My Chicks Are Dying! What’s Wrong?
Raising chicks can be very fun and rewarding, but sometimes problems arise. The Meyer Hatchery Help Desk and this blog are great resources for helping you troubleshoot. Here are some helpful quick links on specific topics:
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When setting up the brooder, make sure it and everything that goes into it are clean. If possible try to sanitize the brooder, feeders and waterers. Some people will do this using a 10% bleach solution. Make sure this is dry and the vapors are cleared out before the chicks arrive.
Is the brooder ventilated but draft free? Air should be able to circulate, but not be blowing on the chicks causing them to be chilled. Is the temperature correct for the age of the chicks and is it stable? Do you see all chicks huddled together near the heat source? If so, they are cold. Do the chicks have room to move away from the heat source? If all are trying to stay away from the heat source, the brooder is too warm. Do they have enough space to move about and not trample each other?
Are the brooder corners rounded? Chicks can pack themselves into a corner causing some to suffocate. Cardboard can be used to round corners to prevent this. If the brooder is open on the sides, like a wire dog crate, cardboard can also be used to help keep it free from drafts.
Food and Water
Is food and water being replaced daily? Is water always available? Chicks can dehydrate very quickly. Is feed fresh and dry? Feed has a shelf life and where and how it is stored will affect the shelf life. Are you using the right feed for the chicks? Is the feed quality? Trace minerals are important along with protein percentage. Compare labels. If something is missing from one, it might be better to spend a little more and get the one with more nutrients. Is there enough light in the brooder for chicks to see to find the food and water?
Make sure waterers are not being spilled or leaking. Wet or damp chicks are easily chilled. Use waterers designed for chicks or add clean small pebbles or marbles to help prevent drowning. Pine shavings are a great bedding, but don’t use cedar. Cedar can be very irritating and deadly to chicks.
Are the chicks in the brooder similar? It is best to keep birds of similar age and type together. If possible, keep the chicks within 2 weeks of age of each other. Keep layer chicks separate from broiler chicks. Ducklings, goslings and turkeys should each be kept separately. The latter will grow very quickly and can trample layers or bantams easily. Do not mix poultry from different sources until you’ve had time to make sure all are healthy.
Treats and Supplements
Grit helps chicks to grind or chew their food. A starter grit is available and can be offered to chicks in a separate dish around 2 – 4 weeks of age. I would suggest waiting until 3 weeks of age and after grit is offered before offering treats. This is not a complete list, but some things chickens should not eat include raw or dry beans and rice, green potatoes and green tomatoes, high fat or salty foods, chocolate and avocados. Please choose treats carefully. Give treats in small amounts or they may skip their feed which is their main source of nutrients.
Supplements may be offered to chicks in both food and water. Vitamins, electrolytes, probiotics or apple cider vinegar can be added to water. One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with “the mother” in a gallon of water may strengthen the immune system. Egg yolk, cooled smashed scrambled egg or plain yogurt may be offered. For a weak chick, a small artist paint brush can be used to apply egg yolk on the chick’s tongue every 15 or 30 minutes. An eye dropper may overwhelm the chick and cause the liquid to go down the “wrong pipe.”
Make sure to keep chicks protected from predators. While you may see these little balls of fluff as your babies, to a predator they are chicken nuggets! Be sure the area is safe from snakes, cats, dogs, rats and aerial predators. A cover is helpful. I often use a piece of chicken wire or hardware cloth. The presence of these predators can cause fright and stress to chicks.
Watch for Signs of Trouble
- Does the chick have swelling anywhere? An injury could have occurred during shipping, the chick could have fallen off something or perhaps someone dropped the chick? An internal injury can occur from such a fall.
- Do any of the chicks have diarrhea? This may happen if chicks are too hot. If the brooder is not clean and dry diarrhea could be a symptom of coccidiosis.
- Is there a pattern to when chicks are dying? If mostly at night, it may be that temperatures are dropping too much at night. During the day? Is it getting too hot or cold?
- Is someone getting picked on and can not get food or water? Separation within the group may be necessary until it becomes stronger. A piece of chicken wire can be used to protect the weak chick from the others without complete isolation from the flock.
There are many other things that can cause death to chicks. Some birds die from failure to thrive or chick sudden death syndrome. Deaths could come from heart failure, stroke, fright, malnutrition, suffocation, bullying or predators.
We hope these points help you troubleshoot your tiny flock if you are experiencing issues with their health or survivability.
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