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Poultry: Reproduction & Incubation

Trouble Shooting Failures with Egg Incubation

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:

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

Clear Eggs with no embryonic development (infertiles) Males undernourished Follow a recommended feeding program 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 program.
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 ft²/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 degrees F. and 60% relative humidity. Incubate eggs within 7 days of lay.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

Blood rings 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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

Many dead embryos at early stages Improper incubation temperatures (usually too high) Follow recommended incubation temperatures.
Improper egg turning Turn at least 3 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 drafts. 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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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 drafts.
Improper setting of eggs causing malpositioned embryos Set eggs with small end down. Turn eggs properly but avoid turning within 3 days of hatching.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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 degrees F. and 60% R.H. Turn at least 3 times daily.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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 drafts.
Improper fumigation of eggs Fumigate eggs by following the procedure carefully.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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 drafts.
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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

Chicks with labored breathing Excessive use of fumigant Follow recommended fumigation procedures.
Respiratory diseases Check disease status of breeder flock. Conduct a thorough cleanup and disinfection of incubator and hatching facilities.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

Large, soft-bodied mushy chicks; dead on trays; bad odor Low average incubation temperaturePoor ventilation Follow recommended incubation temperatures.Increase ventilation rate in incubator and/or room, but avoid drafts.
Navel infection (Omphalitis) Clean and disinfect incubator and hatching units between settings of eggs. Maintain dry hatching trays. Properly store and fumigate eggs.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

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.

Symptoms Probable Cause Corrective Measures

Excessive yellow coloring of down Improper and excessive fumigation in hatcher unit Follow recommended fumigation procedures.