So, you took the plunge and bought some chicks. Let’s say you did everything by the book and researched the breeds you wanted, set up all the equipment beforehand, and gave your chicks everything they needed to thrive; but for some reason they aren’t. While there could be a myriad of reasons why this could be, my guess would be on one of the following reasons.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Like many babies, when chicks have hatched, they do not have a strong immune system. As well, because their intestines are directly related to their immune system, it is important to build and strengthen their immunity from the start so that a supply of good gut bacteria can develop to fight off unhealthy parasites and diseases. Here are six natural remedies you can give your chicks to give them a fighting start.
- Add probiotics – Many keepers of chickens swear by adding probiotics to their chickens diets in order to keep them healthy. You can provide a spoonful of yogurt or a probiotic drink in their food, or purchase probiotics from a feed store.
- Feed chicks scrambled eggs – Adding some scrambled eggs to their diet is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can offer them. Right before a chick hatches, it consumed the nutrient rich yolk from the egg. This gives the hatched chicks the most essential nutrients they’ll need to live off of for approximately two days. Lacking only Vitamin C, the yolk is basically a chick’s life line until they take their first peck at their starter feed.
- Keep the brooder clean – A clean living environment is your best prevention, as is helping chicks build a strong immunity. Keep bedding clean and waterers and feeders free of droppings.
- Add some apple cider vinegar to their water– That’s right, folks. Our go-to health remedy can help them too. You can quickly boost your chick’s immunity by adding a few drops of ACV to your chick’s waterer several times per week. Not only does this improve immunity, but it promotes good digestion and respiratory health, as well as helps to eliminate unhealthy parasites.
- Add some fresh herbs to their feeder – Herbs are another way to naturally boost your chicks health. Specifically herbs that contain essential antioxidants, vitamins, minerals like bay leaves, Echinacea, dandelions, oregano leaves. These will add additional protein and are well known for their antiviral properties. In addition, herbs like oregano and dandelion will improve their digestion too.
- Add antioxidant rich foods to their diet – Introducing fresh greens and berries that are high in antioxidants can do your chick’s body good. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, lettuce and cabbage are ideal immunity boosters. As well, consider adding baby spinach leaves and berries to their feeders. Another excellent way to promote a healthier immune function is garlic. Add a clove of garlic to their water to help them stay healthy.
The best way to prevent a chick from developing an illness is prevention. Simply by paying attention to the health of your chick by monitoring its progress and keeping it in a stress-free environment can tell you a lot about its health. The following ailments are seven of the most common illnesses that surround chicks and a few can be avoidable with the tips listed above.
Most Common Ailments Surrounding Chicks
Let’s start with the #1 killer of baby chicks. Coccidiosis is a disease of the intestinal tract caused by the microscopic parasites called coccidia. This condition is often spread by bringing infected hens into your flock, or by wild birds, it is then picked up by your chickens through contact with the infected feces or through drinking water with droppings in it. Since, coccidia multiplies best in warm, wet, dirty conditions, it is essential to keep your chick nursery/brooder clean and remove any wet or caked feed, as well as provide fresh water as needed.
Some symptoms to look out for are:
- Diarrhea or bloody droppings
- Ruffled feathers
- Poor appetite and lethargy
If you catch this in time, isolate the sick chick and start feeding it medicated chick feed until symptoms disappear. As well, making a mash of equal parts chick feed and milk mixed a tiny amount of plain yogurt. This will stimulate the chick’s digestive tract by causing diarrhea. Diarrhea is a body’s natural way to begin flushing out undesirable pathogens. Follow the mash with probiotic powder in the feed to help rebuild the good bacteria. Water is essential here, so be sure to provide plenty of fresh water with electrolytes (see recipe below) to help the chick regain its strength.
Full disclosure: this condition has a very high mortality rate and once the symptoms start, it results in the chick to have an inability to absorb nutrients in food and the chick usually dies within a week; but there is always a chance, so don’t give up on the chick!
One way to help baby chicks build an immunity to coccidiosis is to add small clumps of grass with the dirt attached into the brooder. This early exposure to small amounts of pathogens that exist outside will help them slowly build their natural immunity. As well, when they are a few weeks old, add some fresh or dried oregano to their feeder. You can also add one crushed clove of garlic and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to one gallon of the chicks water. These natural remedies will help the baby chicks develop the good bacteria they need and protect their fragile intestines.
Baby chicks must have warm heat or else their fragile bodies could go into shock from the cold. We keep a heat lamp on them until they are 4 to 5 weeks old. Because the temperature needs to consistently stay around 90-95 degrees F (for the first week, then slowly decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week), make sure you have a thermometer in the nursery at all times. Conversely, they also need an area where they can cool off, if they get too hot. Therefore, I have another thermometer set up in a corner so I can monitor the temperature there, as well. Here are some signs to look for if your temperatures need to be adjusted in the brooder:
- Seem dehydrated
- Peeps shrilly
- Sticky bottoms or pasty butt
- Chicks will pile up and smother each other near the heat source
If you see any of these signs, adjust the temperature accordingly. If they are huddled or climbing on one another, increase the temperature, or if they move away from their heat source, reduce the temperature a few degrees. As well, if you have a brooder lamp stand, it will help you better adjust your temperatures more quickly, but this is optional.
As well, try to minimize any drafts that the chicks may be experiencing. This can also cause chicks body temperature to plunge. One way to circumvent this is to create a draft shield out of cardboard to circle around your structure that is about 12 inches high. You can buy one already made, but I had my kids make one as a weekend project with some excess boxes we had lying around.
Picking can often be a sign of baby birds that are too hot, too crowded, or without fresh air. Occasionally, bright light also causes them to pick, or they pick for no apparent reason. To stop it, try putting in fresh green grass clippings several times a day and darken the room.
One of the most important issues when caring for livestock is to always provide them with fresh drinking water. Dehydration caused by stress, heat or rough transport can quickly create life-threatening issues with baby chicks.
signs of dehydration
- opening wings
- paleness to face
- labored breathing
- listlessness or not reactive to touch
- convulsions or twitching
If your chick is experiencing any of these issues, you must get fluids in them immediately. Making a homemade electrolyte drink for your birds may help to perk them up. Also consider moving their location. Perhaps, the area you have their brooder/nursery in has too much traffic or is drafty. As well, try and limit the handling of chicks for the first day or two so they can get accustomed to their new environment. Adding some electrolytes to their water may help them combat this issue too.
Homemade Electrolyte Recipe
- 8 ounces warm water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
I usually dilute this with more water for my chicks, but this recipe is great for all livestock. Use full strength on severely ailing adult chickens, otherwise mix into their drinking water as needed, a cup per gallon of water. Use this electrolyte drink for the first few days and then switch to regular drinking water.
As well, if your chick is only exhibiting the beginning signs of dehydration, try reviving your chick with a mixture of the electrolyte drink mixed with some chick starter. This will make a soupy mush that they can easily consume. Give your bird this special feed for 3 to 4 days to help pep them.
4. Lack of Gut Bacteria
Simply put, when chicks are hatched, they don’t have strong populations of good bacteria present in their gut yet. This can be detrimental when they are exposed to potent sources of bad bacteria. This could be from contaminated food or water dishes or chick feed that has been contaminated by rodent droppings. We recommend providing a probiotic to chicks for the first week of life. You can feed them food that contains good bacteria, like yogurt or kefir, or purchase probiotics at a local feed store. But when they develop a healthy gut bacteria, they are less likely to get stressed or develop ailments like pasty butt.
As well, consider growing fodder for your baby chicks after they are a week old and are ready to introduce more food sources to them. When you sprout essential grasses and grains, it gives the chicks a higher enzyme content. This provides 40-50% more digestible food sources to the bird, so the chick gets more nutrition in the process. As well, it is extremely economical. You could grow some fodder in half of an eggshell. The fodder could give them a healthy snack and the shell could help them with supplementing them with calcium (Help them out by crumbling the egg shell and putting it in their feeder).
5. Pasty Butt
Sometimes chicks can get stressed out. Usually the stress occurs temperature fluctuations, transport, too much handling, etc., and it causes manure to stick to the back of the bird’s vent. If this is left on their butt, they can get sick and die. Therefore, remove this daily by washing it off with a cloth and warm water. Gently dry the area and apply a small layer of petroleum jelly. This will prevent the droppings from sticking. As well, one natural way to remedy pasty butt is to add scrambled eggs to the chick feed. If symptoms persist, it could be the brand of chick feed and is recommended you switch feed sources. If diligent, this issue will disappear in a few days as the bird starts to grow.
6. Spraddle Leg
This is a common leg deformity that cause the chick’s legs to point to the side instead of the front. If left untreated, this deformity could have lasting effects on how the chick will walk in the future. One way to correct this is to change the lining of your brooder floor with rubber shelf liner. Next, bind the chick’s legs with vet wrap to stabilize the chick. Keep the chick’s legs bound for a few days to help them strengthen and correct the deformity. Be sure the chick isn’t being trampled by the other chicks. If you notice this, separate the chick.
7. Marek’s Disease
This ailment is a collective name for several highly contagious viral diseases that cause tumors and paralysis in sick chicks and spread bird-to-bird or via infected dust and dander. Marek’s usually occurs in large-scale breeding operations, and many professional hatcheries. While breeders offer vaccinations, it is not 100% effective. Some level of immunity is achieved by healthy chicks exposed to small amounts who are able to fight the virus.
The best way to prevent Marek’s is by having chicks in a clean environment and keeping the brooder clean so the chicks can build a strong immune system. However, if your chick comes down with this disease, separate it immediately. There is no treatment for Marek’s disease, so monitor the chick to ensure it will continue to eat and drink. As well, do what you can to build the chick’s immune system with the suggestions above and it will have a better chance at surviving.
To conclude, raising chicks can be a rewarding experience, but they do require some extra TLC and attention. The best way to prevent a chick from developing any unforeseen illnesses is through prevention. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Start adding the listed natural remedies to your chicks (and adult chickens too) diet to help them develop a strong immune system.
Tess Pennington is the editor for ReadyNutrition.com. After joining the Dallas chapter of the American Red Cross in 1999, Tess worked as an Armed Forces Emergency Services Center specialist and is well versed in emergency and disaster management and response. Tess is the author of The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. When a catastrophic collapse cripples society, grocery store shelves will empty within days. But by following Tess’s tips for stocking, organizing, and maintaining a proper emergency food supply, your family will have plenty to eat for weeks, months, or even years.