Chicken Stimulus Package: What to Do After Receiving Chicks by Mail

Reader Contribution by Pat Foreman
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Murray McMurray Hatchery emailed saying the chicks shipped on Saturday — six days before the Home and Garden Show. They could arrive Monday, but more likely Tuesday, and even possibly Wednesday. If they arrived Wednesday, they would be ultra-stressed and some would probably be dead on arrival. Just-hatched chicks can be shipped in the mail because they have a three-day window before they must have food and water or become too weak to eat or drink.

Avoiding Chick ‘Starve Out’

This stressful situation is called “starve out”: when a chick becomes too weak to search for food and dies of hunger and dehydration.

In natural incubation, the three-day window serves as a chick buffer zone that allows the mother hen to remain on the nest, giving time for the all the viable eggs to hatch. After 3 days from the first chick pipping out, the hen’s duties and attention shift to the live chicks. She must abandon the un-hatched eggs to find food and water for her chicklings.

When the chicks arrived, I wanted to be 100% ready. I set up and tested the brooder on Sunday so that, if the chicks arrived Monday, their warm abode would be ready. Good thing! 7am Monday morning, the post office called and I could hear the distressed peeps over the phone. I’ll be right there!”  The faster I can get the chicks fed, watered and settled in, the greater their survival rate. Luckily, these chicks only had 2 days in transit, and they are here 1 day ahead of the Polar Vortex — so getting chilled during shipment was one less concern.

I switched on the lamps to pre-heat the brooder. Then I dashed off to the post with my mixed terrier dog, Woody, a certified poultry protector who is fascinated with chicks. The post office staff was really glad to see me. The high-pitched chirping was so loud they had the chick-box on the back loading dock.

It was a good transit. The tally was 312 live chicks, one dead on arrival that must have lost its footing and suffocated. Hatcheries put in additional chicks to make up for those that don’t survive the transit. These little fuzz-nurf-balls only weigh from ¾ ounce to 1.3 ounces.

The Chicks’ First Food and Drink

Barbara Mullinix, a Chickeneer member of the Shenandoah Valley Poultry and Garden Club came over to help me dip each chick’s beak into water for that vital first drink. The chicks had not eaten nor anything to drink since hatching, and they were ready for a big gulp and to chow down.

Chick crumble spread on top of the newspaper gave the chicks instant access to food; I added bedding later because the hungry chicks to fill up on the bedding instead of feed. They are already scratching and searching; no learning curve needed. Starve out is a danger during transport, but it can alsobe caused by feeders and waterers placed such that the chicks can’t reach them. This brooder there are multiple types of waterers and feeders so that every chick has easy access.

A chick’s first drink is critically important for re-hydration. These chicks’ first drink has a ½ teaspoonful of sugar and Vitamin B-complex in the gallon waterer. The sugar gives them quick energy. The B-complex vitamins are the stress vitamins and double to help prevent leg problems. I put the B-complex in the water alternating with a mild solution of apple cider vinegar (about 1 teaspoonful/gallon) for trace minerals and acidity to help digestion.

Chicken Waterers for Baby Chicks

Using several types of waterers affords chicks every opportunity to drink. There are waterers specifically for baby chicks, water nipples and gallon plastic waterers. Baby chicks take to water nipples quickly. Although the nipples can drip, they have the advantage of not spilling to soak the bedding the way other waterers sometimes do. The nipples are positioned above the chicks, and because of this, the chicks don’t get bedding or manure in the water. The height of the nipples needs to be positioned at, or just above, eye level. As with all the waterers, as the chicks grow, the water nipples need to be raised.

The gallon waterers can be a death trap; when a chick steps in the trough and looses its footing it can drown. The solution is to put marbles or stones around the trough of the waterer so the chicks can keep their footing and keep from soaked or drowning. Wet chicks can be chilled and stressed chicks.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet found the marbles for the waterers. With the early morning arrival I wanted to get the chicks settled in and de-stressed fast. After the chicks were making their contented trilling sound, I went searching for the marbles. Found them, but within the 20 minutes I was gone a chick had lost its footing and drowned in the lip of the waterer. Dang! Because I lost my marbles a chick died needlessly! Stomp, stomp humph and fume. With the marbles (or stones) in the rim of the gallon waterers no other chick drowned.

Down to 310 chicks.

Bedding for Chicks

The first day or two of brooding, I don’t put wood shavings on floor because the chicks eat the wood instead of their crumble. As the newspaper gets pooped-up we just lay down more layers to keep it clean. With 300 chicks that’s about 2 to 3 times a day. Extra work but I feel it’s worth it; every crop gets full. 

On the second or third day, I put some organic compost on the floor to give the chicksters some infant-size grit and probiotics. The compost is from my garden. The chicks innately know how to scratch and are making tracks in the dirt from the day-one-get-go.I believe giving the chicklings access to clean, organic compost in the brooder mimics a natural habitat. This would not be practical in a commercial poultry operation due to biosecurity concerns.

The next blog post will duscuss baby chick health care.

May the flock be with you!