Grit Blogs > Letters From Alabama

Should I Assist With Hatching?

The Historic FoodieTomorrow is my oldest son’s birthday and my experience with hatching bourbon red turkey eggs last night was vaguely similar to problems I had giving birth to him 35 years ago. I was having a great deal of difficulty during the delivery, which lasted 36 hours and culminated in another doctor coming in and immediately seeing that I was in distress and proceeding with a forceps delivery. I was there so long I had three shifts of nurses and doctors. Preparations had been made for a C-section and the situation was bad enough that my ex had been told the baby was not going to survive yet no one would take the initiative to intervene on the baby’s behalf.

A newly hatched bourbon red turkey, now known as Big Foot

Last night I had three turkey eggs pipping, one of which was taking much longer than the other two in hatching, but because I’d read so much that claimed I shouldn’t intervene, I was afraid to help. Some people say we should at least give the chick 24 hours after the shell first cracks before assisting because doing so could harm the poult, resulting in serious deformity or death. I heeded the advice not to be too anxious to assist and went to bed at 11 p.m. If it hadn’t gotten out of the shell by morning I would help out then.

By 5:30 a.m. when I got up, the little fellow was dead – still inside the shell. He’d managed to chip away at the shell successfully enough, but the membrane was dry and tough and he couldn’t break through it. There was a little section of it open when I went to bed, enough that it could breath easily, but apparently he wasn’t strong enough to rip it on open. Granted I might have harmed it had I helped out, but by deciding to wait the 24 hours I allowed the little fellow to die, almost surely drying out and sticking to the shell making hatching impossible.

I had water in the incubator to raise the humidity. With previous hatches it was enough, but it apparently wasn’t enough this time, maybe because there were more eggs in the incubator than in previous hatches. (There are still a dozen Ameracauna eggs and two more turkey eggs in the incubator). I think I will add a wet paper towel tonight, as I’ve seen some people advise, and hopefully that will bump up the humidity level and the next eggs to hatch won’t have the problem of the tough rubbery membrane.

Lesson Learned: There is a very fine line between interfering and saving the chick, and choosing which path to take is fraught with doubt and fear, but in some cases doing nothing means certain death while assisting offers at least a 50/50 chance at life. Had I trusted my gut instinct and helped out I’d probably have three poults instead of two today.

I can’t tell anyone else what to do in this situation, but I can tell it like I see it and hopefully anyone faced with the same situation can make a more informed decision about what to do.