It is inevitable that one or two of your new chicks will get sick. Some issues, like pasty butt, are relatively minor, while others, such as birth defects, are more serious.
Failure to Thrive
The most common issue with chicks is simply a failure to thrive. Remember, most chicks are hatched, sexed, shoved in a box, and shipped halfway across the country in their first 24 hours out of the shell. That’s a lot to deal with and some chicks don’t handle it particularly well. If you notice a chick not eating or moving as much as the other chicks, you might have a chick that just isn’t thriving in its new environment.
A chick like this will require special care and its own private quarters. Separate the chick from the rest so it isn’t competing for food and water and add a vitamin supplement to the water. There are plenty on the market such as Nutria-Drench, Poultry Cell, and Poultry Booster that can be mixed with the water to give a sluggish chick good nutritional support. These chicks often come around after a few days of special care and can be returned to their flock once they are back to normal.
While the name ‘pasty butt’ might not be the most technical name in the world, it is very accurate. Pasty butt is a condition where chicken poop sticks to a chick’s butt and blocks the cloaca. Clean one case of pasty butt and you will understand the term perfectly.
You will need a few cotton swabs and some warm water to clean up a chick with pasty butt. Dip the end of the cotton swab in the warm water and then press it on the poop to rehydrate it. When the swab becomes dry, repeat the process. As the poop becomes rehydrated it will start to resemble the consistency of toothpaste and you will be able to wipe the poop off of the cloaca. After the area is good and clean you can add a bit of vegetable or olive oil to prevent reoccurrences.
Butt checks should be done daily for the first week or two to keep your chicks healthy, happy, and pooping away.
Injuries from other Chicks
Chicks in the same brooder will determine pecking order by…pecking each other, and the process can be a little rough. There will also be some other behaviors that would get any kid kicked off the playground. Your chicks will peck at each other, push at each other, they might even run over each other. All this rough housing can cause injury to an otherwise healthy chick. If a chick gets injured, the first step is to separate it from the other chicks. A chick with an injury (especially a bloody one) will become a target for the other chicks. Chicks will be attracted to the blood and peck at that area specifically.
Once you have the chick separated, clean any wounds with warm soap and water. If the bird is lame, do your best to support the injured area. You can wrap a leg with a little bit of paper towel and some tape for support or create a small nest with hay or clothes to keep the chick from injuring itself further. Add a vitamin supplement to the water to help the chick recover. Monitor for infection and consider if you want to use antibiotics. Consulting a vet might be useful.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot more that can be done for a severely injured chick. Do your best to support it and pray for a good outcome.
Sometimes a bird with a birth defect makes it through all the checks at the hatchery and into your brooder. This year was one of those years for me. I bought six chicks from a feed store and before we were halfway home, I knew there was something wrong with one of the little Copper Marans. When I got home, I figured out this poor little chick couldn’t swallow. Every time she tried to drink, she would gag and the water would come spouting back out.
This type of birth defect is easy for a store employee overseeing a few hundred chicks to miss. If you find yourself in this situation, culling the chicken may be the kindest thing to do.
To learn more about chick illnesses and defects, click here.
I hate to end on such a sad note, so I want to tell you a little bit about chick treats. Watching those little chicks figure out that you are the keeper of the goodies is grand fun. You go from “ahhhhh scary giant” to “oooohhhh treat giant” this is when you will start to bond with your chicks. Your chicks can start having soft treats at around two weeks of age. I start mine with scrambled eggs and live earth worms. They love them both and every time I open the door they start peeping with excitement. After they have had grit for a week or so you can add crushed apple, grapes, and dried meal worms to their treat routine
Now that you know how to care for your new chicks, let me welcome you to the world of chickens. These birds can provide plenty of delicious eggs and hours of entertainment. Soon you will be practicing chicken math and answering questions for the next wave of chicken lovers.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.