The Hatching Process

I always thought that a chick just hatched.  It just busted out of the egg in a big spurt of energy.  Like one minute inside the egg, the next minute broken egg with chick out.  Silly I guess, but true.  It has been fun to learn about how a chick hatches, and especially to watch it first-hand.

Here is how a chick hatches:

1.  Internal Pip – the internal pip is when the chick uses it’s beak to break through the membrane into the air cell in the fat end of the egg.  It will take its first breath and start breathing regularly and even cheeping once this happens.  You can’t see anything from outside the egg, but you can hear it cheeping from inside the egg.  The egg often wobbles around a lot too during this time as the chick wiggles.

2.  External Pip – the external pip is when the chick uses its beak to break through the shell, leaving one little crack or hole.  This happens after it has already broken into the air cell and started breathing.  As you can see in the pictures, sometimes a pip is actually a hole and the shell falls off there, sometimes it is just a few cracks in the shell and it sticks out a bit.

photo 10Sometimes, as in the second picture above, the chick does not get into proper position inside the egg to perform an internal pip into the air cell first.  It is called a mal-positioned chick and it performs a mal-positioned external pip, and no internal pip.  A mal-positioned pip usually takes longer to get out because it is just taking its first breaths at the time of the external pip and thus is combining the time for internal and external into one time.  Sometimes, they don’t survive at all.

3.  After the external pip there is often a long period of time with little to no activity with the egg.  If the pip is a hole you can see the beak inside the hole moving a bit, opening and closing, and cheeping occasionally.  During this time the chick is absorbing all the blood from the vessels in the membrane of the shell, as well as absorbing the yolk into its abdomen.  This is why chicks don’t need to eat right away, because they have the energy from the yolk to live on.

4.  Zip (or unzip) – Once the chick has absorbed everything it needs to absorb it will start to “unzip” its shell.  It makes a line of pips about 3/4 of the way to almost all the way around the egg, creating kind of a cap.  Here are some examples of zips.

h1 h2.5 h25. Kick and Hatch – when the chick has finished unzipping the shell it begins to kick its feet and push with its head over and over again, slowly (or fast, depending on the chick) breaking off the cap and getting out of the shell.  The chick in the pictures below actually got its toes out the crack a bit during kicking.

h3 h4 h5 h6 h7 h8 h10When the chick comes out it is wet and pretty tired.  Most of them lay around for a bit, but some get right to the business of learning to walk.

The time frame on all the above steps varies SO much between chicks.  Our two quickest chicks went from pip to hatch in only 3 and 4 hours.  Our two longest, both mal-positioned pips, took 24 and 27 hours.  Most of the chicks went from external pip to hatch in about 12-14 hours.

It is such an amazing process and our family has enjoyed watching it SO much.  It never got boring, even by the 23rd hatch we still came running when someone yelled “chick hatching!”



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12 thoughts on “The Hatching Process

  1. I wonder if Ms Chicken leaves a little instruction manual in each egg. This process doesn’t seem at all obvious to me. If I were a little chick I would have just bashed away at one end until I died of exhaustion. Good thing I wasn’t transported to this world in a shell!

    Interesting post, thanks for breaking it down with great photos to illustrate.


    • Ha! Well being a parent and often wishing children came with an instruction manual but realizing they don’t, I’m pretty sure there are not any “steps to open an egg” scratched on the inside of a shell. :-). It would be handy though.


  2. Thank you very much for this post. It has eased my nervousness a bit. Our eggs/chicks are hatching now…something new for our family to see and experience. Absolutely amazing, interesting, fascinating! This is only day 19 and much activity. 25 eggs.


    • I’m glad it was helpful! Hatching can definitely cause some nervousness, but is also so fun and amazing to watch. We have found the less intervention the better. When we intervene it doesn’t really end well, so we just watch and accept the losses if there are any. Blessings on your hatch!


  3. This is my first time to ever see the process from day 1 to hatching. I have already gotten 2 chicks and 1 duck but, I didn’t get to watch. It’s amazing how they can do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We had a chick hatch 3 days ago, and there hasn’t been any activity since. We’re raising our chicks naturally with a broody hen. How long can it take? Should I be worried?


    • I am assuming you are saying that you have a broody hen sitting on several eggs and one egg hatched successfully three days ago and now no more eggs have hatched. Is that accurate?
      First, be sure that the mama hen can reach food and water without getting off the eggs. The baby that hatched needs mama to teach it how to eat and drink asap and mama will only do that if she can reach it from the nest if she is still setting on the other eggs.
      As far as whether more will hatch or not…that depends. Sometimes when a broody hen starts to set some of the eggs get started incubating a little sooner than others and thus will hatch sooner, while the other eggs are finishing up incubating.
      But more likely than that explanation is that she did start incubating them all at the same time and for some reason or another only one hatched and only one is going to hatch. After three full days of nothing I expect that no more are going to hatch.
      You can wait for her to decide she is done and abandon the nest (as long and you provide food and water that she can reach so the baby and her can both eat and drink).
      Or you could try candling the eggs. Go out at night with a flashlight and gently remove one egg at a time. Try to keep it with the same side facing up as when you touched it under her.
      First, smell it. If it smells rotten it is definitely dead and can be disposed of.
      Second, look for a pip (the little hole in the shell where they first break through). If there is a pip, you should be able to see the beak right at the hole. Is it moving? Cheeping? Breathing? Obviously, if you find a chick that is still alive in the egg carefully put it back under mama hen. If it is dead you can dispose of it.
      If there is not a pip, gently tap the egg with your fingernail and see if you hear the baby cheeping inside. You have to listen carefully. If you do hear it, put it back under the mama.
      If you don’t hear cheeping, then candle the egg with the flashlight. A fully developed egg will have a large air cell where light comes through and the rest will be dark. There will sometimes be a small amount of light that can be seen through the tip as well. If the chick is alive sometimes you can see it moving around, but not always.
      When in doubt, put it back under mama and see what happens. If it is clear that they are all dead, then go ahead and remove the eggs so she can get on with raising the one that hatched.
      I hope that is helpful!


      • Thank you for getting back to me. That is exactly what I’m saying. I have food and water with her and the chick, both are doing fantastic! I candlelit the eggs last night. Any eggs that weren’t fertile or smelt were tossed. I’m assuming the rest are fully developed because they’re too dark to see any detail. I haven’t tried tapping on them, though. Great idea! Either way, I’ll leave them under mama for at least a few more days to see if she abandons the nest. Thanks for your help!

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