Troubleshooting the Hatch - Southwest Gamebirds

Troubleshooting the Hatch

A guide to troubleshooting your hatch with shipped or homegrown quail eggs

To troubleshoot incubation, it is often necessary to do an inspection of egg contents. We call this an “egg-topsy.” While there are too many variables to identify every hatching issue immediately, through careful deliberation and the process of elimination, you can improve hatching performance by fine tuning each of the four key parameters for incubation:

      1. Viability
      2. Turning
      3. Temperature
      4. Humidity

A properly managed flock in combination with a good quality incubator/hatcher can produce consistent results with homegrown eggs. The same incubation parameters will usually yield good results for shipped eggs when purchasing from a reputable farm, although there is always risk and unpredictability associated with the shipping process.

The most common issues we see are trauma during shipping, incubation/hatching temperature too high, and incubation/hatching humidity too high.

No development during incubation

Development of an embryo inside an egg may be visible as early as 24 hours after the start of incubation, however the color and pattern of the egg may make visualization of the embryo difficult or impossible. During an egg-topsy, eggs that did not develop will show no blood rings or dark embryo spots and will appear to have been unfertilized.  However, after incubation, unfertilized eggs are indistinguishable from fertilized eggs that did not develop.

Eggs that did not develop are most often caused by:

  • Age of eggs. Eggs that were in transit for too long may become too old to develop. 
  • Incubation temperature too high when eggs are put into the incubator. Temperatures in excess of 104 degrees may kill embryos before they show any signs of development. 
  • Low fertilization rate. In Japanese quail, a small percentage of eggs will always be unfertilized, but a properly managed flow will have fertility rates in excess of 95%. We recommend only purchasing eggs from reputable farms and breeders to avoid issues with fertility in shipped eggs.
  • Trauma experienced during shipping that may or may not be visible from the outside of the egg. 

Shipped eggs that did not develop are most often caused by trauma to the egg during shipping, age, incubation temperature too high when eggs are put into the incubator, or low fertilization rate. 

  • High or low temperature during transit, most often at the delivery location. 
  • Rough movement or jostling during transit, particularly vibration along dirt roads or on long highway distances when the destination is far from the state’s distribution center. This may cause internal damage to the eggs that would not be visible from the outside of the egg.
  • Mishandling of the box such is dropping or tossing. If any corners or edges of the box appear dented or eggs were cracked, this is a good indication that the box of eggs was dropped or another box was dropped onto the box of eggs. Some boxes may appear undamaged if they landed squarely on one side, but the eggs may still crack or be damaged internally from the drop even with the best packing methods.

Checking fertilization rate: Eggs cannot be visually inspected to check fertility after they have been in the incubator for 24-48 hours. In unincubated fertilized eggs, the blastoderm appears as a bright white spot on the yolk with a white ring/halo (periblast). In unincubated unfertilized eggs, the blastodisc appears as a faint white spot with no ring/halo. This is not a reliable way to check fertility after more than 24 hours of incubation because incubation causes the periblast to expand to the point that it is no longer visible.

Eggs not fertilized: Unfertilized eggs are likely caused by breeding flock quality, age of birds, or other husbandry issues. In Japanese quail, a small percentage of eggs will always be unfertilized, but a properly managed flow will have fertility rates in excess of 95%. We recommend only purchasing eggs from reputable farms and breeders to avoid issues with fertility in shipped eggs.

Eggs fertilized but did not develop: This is usually the result of damage during shipping (such as vibration, temperature fluctuation or other trauma often not visible from the outside of an egg), age of the egg, or high temperature during early incubation. Other possible causes include disease, genetic problems, improper husbandry, or washing eggs prior to incubation at too high a temperature.

Development issues specific to shipped eggs

Shipped eggs that did not develop are most often caused by trauma to the egg during shipping, age, incubation temperature too high when eggs are put into the incubator, or low fertilization rate. 

  • High or low temperature during transit, most often at the delivery location. 
  • Rough movement or jostling during transit, particularly vibration along dirt roads or on long highway distances when the destination is far from the state’s distribution center. This may cause internal damage to the eggs that would not be visible from the outside of the egg.
  • Mishandling of the box such is dropping or tossing. If any corners or edges of the box appear dented or eggs were cracked, this is a good indication that the box of eggs was dropped or another box was dropped onto the box of eggs. Some boxes may appear undamaged if they landed squarely on one side, but the eggs may still crack or be damaged internally from the drop even with the best packing methods.

Eggs may begin to develop in transit if the internal temperature of the eggs reaches 82.5 degrees for a sustained period of time. If shipped eggs are delivered above this temperature, meaning the internal temperature has had time to reach 82.5 degrees for a sustained period of time (which requires an outdoor temperature considerably higher than 82.5 degrees), we recommend placing eggs directly into the incubator without turning for the first 24 hours to allow the air sac to stabilize. It is often possible to save developing eggs using this technique. Eggs that begin to develop during shipping but then cool will normally show 24-48 hours’ development, and result in a small blood spot or ring. 

If an egg develops beyond a blood ring, then the failure or success of the egg is due to incubation parameters or egg quality. Shipping damage can only cause early embryo failure or complete lack of development. 

 

Blood spot or blood ring

Blood spots or blood rings happen when the embryo begins to form then dies very early in incubation. This may be caused by:

 

  • Improper incubation temperature during early incubation
  • High temperature caused egg development to begin during shipping
  • Improper egg storage
  • Severe breeder malnourishment (biotin, vitamin A, copper, vitamin E, boron, or pantothenic acid)
  • Chromosomal abnormalities, often from improper breeding
  • Egg contamination
Dead embryos at early development

Dead embryos at early development happen when the embryo begins to form then dies within the first weeks of incubation. This may be caused by:

 

  • Temperature spikes or swings during early incubation
  • Improper egg turning
  • Insufficient ventilation
  • Severe breeder malnourishment (biotin, vitamin A, copper, vitamin E, boron, or pantothenic acid)
  • Disease – specifically salmonella
  • Vitamin deficiencies – likely vitamin E, riboflavin, biotin, pantothenic acid, or linoleic acid
Dead embryos at various stages of development

Dead embryos at various stages of development happen when the embryos begin to form then die from something that does not kill the other embryos. This is common when incubation temperatures are just a little off, or when something in the incubation process is in the process of going out, causing greater and greater swings in important parameters, namely temperature. This is usually caused by:

  • Temperature spikes or swings during incubation. Embryos are more sensitive to temperature as they develop, so swings in temperature may kill the weakest embryos first, and the strongest embryos at later stages of development.
  • Hot spots that affect various parts of the incubator differently, similar to temperature spikes. 
  • Improper egg turning.
  • Insufficient ventilation.
  • Vitamin deficiencies, especially riboflavin which can be depleted due to high temperature during incubation.

Smaller eggs such as quail eggs are more sensitive to hot spots or temperature spikes or swings than larger eggs such as chicken or duck eggs because the internal temperature of smaller eggs will change more quickly in response to temperature changes, resulting in embryo death for quail where chickens or ducks may be able to hatch just fine in the presence of the same temperature changes.

 

Fully or mostly developed chicks dead inside shell

Fully or mostly develop chicks dead inside shell happen when the chick begins to develop then dies at the end of incubation. This may be caused by:

 

  • High humidity at hatch
  • High temperature at hatch
  • Improper incubation temperature
  • Nutritional deficiencies (possibly vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B12, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, linoleic acid, thiamin, selenium, biotin, calcium, phosphorus, boron, or manganese)
  • Contamination – often mold
  • Eggs chilled or cracked at transfer to lockdown
  • Improper turning – chick fails to properly orient for hatch
  • Hatcher opened too often
  • Poor quality eggshell
  • Developmental failure to transition to lung respiration, intra-embryonic circulation, retract yolk sac, etc.
Fully developed chicks pipped but failed to hatch

Fully developed chicks pipped but failed to hatch will happen when the chick is not able to break past the inner membrane or egg shell. 

 

  • Low humidity at hatch
  • Prolonged low humidity or high temperature during incubation
  • Low ventilation at hatch
  • Eggs set upside down or not turned properly during early incubation
  • High temperature at hatch – could spike from chick activity if hatcher is very full
Early hatch

When chicks hatch early, you may also notice nutrient deficiencies, physical deformities, and low hatch rates. These are most commonly caused by the following:

 

  • High temperature during incubation – this causes chicks to develop too quickly, also depleting certain nutrient reserves as a result of premature development. Riboflavin is the most common nutrient deficiency which can cause curled toe deformities in the chick. We recommend giving chicks who hatch early an additional riboflavin supplement such as brewers yeast.
  • Low humidity during incubation
Late or drawn out hatch

Most chicks will hatch within about 24 hours of each other. When chicks are late to hatch or the hatch is drawn out, it usually caused by the following:

 

  • Low incubation temperature 
  • Hot and cold spots in incubator, usually still air or low quality incubator
  • Damaged eggs – common with shipped eggs
  • High incubation humidity
  • Excessively large eggs
Sticky chicks - covered in albumin

When chicks fully hatch from the egg but have a sticky layer of albumin covering their down, they often have unhealed navels and often do not survive for more than a few hours after hatching. This may be caused by:

 

  • High average incubation humidity
  • Low incubation temperature
  • Low ventilation
  • Improper turning – this results in reduced embryonic membrane growth and reduced nutrient absorption.
  • Excessively large egg
Sticky chicks - stuck to membrane and eggshell or shrink-wrapped in the egg membrane

When chicks fully hatch from the egg but have chunks of membrane and eggshell stuck to their down, or chicks pip and unzip from the shell but fail to push out of the shell, the most common causes are:

 

  • Opening the hatcher during the hatch 
  • Low humidity – specifically during hatch
  • High ventilation at hatch
  • Poor quality eggshell
  • Improper egg turning
Curled feet or crippled chicks

Curled feet or cripple chicks may be caused by:

 

  • High incubation temperature – confirmed if hatch was early and toes are curled
  • Low incubation humidity
  • Improper turning or eggs set upside down
  • Riboflavin deficiency – often caused by high incubation temperature
  • Improper breeder nutrition
Splayed legs/spraddle leg

Splayed legs or spraddle legs may be caused by: 

  • Slick surface in hatching tray
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Injured during hatch or after difficult hatch
Large percentage of runts

A large percentage of runts may be caused by:

 

  • High incubation temperature
  • Low incubation humidity
  • Low ventilation
  • Breeder nutrition
Issues with breathing

If newly hatched chicks are having trouble breathing, this may be caused by:

 

  • Respiratory disease – you will most likely see the same symptoms in the parent flock
  • Chemical fumes from cleaning agents
  • Brooder too cold – when chicks are too cold and near death, they will often appear to be gasping for air.
Large, bloated, or soft-bodied chicks dead in hatching tray

Low incubation temperature combined with low ventilation – often chicks will die shortly after hatching.

Unhealed navels

Unhealed navels are typically caused by:

 

  • High humidity at hatch
  • Low incubation temperature
  • Low ventilation during hatch
Short or rough down

Short or rough down on the chicks is typically caused by:

 

  • High incubation temperature
  • Low temperature at hatch
  • Low humidity
  • High ventilation
  • Chicks in hatcher too long
Weak, lethargic chicks

Weak or lethargic but fully hatched chicks are typically caused by:

 

  • High temperature during hatch
  • Poor ventilation during hatch
Eyes stuck shut

When a fully formed and hatched chick has eyes that appear stuck shut, this is usually a sign that the chicks are dehydrated which may be caused by:

 

  • Temperature too high at hatch
  • Humidity too low at hatch
  • Excessive air movement at hatch
  • Chicks in hatcher for too long after hatching
Other eye abnormalities

Other eye abnormalities may be caused by:

 

  • High temperature during early incubation
  • Low Oxygen levels during early incubation
Skull not fully formed

Fully hatched chicks with skulls that are not fully formed are usually caused by:

 

  • High temperature during early incubation
  • Low Oxygen levels during early incubation
Beak underdeveloped or missing

Underdeveloped or missing beaks are often caused by:

 

  • High temperature during early incubation
  • Severe niacin deficiency
  • Heredity

 

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