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Why Won't My Chicken Eggs Hatch?

Many people struggle with hatching chicken eggs and puzzle about why they are not hatching. Hatching eggs is not always an easy thing and even poultry producers do not have a 100% success rate. Listed are the common problems people experience when trying to hatch chicken eggs.

Many people struggle with hatching chicken eggs and puzzle about why they are not hatching. Hatching eggs is not always an easy thing and even poultry producers do not have a 100% success rate. Below are the common problems people experience when trying to hatch chicken eggs.

Normally

Chicken eggs take about 21 days to hatch. If you have a chicken egg that is more than 24 days old, it will not hatch. Other species of birds eggs take longer or shorter.

Grocery Store Eggs

Sometimes people think they can buy eggs from the grocery store and hatch those. It will never happen for several reasons. Firstly the hens that lay the eggs are not exposed to roosters, as such the eggs are not fertile. Secondly the eggs are collected immediately after being laid, and refrigerated, as such even IF they were fertilized, a chick could not possibly survive, as normally they must be incubated at warm temperatures.

Not Fertile

As mentioned above hens lay eggs whether or not a rooster is present. Even if a rooster is kept with the hens, not necessarily will all the eggs be fertile, older roosters, or ones who have health concerns, will not have mated with the hens. The same will happen when the rooster to hen ratio is off and there are too many hens for the rooster. With a rooster the typical fertility rate can be from 55% - 95%, and even then not all of the fertile eggs are likely to hatch. See below on How to Candle an Egg.

Hen didn't Sit

Not all hens will sit on their eggs long enough to keep them warm. Some chicken breeds are known for being “broody”, meaning they are more likely to raise chicks, while other breeds only sit in the nest long enough to lay an egg then walk away. Typically a broody hen will lay several eggs before she starts sitting on them. Rather than using a broody hen to hatch eggs, one can use an incubator.

hen with eggs

photo source Hens who are broody will only get off the eggs for a few minutes to eat and drink.

Incubation Problems

Hatching eggs requires some very specific measures. The temperature must be perfect, the humidity must be perfect, the eggs must be turned at the appropriate time, and they must be carefully positioned.

Temperature – This must be kept between 99.5 F and 100 F at all times, if temperatures are too high or too low for very long, the embryos will die and will not hatch.

Humidity – Humidity effects the development of the air bubble inside the egg and must be correct towards the time when the chick is ready to hatch or problems will develop. Each Incubator will have a feature for keeping the air inside it at proper humidity, typically water is put in a small cup.

Turning – Eggs must be turned two or three times a day in order for the chick to develop, however turning must stop in the last 3 days of incubation. The easiest way of remember if eggs have been turned, or how far to turn them is to mark both sides, one with an X, and one with an O (or similar markings).  Some incubators are self turning, others will require a human to turn the eggs.

Position – The eggs should be carefully placed so that, while they are on their side, the larger egg is slightly higher than the more pointed end.

incubator

photo source

*How to Candle an Egg

To check if an egg is fertile one can “Candle” it after it has been incubated (either by a hen, or in an incubator) for about 3 – 4 days. This is done by putting a bright lightbulb in a box with a whole cut to allow some light out. The egg is held over the hole and if a cloudy area can be seen it is chick developing, if it is clear and the light passes through evenly, then the egg either was not fertile or the growing embryo has died. Some people will recheck again at 7 days, in fact you can candle them safely at any time but may not want to risk dropping them. You may even be able to see a network of veins developing if your light is strong enough. *Eggs should not be out of the incubator for more than ½ hour. As you get more familiar with candling, you may note some problems (such as bacteria grown in side eggs) can also be seen, but as a general rule a clear egg after 7 days does not hold a growing embryo and should be discarded, until you are familiar with other problems keep any egg showing anything else for up to 24 days.

hatching

photo source

Other Information and Links

Do not attempt to hatch eggs unless you have a place to brood chicks, and are prepared to do so.

Hatching Eggs can be purchased at some livestock feed stores, livestock auctions, or from a producer.

 How Chicken Eggs Form

Bantam Chickens - the small birds

The Cruelty of Battery Hen Egg Production

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Comments (36)

Brenda, this was most interesting. I would love to have chickens. Two egg questions for you: 1) Sicilians check the freshness of eggs by shaking them. If it is apparent that the egg has liquid shaking around in there, they feel they are not fresh. Most eggs don't have that feature; and they are considered more fresh than ones that do. Do you know about this? and 2) sometimes, but not often, an egg will have a blood smear in it; does that mean it is a fertilized egg, if not, what is it? Thanks. :)

To Marie. I havent heard of shaking eggs to check freshness, although shaking eggs in development WILL KILL any growing embryo. I do know that when you crack an egg a fresher egg will have a yolk that sits higher while older eggs yolks tend to flatten out. blood spots do not mean anything. I have free range hens with NO roosters so fertility is impossible, about 1 in 20 eggs will have a blood spot, its just the way they were formed, and the eggs are totally safe to eat.

Thanks.

Informative and well-written.

Ranked #9 in Farm Animals

I can't believe I was so ignorant before reading your article, Brenda. Thanks for the fascinating insights. I love the broody hen pic :-) You are doing such a good job of educating the townies of the world!

You definitely know more about eggs than the hen which laid them, lol. A helpful post for poultry owners.

Very good article. I didn't realize it took 21 days for a chicken's egg to hatch.. when I was a kid .. my mom used to buy eggs from an egg farmer.. they were big double yolkers too.

Very nice. My grandpa used to have chickens and he had a bunch of chicks so something went right. Very interesting.

to Landon Brady I am only guessing you have a humidity problem. This relates directly to the air pocket, which is super important, the peep (baby chick) needs to have an air pocket to breathe into - if the humidity is wrong, the air pocket will be too small and it will drown. Also did you STOP turning the eggs 3 days before hatching? leaving the larger end SLIGHTLY upward?

dee

my hen has had 3 chicks but she still has 2 eggs witch she is no longer siting on and i dont know if they have babies in them as wen we shine the light on them the shell is too thick to see anything what do i do??? pleas help and what tempreture do we keep them at because i relly want them to hatch

to dee If she stopped sitting on them for more than 24 hours, and temperatures have been cool, the eggs are probably dead. They may hatch if you incubate them, do you know how old they are? Unless you have been candling all along (I dont do this myself) you wont know if they were fertilized to begin with or not. They may be dark from being full of bacteria or something went wrong. Good Luck.

Karen - you need to research CANDLING eggs, as this is the BEST way of determining if your eggs are alive or not, well ahead of time. Cracking an egg is never a good idea. I have heard of people storing the eggs in a cool garage - not fridge so am not sure if that would be too cold. Good luck. It might be the time of year, the rooster may not be as fertile if he is moulting.

Karen

Thank you for your comment. We candled them at day 6 and weeded out any that were not fertile. At day 18 we candled them and weeded out the dead ones. It was several hours into day 21 when my husband cracked the egg. Today is day 22 (over 24 hours later) and still no activity at all. Not even a little wiggle. We are going to candle them tonight. Our fear is they have all died.

Since you have hatched eggs before I doubt you did any thing wrong (some people do not realize to stop turning for the last few days or something. I really don't know what to say, since as you said, they were alive at one point. Such a shame, I am sorry. Bacterial growth perhaps? Was the larger end slightly higher? this can be a problem with the air pocket if not.

oh Karen that is terrible. The only incubators we have used are small ones for only a few eggs - actually heated with a light bulb, we have a larger one but never used it, so I am uncertain on the temperatures.. still you would think both would be good? Did you have thermometer in the incubator to be certain of the temp? A veterinarian would have to diagnose further, anything I say would be a guess at this stage. I know that you should wait up to 24 days before cracking eggs - and it did say so in the article - although not sure if that would have helped? In future wait at least 24 days though.

Ranked #18 in Farm Animals

Back in New York when I raised Bearded Dragon reptiles for the pet trade, I bought a 'reptile egg incubator' and it worked fine. I noted that it was really little different than the larger 'commercial' ones for use in a chickenry industry. Well, the label on the side (picture of a large happy reptile emerging from an egshell) started to peel-away from the galvanized tin so I pulled it off with a pair of waterpump pliers only to reveal ANOTHER sticker underneath ...a sticker of a happy yellow baby chick emerging from an eggshell!!! Some sump was taking tabletop chicken incubators and slapping a reptile sticker on the side and re-selling these for about 75% more than~ :-\

Numa

I have 3 eggs that have been fertizled but i don't really know what to do :( I got them on the 21 of febury,2011 and it's the 8 of march,2011 HELP!!!

to Numa You need to read up about egg incubation - they need to be kept in an incubator and turned - if you have kept them in the fridge or at room temperature they are probably dead. Try candling them - read up about it or find somebody who can show you. Good luck with your eggs.

Lisa Huss

I went to the chicken pen to check on my five bantam eggs this morning. The eggs were all cracked open and hatched, but their were no chicks to be found. What possibly could have happened?

Hi Lisa, THe chicks might be under the hen, a hen will sit on the chicks to keep them safe. Hopefully that is where they are. Otherwise you need to consider what predators are in your area that could have gotten to them - perhaps a snake? I keep my birds in a coop with stucco wire and chicken wire around the yard. Have another look, hopefully you can find them.

chase

HI I used a incubator had 13 eggs in and old 6 hatched on the 21st day and on the 23 the eggs that didnt hatch i opened them just before i through them away and they all had fully developed chick's in them BUT THEY DID NOT HATCH??? WHY IS THIS???? does anybody know why???????

to chase Poor things, its hard to say, but the most common reasons for this might be genetics (inbred chicks), wrong turning, or the temperature in the incubator was not right. If they seemed to have pipped (cracked the shell) it could be a problem with low humidity. Hatching with an incubator is such a tricky matter.

chase

Hi Brenda, you see i dont think it can be the incubator's conditions because 6 chicks hatched so that means the conditions must be right because i got some chicks?...

I also rule out in breeding cause my cock and hens are not related and this was the first batch of babys that i have ever gotten from them.

one did pip but he was upside down in the egg and i think the liqued's drowned him coz it died after it pipped...

i dont know if i should have waited a bit a longer for them to hatch but i read on google that you should not try hatch un-hatched eggs afer day 23?????

chase, did you have the pointed end tipped slightly downward? The eggs should always be tilted very slightly so the small end is lower than the big end. If the chicks were dead when you opened the eggs waiting longer would not have helped.

Shan

Hi Brenda! I had 13 fertile eggs under a aseel hen and I checked them on the 21st day. The eggs did'nt hatch, 2 eggs were cracked and there was only yoke and it was sticking on the hen and eggs. I cleaned the yolk from the hen and I thought all the eggs were spoiled . But when I tried to see the development by breaking the egg there was a chick developing inside it. I did a sin I killed it unintentionally. Can the remaining eggs hatch as there is some yolk sticking to them of the broken egg.

one more thing what happens if we shake the developed egg on 20th day. Will the baby die? Plz revert.

Thanks

to Shan If you shake a fertile egg you can kill the chick, depending on how hard of a shake you gave it. You can try to candle the eggs to see which contain chicks and which dont, the ones with chicks should be dark, the ones that look clear have no chick, but you may as well wait another day or two to see if they hatch. There are some things that could have gone wrong, such as humidity. You must have felt bad about the egg with the chick - if its been more than 23 days that the hen has been sitting on them, they will not hatch. Something went wrong, usually the hen will know this and give up sitting on them if its been too long.

Thanks brenda. I just want to ask one more thing is there any possibility for the survival of chicks? Its 21st day today. How long I should wait...as it is winter season here.

Perhaps the cold is what killed the chicks. I would wait 2 more days at the most. There is always a chance, but usually day 21 is hatch day. I hate to give up hope too soon. If it really is cold in your area, and the chicks do hatch, you might want to bring them into your house - keep them in a guinea pig cage with a heat lamp above. I am in Canada... it is way too cold for chicks to survive here. Good luck.

Shan

Hi brenda!

Its the 22nd day and there are eight eggs left. I just heard a chirping sound inside the eggs. . . Plz suggest what to do next? When is the possibility for hatchout?

Thanks

To Shan Just wait and see. If you can provide heat to coop, such as leaving a light bulb on, that might be a good idea. I know it is hard not to help but I have always been told, and have read, you are never suppose to help. Hopefully you will have a few chicks soon. They will need chick starter and warmth the mother hen will keep them warm, you should make sure they are in a warm spot though after hatching, either move the entire family or remove the chicks.

Hi Brenda, How are you? Thanks for helping me last time. This time I again need ur help. First I would like to tell you my last experience. Out of 13 eggs only 1 chick hatched . There was pale-yellow coloured lices on the chick and hen. The chick was one month old. I applied an ayurvedic ointment bought from veterian drug shop for pests and lices on the hen and chick. After one day the chick became ill. The ointment was poisnous and it killed the chick the next day. The hen was ok. This time I had one hen sitting on 7 eggs. I candled the eggs and all of them contain chick growing inside. After hatchout I saw brown colour lices sticking on chicks heads. Are they fatal to them. What should I do? Plz suggest. . . I used to make hen take a dust bath when she was sitting on eggs. Why this happens? Is there a way to prevent them. . . Please revert soon . Thanks.

to Shaan I have never personally had experience with lice on my hens. I suggest speaking to a vet in your area about proper medication for chickens for lice. I would ask about Diatomaceous Earth - you would need FOOD GRADE, it would be used on them and in their coup. I suspect proper medication would be better. Lice are parasites, a pest to your birds, a heavy infestation could be fatal for a chick. If possible you should remove them by hand when you see them (use tweezers) but this will not end the problem as you will still have eggs. Good luck, congrats on your chicks.

Ranked #18 in Farm Animals

Does rotating chicken eggs kill the embryo? This is usually the case with reptile eggs (lizards, turtles, etc.) And is temperature a factor in gender development? Again, with sea turtles this is the case and a variance of a few degrees can alter the gender of the entire clutch. I had a friend in Australia that used to go on Loggerhead rescure missions to relocate nesting sites of eggs that were 'in peril' due to location and/or inability of nesting female to reach more suitable egg-laying grounds (e.g., highway or buildings in the path, etc.) and the rescurers had to be mindful of how the eggs were laid into the nest (marked to indicate 'up/top' and maintained this way) and lastly, moved to a location of the same ambient sand temperature. Here, it is figured that the female 'knows' the suitable temperature to produce the required gender. Any human attempt to intervene and produce say, more females/more males, likely would do more harm than good...  

Ranked #18 in Farm Animals

p.s., -can chickens be parthenogenic? Some birds (and reptiles) are, and some reptiles can 'change gender' if required (this was recently discovered that Komodo Dragons can switch from male to female/vice versa under certain conditions (such as isolation, which includes zoo-lept specimens which is where this was discovered...)

To thestickman. If you were to shake the eggs this would kill the chicks, in fact in Vancouver's Stanley park for years (I do not know if they still do it) the park officials would shake the eggs of the Canadian Geese because there were too many of them.  However they do need to be turned gently, this should be stopped 3 days before hatching. I have never heard of a chicken changing gender however in some groups of hens one hen will act dominant like a rooster and may even crow and stop laying but she will not physically become a rooster to the extent you refer to.

Outstanding article, Brenda.  I also love the discussion.

Hi, I have a question regarding the problem I am facing.My aseel hen is almost 8 months old but not start laying eggs yet. But the hen sits on others eggs daily for sometime and then leave the eggs. Kindly tell me that whether my hen gets broody or will lay eggs or not.

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