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What’s Wrong With my Baby Chick?

sick chicks

Baby chicks tend to be quite resilient little birds, but from time-to-time, you’ll encounter a few complications in your brooder. And knowing how to prevent or treat these problems will help you raise healthy happy chicks. 

We’re covering issues from pasty butt, dehydration, hypothermia, and common leg issues. Not only will we go into detail on why these common issues occur but we’ll provide a blueprint to help you prevent them from happening as well as treatment options to ensure your baby chick thrives! 

Chicks and Pasty Butts 

Pasty butts, also known as chick pasting or sticky bottoms, is a common issue in newly hatched chicks. 

Your chick has pasty butt if soft droppings stick to the chick’s vent and poop continues to accumulate and harden which seals shut their vent. If the condition is not remedied the chick can die because it cannot pass its feces. 

Causes of Pasty Butt

All chicks are born with a vent, which the orifice in which chicks pass their feces and waste matter. Amazingly, it’s also the opening in which a hen passes her eggs. 

When a chick gets pasty butt it’s often caused by a cold brooder, an overheated brooder, dehydration, or improper feeding. 

It can be hard to pinpoint the true cause, but trial-and-error can help. Start by ruling out each potential cause, especially if more than one chick has pasty butt.  

It’s important to note that blocked vents commonly occur in chicks transported due to the lack of heat, and water, during transit to their new home.

Prevention of Pasty Butt in Your Brooder

To prevent pasty butts, ensure that a chick’s first drink is no less than 95 to 100F and that chicks have sufficient water before they start eating. 

Additionally, ensure that the brooder is the proper temperature week by week. Remember, start with 90 or 95 degrees depending on your breed of chicken, and degrees by five degrees weekly. 

If you’re looking for a natural way to prevent pasty butt, consider adding 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per quart of drinking water.

Treatment of Pasty Butt in Chicks

If your chick already has a sticky bottom is must be properly cleaned to ensure droppings do not harden and plug up the vent. 

Here’s what you can do to help your uncomfortable chick:

1.Gently run warm tap water over their bottom. 

2. Once it is softened, using a damp paper towel,  gently try to remove the moistened droppings.

*Be extremely careful not to tear anything off too quickly because their skin is extremely tender. If it’s extremely hard and thick you might need to reapply warm water multiple times to fully remove any droppings.

3. Once the chick’s bottom is clean, dry it off with a paper towel or cotton rag. Then apply Vaseline to their bottom to prevent chaffing and further sticking.

4. Return the chick to the brooder and ensure it dries off and warms up quickly to prevent chilling.

If pasting continues, make sure you are giving your chicks a starter that is designed for chicks. (this is also something that is often overlooked). 

Dehydrated Chicks

Dehydration is one of the most common problems that arise in baby chicks. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to recognize. 

Signs of Dehydration in Baby Chicks

If a chick has become dehydrated it may pant, open and close its wings, and fluff out its feathers. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paleness in combs and wattles
  • Diarrhea
  • Isolation 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Refusal to drink

Another quick way to check for dehydration is to pinch the chick’s shank (lower leg) to see if the skin springs back quickly. If it does not it is dehydrated.  Act fast because if dehydration is not remedied quickly it can lead to death. 

Treatment for a Dehydrated Chick

If you have a chick that is mildly dehydrated place in an area that is warm, but not hot, and wrap it in a cotton blanket or towel. Then, provide electrolyte infused water. 

If the chick needs help drinking, help it drink every 10-15 minutes for an hour. Then gradually increase the time between feedings. 

It’s also a good idea to moisten the chick’s food with water during this period for added hydration and ease of eating. 

Leave the chick in this environment for at least 24 hours. It can be difficult to ensure the chick doesn’t become chilled, but isn’t overheating without fluids. A dehydrated chick needs to stay warm, but removing it from direct heat lamp heat will help to prevent further dehydration. 

Chilled Chicks

Chicks are usually pretty resilient but sometimes due to delayed travel or extreme weather chicks may become chilled. 

Remember, in nature, a mother hen keeps her chicks warm after hatching. This helps chicks develop and acclimate to their new world. Without warmth, they become cold, hypothermic, and may die. 

If your baby chick is chilled immediately put them under a heat lamp. 

If your chick’s shipping has been delayed, for example, make sure you have a brooder heated and ready before your chicks arrive so you can warm them up immediately upon arrival. Keep the temperature between 95F-103F. 

During this period, be extra observant to see how your chicks are acting. If they are huddled together and are not pecking around, it’s a good indication that they are still cold. 

Once your chicks are moving about, and not huddled, the temperature is just right. Just keep in mind that If they’re trying to stay away from the heat lamp, it may be too hot. 

Splay and Spraddle Legs

Leg issues usually occur in newborn chicks that can’t get traction on their bedding or in chicks that have weak legs and tendons in their feet—this is referred to as splay legs 

On the other hand, some chicks are born with their feet pointing outward to the side rather than forward, this is called spraddle legs. 

Both conditions make walking difficult for the chick and can cause longterm pecking order problems. 

Causes and Prevention of Leg Issues

If spraddle legs are present at birth it’s generally caused by poor positioning within the egg or improper incubating temperatures. 

If leg issues surface a few days after the chick hatches, it’s likely caused by a slippery brooder floor. 

In order to prevent spraddle legs from occurring, it is recommended to use paper towels or pine shavings in your brooder and never newspapers or magazines. 

Treatment

If spraddle legs are treated after the first symptoms appear chicks can fully recover. 

Treat spraddle legs by bracing the chick’s legs to provide increased stability. You can use bandaids, yarn, or tape to secure their legs in place. 

All-in-all, chickens are resilient little creatures but sometimes medical issues occur. But now you know how to handle some of the most common problems that you might encounter in your brooder. 

With that being said, if you’re unsure of what is wrong with your chick, it’s always best to consult with your local veterinarian. 

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