Caring for your birds

Whether you’re hatching eggs from your own hens or introducing just-hatched chicks from a hatchery or local farm store, expanding your flock is an exciting but delicate time.

Feeding the young flock

Newly-hatched chicks are able to survive for 2-3 days on stored energy reserves. But when your chicks arrive, they will likely be quite thirsty. Chicks should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. For the first week, a one gallon waterer will be adequate for up to 50 chicks, but by week two you will need one gallon for every 10 chicks to be sure there is enough watering space for all the chicks. When your chicks first arrive, dip their beaks into the waterer to help them understand where and how to get water.

In hot weather or times of stress, keeping the chicks hydrated is even more critical. Sav-a-Chick® Vitamin & Electrolyte Supplement can be a great way to ensure your chicks are staying hydrated in any conditions. Mix one packet of the supplement with one gallon of water in your chick waterer and offer plain water at the same time.

A commercial chick starter feed concentrate will provide the best balanced nutrition for your growing flock. Feed should be offered free-choice from the first day in feeders that allow 1-2” of linear space per bird in the first two weeks, and 3-4” per bird at 6 weeks of age. Initially, the chicks may have difficulty determining whether they should eat the feed or the shavings, so spreading some feed on newspaper or cardboard laid over the bedding can help them recognize the right source of nutrition.

The addition of Sav-a-Chick® Probiotic Supplement in the first days or during times of stress can also be beneficial to help build a diverse population of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system, and can help prevent diarrhea in your chicks. Each packet can be mixed with one gallon of clean, cool water, and can be used in conjunction with Sav-a-Chick® Vitamin & Electrolyte Supplement in the same waterer.

Common concerns

Close monitoring of your chicks in the first few days will help you see signs of illness in your flock early enough to provide treatment and relief. Common conditions include:

Pasty Butts: Chicks that are shipped long distances often undergo temperature changes or other stresses that can cause fecal matter to get stuck in the chick’s vent, preventing it from excreting its waste. Left untreated, this condition will kill the chick. Thankfully, the treatment is simple. Check each chick and swab its vent with a cotton swab dipped in warm water or warm vegetable oil, then smear a little extra warm oil around the vent area. Continue to check every few days until you are sure they show no signs of pasty butt.

Coccidiosis: This is a serious illness caused by a parasite or protozoa called coccidia, usually in growing chicks over 3 weeks of age. Without treatment, infected birds will die within a matter of days. Symptoms include birds that are pale, droopy, tend to huddle, have diarrhea or bloody droppings, or go off feed and water. Because coccidiosis is spread from the feces of infected birds, it is imperative to segregate sick birds immediately to prevent further spread of the disease. Call your veterinarian, who can confirm that your chicks suffer from coccidiosis and prescribe an anticoccidial to treat the disease.

To help prevent coccidiosis, especially in the warm summer months when coccidia thrive, sanitation and prevention of cross-contamination between flocks are critical. You may also consider feeding a medicated starter feed concentrate.

Picking: As the chicks grow, signs of feather picking or cannibalism may emerge. Some chicks will begin picking at the feathers of the other chicks in the flock, resulting in bare spots on the picked chicks. This can occur when the chicks get too hot, are overcrowded, don’t get enough fresh air, or find the light too bright. If the birds aren’t moving away from the lamp to escape the heat and the brooder is well ventilated with adequate space, try sprinkling some green grass clippings in the brooder and dimming the light a bit. If they are still picking, consult your veterinarian for advice.

Salmonellosis: Salmonella does not usually make chicks sick, but it does cause serious illness in humans. When caring for chickens, practice good sanitation. Always remove your shoes and other soiled clothing outside, and then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Supervise children’s handwashing, and do not allow children under the age of 5 to come in contact with live birds, as salmonellosis is more serious in young children. Never eat or drink near the brooder, and clean all supplies outdoors to prevent bringing pathogens into your home.