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There are many factors that could contribute to an unsuccessful hatch, especially if you incubate the eggs in your classroom for the full 21 days. Even commercial hatcheries have an average hatch rate of only 80%. We recommend preparing students for the possibility that not all of the eggs will hatch.
If you purchase 18-day eggs from Utah Agriculture in the Classroom (pickup at Thanksgiving Point), the chances of a higher hatch rate increase because the eggs are candled and monitored for health right up until the date of pickup.
Sometimes a chick has problems getting out of the shell. Should it be helped out? The choice is up to you. Unfortunately, there is really no way of knowing ahead of time how successful you will be at helping. If you do not help it out, it will most likely die in its shell. If a chick is too weak to break out of its shell, there is often a reason for that problem. Some chicks helped out of their shell will have deformities and may die. Sometimes chicks are simply not ready to hatch and can actually be damaged by puncturing the shell or exposing the yolk sac. Helping a chick out in this situation could actually lead to its suffering and/or death. However, some chicks may just be too dry to slide out of the egg due to low humidity and will be perfectly healthy. If you choose to help the chick out of the egg, follow the procedures at backyardchickens.com for the best possible success rate.
Regardless of the choice you make, we recommend that you discuss it with the students. They will benefit from understanding this important lesson about life and death and will avoid the confusing feelings associated with chicks that just disappear from school with no explanation.