I’ve had two appalling hatches of chicks so far this year, quite the worst ever but I’m not sure why. On both occasions I’ve used youngish but mature (two to three year old hens) cocks of the same age for one of my rare breeds but last year’s cockerels for the other.

It’s the Vorwerks that have been a particular problem, with no live chicks out of 20 eggs set. In both instances, the birds appear fit and well and have been fed a specialist breeders diet since January. The eggs are collected over the period of one week and stored in a relatively cool place and turned daily. I incubate in a 20 egg automatic turner, with the first hatch I put very little water in until the last few days when a bit more was added (this is what I’d normally do), but for the second hatch, I had a small amount in all the way through until day 17 when a larger quantity was added (as per manufacturer’s instructions).For the second hatch, there possibly was a problem with the turner during the second week and maybe it stopped for 24 hours or so. Certainly with this hatch I had a few eggs that died around this time after being candled as normal at seven days. I check the temperature two to three times a day and have no problems there, but I don’t have a hygrometer to measure humidity, although at no time, even at the end, is there any condensation.I got four chicks out of 14 fertile eggs candled at day 7. Most of those that didn’t hatch pipped but then did nothing else. I helped out some of these after a few hours and two lived for a week, seeming fine before dying. The others when I broke open the eggs were full term but hadn’t absorbed all the yolk sac. I don’t like to help chicks to hatch but if I don’t, they just don’t seem to progress. How long should I leave them after pipping before investigating? Why should some be so late in re-absorbing the yolk – two days later than the first successful hatch? Or could it be me interfering too soon? If I do interfere, I make a tiny hole into the shell and if there’s any fresh blood, I stop and leave them for a few hours before checking again. With one, there was no blood at all but still the yolk sac left.Brian Bergman, via emailYou’re not the only one. I’ve had many similar questions this spring. I would first suspect incubator malfunction and then suspect an infection in the oviduct of the parent stock which has got into the embryo, possibly brought in by new stock. Give both sets of breeding stock Terramycin 5% in the water for 5 days (talk to your own vet), then start collecting eggs and try again. You’re cleaning the incubator in between hatches with Virkon, I hope, as infection can so easily pass between batches. The odd lapse in turning probably wouldn’t matter. No water is needed to be added in the incubator in this damp climate of ours until the eggs pip, despite the manufacturer’s instructions – it will also make a difference to the humidity if you live at sea level or on a mountain. Try not to help them out  as those which hatch on their own are always stronger stock, but if necessary, what you are doing is ok by taking it slowly and by waiting for no blood in the membrane: if you continue to help it out when there is blood, the chick is likely to die in any case. VR

Victoria Roberts BVSC MRCVSEmail the Vet’s forum at: vetsforum.csh@archant.co.uk

Disclaimer: The information and advice in this column is given in good faith. However, as the animals in question have not been examined by the author, no liability in respect of diagnosis or application of any treatments is accepted either by the author or by Country Smallholding


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