Keeping Baby Chicks Healthy

Reader Contribution by Pat Foreman
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Brooding healthy, well-adjusted chicks is not just keeping them warm and fed. In my opinion, there are at least four pro-active things you can do to assure thriving chicks.

1. Healthy Chicks Come From Healthy Parents
If the rooster or hen was malnutrition chances are high their chicks will have nutritional deficiencies passed from the parents to the chick. Start right and get chicks (and hatching eggs) from producers who take good care of their breeding stock.

2. Protect and Enhance the Chicks Biome
My chicks get probiotics in their first feed so that their immune system is supported. I never feed medicated feed chicks. Medicated feed gives a sub-therapeutic dose of antibiotics that can alter the chick biome and contribute to bacterial drug resistance. I treat the individual; not the entire flock. Giving the chicks probiotics also helps prevent and treat pasty butt.

3. Fine Dining within Hours of Hatching
It doesn’t matter if chicks hatch from under a hen or in an incubator; they have about three days before they must eat or suffer starve out where they become too weak to eat or drink. They never seem to catch up. It is these 3-days that allow the mother hen to remain on the nest giving time for more eggs hatch. Even with a hen still hunkered down in incubation mode for the slow-pippers, the early-hatched chicks are already dashing around in search of food.

Newly hatched chicks do not need to wait to eat! Within hours of hatching, the newborns are ready for food. They innately start scratching and searching calories. The earlier your chicks get nutrition, the less stressed and healthier they will be in the long run. This is one huge advantage of local incubation (without the need to ship chicks) is that it greatly reduces stress and minimizes starve out.

4. Eliminating Delayed Starve Out
Delayed starve out is a subtle killer. Many folks don’t realize that a chick’s recovery from the stresses of hatching and shipping are not over with their first drink and full crop. There can be a shadow starve out. This is when a chick doesn’t get enough high quality protein food, and 100% clean water.

Delayed starve out can be caused by feeders and waterers placed such that the chicks have trouble getting access or can’t reach them. This is especially true with smaller bantam breeds.

Even worse are empty feeders and waterers! The lack of nutrition and dehydration causes a chick to become increasingly weaker. It eventually dies of hunger and/or dehydration usually within the first week of life.

Chicks afflicted with delayed starve out are easy to spot. They have a droopy stance, often with eyes closed, and a drained-energy way of getting around. They don’t have the vigor and Joie de vivre of healthy chicks. Some commercial operation guidelines recommend that these chicks be culled because they will probably always be under-weight and small. Once a chick has lives 7 to 10 days they generally will grow to adult chickenhood. But survival is not enough, you want your chickens to thrive.

My treatment for listless chicks is to put them into a stress-free place where they don’t have to compete and cope with other rambunctious chicks. I have a 10-gallon aquarium and the glass allows for easy observation. A seed-starter heating pad for radiant floor heading and allows the natural sleep cycles to click in. Once out of the hustle-bustle listless chicks usually begin to perk up, eat more leisurely, sleep soundly and most of them fully recover.

One of my favorite supportive treatments is raw egg yolk (from my hen’s eggs) mixed with a little warm water and fed with an eye dropper or oral syringe. Just a drop in the tip of a chick’s beak is enough to get it swallowing the yolk and seeking more. After a several yolk feedings the chick starts to eat on it’s own. Within a few days the chick recovers its vigor and is ready to rejoin the rest of the batch. But sometimes a listless chick just peacefully fades away; no interest in continuing life. Not all chicks will survive. Dealing with death is as much a part of incubating as is life it brings.

Eggs and Hope Spring Eternal,

Top Caption: This is the look of a chick needing immediate special care. 

Bottom Caption: Treating chick with egg yolk and an eye dropper or oral syringe.