Chick Hatching Woes

The Shipped Chicken Eggs

Shipping eggs requires a lot of prep work on the vendor’s part: padding, sturdy boxes (yes, more than one), proper storage ahead of time, and known fertility from one’s own flock. If shipping between states, it also requires an NPIP approved/tested flock.

Despite this, both the seller and the purchaser at the mercy of the intermediary party, and all of the attendant variables: the shipper.

In most cases, that’s the USPS, the only shipping agency which will handle birds, chicks, or eggs.

I personally don’t tend to have a lot of problems with shipped eggs, although I’ve had issues with chicks. This time, however …

I ordered some lovely Mottled Leghorns from a breeder who is working on the pattern. They’re pure Leghorn, a cross between the whites and browns. The males of her line are gorgeous and the hens look sturdy for a Leghorn. The eggs, while a little bit smaller than I’d like to see, are a nice medium to large.

The hatching eggs, however, arrived with detached air cells, with some of them pretty severe. I followed all of the instructions provided by the Facebook groups I’m on, and hoped. The eggs rested a bit longer than I would normally rest shipped eggs, I monitored them more closely. Several failed to develop at all. Those that did were transferred to my hatching incubator at the appropriate time.

Eighteen eggs. The first chick to attempt to hatch pipped and then died. I think it drowned on its own yolk … I’ve never before seen the yellowish goop that surrounded the chick when I chipped the egg open. I’m assuming it’s yolk, but I really don’t know.

One more hatched on its own. One had to be assisted — more of that yellow goop. A third needed to be rescued from a membrane that had “shrink wrapped” it … with no discernible reason for that occurring. But it couldn’t move, and shrink wrapping isn’t a failure on the chick’s part. The paper towel is the best description I have for why I really don’t like to interfere.

The fourth … I candled all of the remaining eggs, trying to determine if there were any still alive. Most had died possibly a week before, or had been in the process of dying when I transferred them. πŸ™ I saw one, and I could hear it trying to chirp in the egg. I left it overnight, as it hadn’t pipped at all. The next morning … no progress. It was stuck.

With only three chicks out of the hatch, I decided to try to rescue the fourth. I had to completely assist it, in stages. I, as carefully as possible, cracked the shell, and discovered the membrane was …. it wasn’t dry and stuck (“shrink wrapped”), but it was so gooey the baby couldn’t move and couldn’t break free of it. I had to cut the membrane with a knife, and slowly peel it out. I don’t have a picture of the blood from the fourth chick’s hatching, but it was profuse. I got it most of the way free, and left it in the incubator, hoping it would do as it should and draw the blood from the shell-attached membrane and dry up enough to separate. Six hours later, this had not happened, and the chick was at risk of ripping its own intestines out if it kicked free. I cut the remaining vessels and attempted to blot the blood. I put it back in the incubator, honestly assuming it was going to die.

Here, however, you can see all four chicken chicks are still alive. It was a bit touch and go with the babies at first. The first few days of a chicken chick’s life, they have soft round bellies, from the yolk they’re still absorbing. This allows a clutch to finish hatching out before the hen has to take them to find food. These ones all had problems standing, too. The lightest of the brown chicks is #4. It’s smaller and it took a whole extra day to get its legs underneath it properly. I kept fearing it would be found dead in the shavings. But it is up and moving around well now (hence writing a post about it), and I expect it will catch up to the others in time. However, even if it remains a bit smaller, little bugger is a fighter, and has probably earned a place as a breeder regardless. The kind of hardiness that survives that start is the kind of hardiness that needs kept.

The Quail

In the last picture above, you can see some English White / Dotted White jumbo quail chicks. They’re five days older than the oldest of the chicken chicks, placed in the incubator the same day. There’s five right now. Three “failed to thrive,” and were found dead, the last of which I just removed before taking the picture. You can see the wing feathers on those ones, right? They’re double the size they were at hatching. The last of the “failed to thrive” chicks, at seven-eight days old, had no wing feathers starting, and was barely bigger than when it hatched. This issue has been plaguing me for months.

The Celadon (blue egg layers) haven’t been as productive as they should, given how much room they have per bird. The English Whites … I’ve had horrible hatch and survival rates. Multiple hatches of only one or two survivors, for seemingly, no reason at all.

A few months ago, someone on one of the quail groups asked about pure white quail — not dotted, but pure white. A much more experienced breeder responded that there are some trying to work on a true pure white line, but they’re having to combat a “double yellow” lethality gene that shows up in the whitest individuals. Symptoms include lots of chicks that die during incubation, and failure to thrive / early chick death. The purest white individuals are most likely to be affected, and even if one survives to adulthood, it will probably not be a jumbo class quail, regardless of parental size and diet.

Guess what I’ve been dealing with, and desperately trying to figure out? Yeah. That.

So … for Independence Day, I decided we were going to have some quail to go along with our usual grilling plans. I moved one of the Celadon cock birds over to the English White pen, and removed the large pure white male I had there. I left the older, dotted white male, at least for the time being. The youngest quail hen (a singleton of her hatch) who had not reached a good weight nor maturity level for her age was also culled, plus a couple of the oldest hens / original birds who stopped laying some time ago.

The pure white male turned out to have testicles half the size of a normal quail’s testicles, as well as an odd structure which nearly resembled a testicle, but without a coating and a grainy texture. That certainly plays into the poor fertility of the eggs, because I watched him breed hens. I am hopeful that this helps fix the issue, but I may have to bring in another line from a major breeder to provide enough variability to clear out some of the bad genes. In light of that problem, I’m actually considering culling the entire English White line and picking up a well known, sturdy Wild Type (feather sexable) line of jumbos. They’d be another 20-40% larger – an ounce or two extra of meat per bird.

Unfortunately, the only individual I know of who was working on a jumbo class Celadon line has gotten out of quail entirely. I am a bit disappointed, because the eggs I got from him last year had issues hatching. This means I’ll need to work on it myself, I guess. πŸ™