Protocol to solve incubation problems

Tags: Hatchery management | Whitepaper

Written by Dr. Marleen Boerjan, March 31 2016

Protocol to solve incubation problems

Even the best managed hatchery can experience difficulties sometimes, with incubation results that are below expectations or even disappointing. However, it is only possible to make the observation ‘results are below expectation’ if there is a history of hatchery data available for reference.

Such reference data is extracted from batch related information and collected daily on incubation results. This information may be collected either on paper recording forms or in computer spreadsheets. And in modern hatcheries, managers will use this information to extract reference data.

The methods used to extract hatchery specific reference data vary from hatchery to hatchery. Some hatchery managers calculate simple overall means per flock age, others use sophisticated statistical methods that take into account the dominant effects of egg storage length and flock ages on Incubation results (Boerjan et al., 2011: IHP vol 27 (6):p13).

Poor incubation results are often first recognised when hatchery personnel find or recognise poor chick quality and many unhatched eggs left. In this situation, the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions, based on superficial observations and poor, incomplete data collected in a hurry, is high.

Confronted with poor results during chick collection, the team leader will immediately inform the hatcherymanager, who is responsible for finding out what has happened on the same day that the challenge is identified. In this scenario, to avoid the risk of hastily drawing the wrong conclusions, it is advisable to follow a logical sequence of steps or protocol – as described below.

The first, most important task is to provide a detailed description of the problem with as much detail as possible. This is necessary both for internal communication and to assist in resolving the problem with external consultants or other parties, as required.

The first question to answer is whether the problem is an isolated incident related to a specific incubator or batch of eggs, or whether the problem has occurred previously or more frequently, but was not recognised by personnel.

With a quick review of the aforementioned data, the hatchery manager should be able to find this out fairly quickly. If the problem is not an isolated incident, a more detailed, specific analysis of the data will be required. This should go beyond a simple overall comparison of averages, at least the main effects of flock age and length of storage should be included.


  • Ensure that hatchery data recording forms are always filled out completely. This is the fastest route to describing and solving the problem.
  • Define the problem: (1) Hatchability below expectation; (2)chick quality below expectation or (3) Hatchability AND chick quality below expectation.
  • Define whether the problem occurs regularly, or is an isolated incident.
  • Ignore the problem if poor hatchability appears incidentally, but keep an eye on the results of subsequent incubation cycles.
  • Define whether the problem is (1) flock; (2) egg handling or (3) incubator related:
    • If flock related: solve the problem in communication with the breeder farm manager;
    • If egg handling related: evaluate and review egg handling protocols at the farm, during transport and at the hatchery (including disinfection);
    • If incubator related: review the procedures for incubator maintenance and incubation programs;
  • Take action according to findings and evaluate the effects of corrective measures taken on hatch results.

Written by Dr. Marleen Boerjan