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Trouble-Shooting Failures with Egg Incubation

by 5m Editor
14 September 2009, at 12:00am

An updated guide to overcoming incubation failures by Dr Tom Smith, Jr., extension poultry science specialist at Mississippi State University.

When incubation of eggs fails, indications are often available that a well trained professional uses for diagnosing the causes for failure. The information listed below includes the more common symptoms for incubation failures, the causes for each symptom, and the recommended corrective measures.

A good incubation publication is available from your local County Agent's office or the Poultry Extension Department at Mississippi State University to help in analyzing the incubation procedure. It explains the artificial incubating process more in detail. Ask for MCES Publication 1182, Hatching Quality Chicks.

Symptoms of incubation/breeder management problems include:

  • Clear eggs with no visible embryonic development
  • Blood rings in incubated eggs
  • Many dead embryos at an early stage
  • Chicks fully formed, but dead without pipping
  • Pipped eggs, but died without hatching
  • Early hatching
  • Late hatching or not hatching uniformly
  • Sticky embryos
  • Embryos sticking or adhering to shell
  • Crippled and malformed chicks
  • Abnormal, weak, or small chicks
  • Chicks with laboured breathing
  • Large, soft-bodied mushy chicks
  • Rough or unhealed navels on chicks
  • Short down on chicks, and
  • Excessive yellow down colour

Symptoms Probable cause Corrective measures
Clear eggs with no visible embryonic development Males undernourished Follow a recommended feeding programme to provide adequate nutrition. Replace underweight males with vigorous ones
Too few males Increase the number of males in the flock
Seasonal decline in fertility Use young cockerels more resistant to environmental stress
Competition among breeding males Do not use too many males. Rear all males together. Place temporary partitions within large pens
Diseased flock Conduct an approved disease control programme
Frozen combs and wattles Provide comfortable housing. Properly select and maintain drinking fountains
Old males Replace with younger males
Selected mating in pens Artificially inseminate infertile hens. Replace males in the pen/house
Male sterility Replace males in the pen/house
Crowded breeders Provide recommended floor space, at least 3 square feet/bird
Improper artificial insemination techniques or use of old/over-diluted semen Follow recommendations of primary breeder company
Eggs damaged by environment Gather eggs frequently (at least once daily)
Eggs stored too long or incorrectly Store eggs at 50-60°F and 60% relative humidity. Incubate eggs within 7 days of lay
Blood rings in incubated eggs Improper storage Follow recommended egg storage and gathering recommendations
Improper incubation temperatures Check thermometer accuracy and incubator functions. Follow recommended temperature settings
Improper breeder nutrition Feed breeders a diet with balanced nutrient levels
Improper fumigation Follow fumigation recommendations
Many dead embryos at an early stage Improper incubation temperatures (usually too high) Follow recommended incubation temperatures
Improper egg turning Turn at least three times daily
Inherited low hatchability Avoid cross breeding. May need to secure different breeding stock
Improper ventilation Increase ventilation rate in incubator and/or room, but avoid draughts. Add oxygen at high altitudes
Pullorum disease or other salmonelloses Use eggs from disease-free sources. Have NPIP representatives blood-test the breeder flock
Improper nutrition of breeders Provide a well-balanced nutritional diet to breeders
Pipped eggs but died without hatching Insufficient moisture Increase humidity (wet-bulb temperature) during the hatching period
Improper ventilation Increase ventilation rate in incubator and/or room but avoid draughts
Improper setting of eggs causing malpositioned embryos Set eggs with small end down. Turn eggs properly but avoid turning within three days of hatching
Early hatching (may have bloody navels) High incubation temperatures Follow recommended incubation temperatures. Check equipment for proper function. Guard against electrical surges or high incubator room temperatures
Improper egg storage Store eggs at 50-60°F and 60% relative humidity. Turn at least 3 times daily
Late hatching or not hatching uniformly Low incubation temperatures Follow recommended incubation temperatures
Warm and cool spots in incubator due to faulty design Contact incubator company or obtain a different incubator design
Old or improperly stored eggs Gather eggs frequently, cool immediately and store eggs properly. Do not store longer than 7 days
Sticky embryos (embryos may be smeared with egg contents) High average incubation humidity Follow recommended incubation humidity. Check size of air cell as an indicator for adjusting humidity condition
Low incubation temperature Follow recommended temperature settings
Lethal genes Avoid cross breeding. May need to secure different breeding stock
Inadequate ventilation Increase ventilation rate in incubator and/or room but avoid draughts
Improper fumigation of eggs Fumigate eggs by following the procedure carefully
Embryos sticking or adhering to shell Low incubation humidity (especially during hatching) Increase incubation humidity by increasing water evaporation. Embryos dried too much
Excessive ventilation rate Reduce ventilation rate but maintain minimum air exchange to prevent suffocation of embryos
Crippled and malformed chicks Improper incubation temperatures (usually too high) Follow recommended incubation temperatures
Low incubation humidity Increase incubation humidity by increasing water evaporation. Embryos dried too much
Improper egg setting position or turning during incubation Set eggs with small ends down. Turn eggs at least 3 times daily. Do not turn eggs within 3 days of hatching
Heredity Proper culling and breeding practices will reduce problems
Slick hatching trays Use trays with wire floors or place crinoline on hatching surface
Improper nutrition of breeders Provide a well-balanced nutritional diet to breeders
Abnormal, weak or small chicks High incubation or hatching temperatures Follow recommended incubation temperatures
Small eggs hatch small chicks Set only standard or large sized eggs
Insufficient incubation humidity Maintain recommended humidity for species of bird incubated
Improper ventilation in hatcher unit Increase ventilation rate, but avoid draughts
Diseased or poorly conditioned breeder flock Use eggs from disease-free sources only. Have NPIP representatives blood-test the breeder flock
Improper nutrition of breeders Provide a well-balanced nutritional diet to breeders (especially vitamin levels)
Excessive fumigation in hatcher Fumigate using proper procedures
Chicks with labored breathing Excessive use of fumigant Follow recommended fumigation procedures
Respiratory diseases Check disease status of breeder flock. Conduct a thorough clean-up and disinfection of incubator and hatching facilities
Large, soft-bodied mushy chicks; dead on trays; bad odour Low average incubation temperature. Poor ventilation Follow recommended incubation temperatures. Increase ventilation rate in incubator and/or room but avoid draughts
Navel infection (omphalitis) Clean and disinfect incubator and hatching units between settings of eggs. Maintain dry hatching trays. Properly store and fumigate eggs
Rough or unhealed navels Improper incubation temperatures Follow recommended incubation temperatures
High hatching humidity Maintain proper humidity
Navel infection (omphalitis) Clean and disinfect incubator and hatching units between settings of eggs. Maintain dry hatching trays. Properly store and fumigate eggs
Short down on chicks High incubation temperatures Follow recommended incubation temperatures
Low incubation humidity Follow suggestions to correct insufficient humidity
Excessive ventilation Reduce vent openings to restrict but maintain adequate air exchange
Holding chicks in hatcher too long after hatching Remove all chicks as soon as fluffy but within 24 hours after hatching
Excessive yellow colouring of down Improper and excessive fumigation in hatcher unit Follow recommended fumigation procedures


August 2009