over the course of the next half hour starts to zip it’s shell. As this neighboring chick begins to zip you can hear her start to chirp incessantly from inside her shell. And then the unthinkable happens; the little yellow lifeless chick begins to stretch out, kicking her legs out. She then tries to stand up, tumbling right back over of course. She tries again and again, each time gaining additional balance and strength. Slowly, minute by minute she grew stronger and stronger. She musters up enough strength to wobble over to the zipped egg. She lays her head on it, as if to say “Hey, come out! Let’s be friends!” It seemed as if the sound of a companion had given this little Orp the will and courage to survive. As her strength grew, she even began trying to chip away at her new buddy’s shell, trying to speed up and help her hatch. As we all impatiently looked on, out from the shell emerges a little black Silkie. And over the next hour, the two grew strength and learned to walk together. We were overcome with happiness. A doomed baby chick had gotten a second chance at life. As she began preforming all the activities a healthy baby chick does, we noticed something missing. She didn’t have the small chipping tooth on the end of her beak. Most chicks develop their egg tooth inside the egg to assist them in tearing open their membrane and chipping open their egg. Our little Orp had never developed this tooth. She would likely not have been able to escape from her shell without it.
Orp is a happy healthy chick now. Running around pecking and playing. Eating and drinking. We are so thankful she survived and filled with anticipation for her journey from miracle chick to laying hen.
*** Disclosure*** We at Happy Hen Have do not recommending you attempt medical procedures on any of your chickens. This is not a “how to” blog or medical advice. It is merely a story about a journey we experienced with an unhatched baby chick of our own. Always seek the advice and treatment of a veterinarian.