There’s no doubt about it, baby chicks are adorable and fun. However, they come with a lot of responsibility for their health and well being, and it’s good to be prepared about chick illness and injury before it happens!
Most new chicken keepers spend a lot of time worrying over their chicks, after all, they’re fragile little birds that need our help to survive. To help ease your mind, we’ve put together a list of possible chick ailments to help keep you informed and help you along the way. But please don’t fear, many of these ailments are not commonly found in small, clean, home-based chick brooders.
Disclaimer: This list is meant to be informative and educational. We are not veterinarians and are not giving any medical advice. If you have a sick or injured chick, please call your veterinarian for help!
Common Chick Illness
The vast majority of new chicken keepers will not have any illnesses within their tiny flock, but it’s good to keep an eye out just in case. If you notice any of your chicks showing signs of illness, it’s best to separate them immediately and call a vet to get a diagnosis.
Pasty Butt is caused by mushy poo that sticks to the vent of the chick.
Chilly conditions, overheating, lack of water, or improper feed attribute to Pasty Butt. To prevent it, make sure the brooder and water are the correct temperatures, and your chick starter feed has the proper nutritional requirement. Changing the type of starter feed can also be helpful if the problem persists.
If you have a chick with pasty butt, it’s essential to remove the poop or the chick can die. It’s very important to be gentle when cleaning chicks vents. Put some warm water on a cloth or paper towel and hold it to the vent for several minutes. This will soften the poop and make it easy to wipe away. Never pull at it or the vent can tear, if it doesn’t come off right away repeat the process until it does. Once the chick is clean and dry, you can apply some petroleum jelly or olive oil to keep the vent clear.
Omphalitis / Mushy Chick
Mushy Chick is an infection a chick obtains either in the yolk sac or from an unhealed navel. Symptoms are an infected navel area, swollen abdomen, dark blue abdomen, a smell coming from the navel, lethargy, and loss of appetite. This ailment is seen in freshly hatched chicks and is usually caused by unclean incubation practices.
If you have a chick with Omphalitis, immediately remove the chick from your brooder or incubator and disinfect the entire area. Antibiotics can be administered, but most of the time, the infection is terminal. The best prevention is proper incubation methods.
This is caused by parasites in the soil and spreads quickly through feces. Symptoms of this chick illness include bloody diarrhea and vent.
Removal of all sick chicks and disinfecting the brooder will help stop the disease. Also, vaccination and feed containing a coccidiostat will help with prevention.
This can occur in chicks from seven to forty days old. Symptoms include minimal eating, increased drinking, and gasping for air. A fungus from dirty surfaces causes brooder pneumonia. It is not curable. Taking extra precautions in keeping a sterile brooder is the best line of defense.
This chick illness is also known as infectious bronchitis, is a respiratory viral disease with symptoms of coughing, sneezing, greenish/watery diarrhea, drooping wings, swelling of the eyes or neck, tremors, paralysis and can cause death. Vaccinating through chick’s water between the age of fourteen and twenty-one days of age will prevent the disease. Additional doses of the vaccine may be needed every ninety days.
Marek’s is seen in chicks from twelve to twenty-five weeks and is a contagious virus. Symptoms include tumors, irregularly shaped pupils that lead to blindness and partial paralysis. Vaccinating day-old chicks is the best prevention.
Fowlpox cause white blisters on a chick’s comb, wattle, and skin that dry and fall off, scarring the bird. Carried by mosquitoes, the control of them in your coop and run along with vaccination can prevent the disease.
Salmonella is transmitted from the hen through the egg or from contaminated equipment. Symptoms include chicks huddling near heat and pasty light colored diarrhea. Infected chicks are terminal, and by law must be eradicated—sterilization of all equipment both in the coop and in the brooder help with prevention.
This chick illness can get passed to humans too, so be sure to always be safe when handling chicks and cleaning brooders, wash your hands thoroughly afterward!
This bacteria can be caused by improper sanitation as well. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, breathing difficulties, diarrhea, and cough. The prognosis is grim if your flock is infected, and it’s especially poor in baby chicks. Prevention includes frequent cleaning of the brooder, don’t overcrowd chicks and keep stress down.
Common Chick Injuries and Treatment
These are bothersome for a chicken but not crippling. The sideways toe can cause difficulties in digging and perching, but for the most part, chickens adapt. However, treating the toe right away as a chick, while they have soft tissue is best.
Apply a chick bootie, a type of brace, made out of household items like toothpicks, pencil, and vet wrap to straighten and secure the toe. This will help to correct the deformity.
Spraddle Leg / Splayed Leg
This leg deformity makes the chicks legs splay out to the sides and causes chicks to scoot along the ground instead of walk. This can make it difficult for chicks to get food and water.
Spraddle leg can be caused by not enough moisture during incubation or a slick floor surface in the brooder. Fixing the spraddle leg as soon as possible helps the chick recover completely.
The most important thing when you get chicks home is to prevent spraddle leg by giving them the correct liner in their brooder. Never use flat newspaper as a brooder liner, or anything else slippery, as it makes it hard for the chick to get traction, which makes their legs splay out. Use shavings or straw in the brooder instead.
To treat spraddle leg, you can once again use household items, a small hair tie, and a half-inch piece of plastic straw will do the trick to straighten the chicks legs so they’ll grow out of the deformity. You may need the help of a vet for this, don’t be afraid to ask!
Scissor Beak / Cross Beak
This is evident when the top and lower beak do not meet correctly. This deformity does not mean the chick cannot thrive, but for a flock owner, it does require a bit of help.
Pellet feed cannot be picked up by a chicken with scissor beak, so layer mash with a bit of yogurt or water helps the bird to scoop up their feed. Also, elevate their waterer for ease in drinking. Adding a brick or paver to the coop and run is also necessary for aid in wearing down the beak.
Injury from Dropping
Dropping a baby chick from most heights can be terminal. The little fluff balls are incredibly delicate and should be held as little as possible. Wash your hands before holding and cup them gently, being careful not to squeeze. Always supervise children with chicks to avoid dropping them.
Wounds can happen even in a brooder. Chicks can get cut or pecked by other chicks. Chickens are attracted to the color red, so if there is blood around; they are drawn to it and begin pecking.
Remove the injured chick from the brooder and use a product such as Blue Kote after cleaning and disinfecting the wound. It will camouflage the injury while it heals.
Preventing chick illness and injury
Buy your Chicks at Certified Hatcheries
If you do not incubate your own, make sure to buy from reputable hatcheries. These hatcheries give the proper vaccinations and care for your chicks in a sanitary manner.
Once you receive your chicks, make sure to look them over carefully and separate any that might have signs of any disease. Buy your chicks at a local hatchery, if at all possible, sparing your chicks from the stress of shipping. If that isn’t possible, choose a mail-order hatchery as close to you as possible to reduce shipping time.
Vaccinations Prevent Chick Illness
Vaccinations go a long way in reducing the risk of chick illness and help to protect your entire flock. As we have shared earlier in this post, there are several vaccinations available, and most are given before you even receive the chick. If you purchase chicks from a hatchery, make sure they are giving all the vaccinations that you want them to because some may be optional.
Give Medicated Feed
This is another leg up in defense of disease and also helps with proper nutrition for them. Medicated Chick starter prevents coccidiosis, which can take out an entire flock.
If your hatchery vaccinates for coccidiosis, then a medicated chick starter is not needed, but if not, it will protect your flock.
Your feed also needs to be fresh. Don’t feed chick starter you had from last year as there are elements like Vitamin E that break down after a month.
Avoid Overheating or Chilling Chicks
The wrong brooder temp can easily bring on sickness or death. Keeping track of the temperature with a thermometer and check your brooder box several times a day to help monitor what the little peeps are doing and keep them safe.
Provide clean water in a shallow dish
Clean water that is not chlorinated is best for small chicks. Keep the dish small and very shallow so that chicks don’t fall in and drown. Some chicken keepers add some marbles or pebbles to the water to further prevent chick drowning.
A smaller waterer means filling the water more often, but since you’re already checking on them frequently, you can fill the water at the same time.
There you have it, a list of common ailments and injuries and how to treat them.
Always Handle Chicks Safely
Many chick injuries can be avoided by simply practicing safe handling. Always cup the chick gently with two hands. Try to keep your hands over a soft surface like a bed or couch so if the chick falls, it’s a soft landing.
Never leave chicks alone with children or other pets. Even the best behaved kids and pets can cause innocent injury to a tiny chick.
If you get chicks from a reputable hatchery, take good care of your chicks, keep their brooder and water clean, and always handle them safely, you’re very unlikely to have issues with your tiny flock.
But again, if you do have problems, it’s always best to get the advice of a vet to help you solve them!
Happy chicken raising!