Finally getting to watch that new batch of chicks hatch is one of the most exciting moments in raising chickens. Those cute little peeps coming from their tiny beaks will be music to your ears. Seeing baby chickens pip and watching them finally take their first little step out of their shell is truly a life-changing experience if you raise chickens.
While some people cannot relate and might consider it an exaggeration, we in the chicken community are passionate about our flock and its production. Each batch of chicks we hatch is an important event and a sign of success – it lets us know that we’re doing things right. Raising chickens is a very important part of becoming self-sufficient, so every hatchling is cause for celebration.
However, it is important to remember that baby chicks are delicate and vulnerable to diseases and other problems that may arise during their first few days and weeks of life. These problems can greatly affect their growth, health, and overall quality of life if not attended to correctly and promptly.
The healthier we can keep our chickens, the better production we will have overall. This is especially true if you are a farmer or a breeder that is raising chickens for consumption, egg production, or any practical use.
Here we will discuss the most common struggles in a baby chicken’s life. This will cover health-related issues, the possible reasons they may be sick, and some of the treatment methods. The solutions provided here are based on extensive research, scientific methods, and personal experience
Water is one of the most important elements on Earth. Every living creature needs it to survive and a baby chick is no exception. It is fairly easy for you to know if a baby chicken is dehydrated as there will be visible symptoms that will start showing right away.
Whenever you see that a chick looks disoriented, lethargic, or panting this may be a sign that it is dehydrated and needs some water right away. If your baby chicken is outside in the heat make sure to bring it inside or somewhere shady and out of the heat. If it’s very dehydrated and the water doesn’t seem to be making it better, you may have to give it something more than just water, like an electrolyte mix. This mixture would need to be given with an eye dropper.
This condition usually happens when a baby chick cannot walk, or has difficulty walking, due to weak leg muscles or an injured tendon. This is a noticeable condition since you will be able to see their discomfort and it will look like the chick is constantly doing a split. It’s commonly caused by the chick developing in a bad position in the egg or possibly incorrect incubator temperatures.
If caught early enough you can correct spraddle legs. The first thing to do is place them in an area that is not slippery, like inside a box or on a towel. You will then need to create a sort of splint to put on each of the legs that will hold them in their proper place. You can use little toothpicks and bandages, if that’s all you have. After a day or two you should see some improvement. Once you see that the chick can hold up its own weight and walk around fine, you can take it off.
Scissor Beak / Crooked Beak
Scissor beak is another common problem for baby chickens. It occurs when the top beak and lower beak do not align with one another. It is a deformity that can make eating and drinking water a challenge. If one of your baby chicks suffers from this you should be able to notice it within a week or so. This condition is another flaw that is brought on by a genetic issue or poor incubator temperatures.
While this is far from a death sentence for your baby chicken, it is going to stunt its growth since it likely won’t be able to eat and drink as much as it should. Without receiving the amount of nutrients it should it also means it probably will not end up making a good laying hen, either.
There’s no cure for this condition, but as long as it’s not too severe, you’re chicken will still be able to live a relatively normal life. If anything, it may require a little extra TLC and you may have to manually feed it from time to time to ensure that it maintains a healthy weight.
Pasty Butt / Pasted Vent / Pasting Up
Pasty butt can be a life-threatening disease for your baby chickens. This condition is where your chicks exhibit waste that gets stuck and hardens in their vent area. If left untreated if can obstruct and seal up their vent. This obstruction will make it so that the chick cannot expel its waste and may cause lethal blockages.
Luckily, if you keep a close eye on that area, pasty butt is very easy to avoid. All you have to do is keep their vent clean. You can use a warm moistened cotton ball or Q-tip to wipe away any gunk that made its way out. If it doesn’t wipe away easily you can apply a little olive oil on the swab and gently rub it over the area. This procedure will take a gentle hand, but it’s by far one of the most manageable conditions you will encounter when it comes to common problems for baby chickens.
It should only take a few days to get the pasted vent under control, but you will need to keep a watchful eye on the vent and keep it as clean as possible. In the meantime it’s recommended that you start feeding your chicks a little cornmeal with their chick feed and add in a bit of chick-sized grit for good measure. If it gets worse, or your chick has diarrhea, maybe look into a good probiotic, too.
Twisted neck is also a common problem for baby chicks. It is sometimes called “wry neck”, “crooked neck”, or “stargazing” because their head is pulled back in a way that it’s lying on its back and looking up, rather than straight ahead. A chick with this affliction tends to walk backwards.
A number of things can cause this condition like genetics, a head injury, or even some sort of vitamin deficiency. It is a problem that will require a lot of care and dedication from you since the chick will not be able to easily eat and get around.
Twisted neck is one of those conditions that you might not be able to heal at all, although there are some things you can try that may help. A lot of times, if the twisted neck was caused by a vitamin deficiency, providing vitamin supplements, specifically for Vitamin E and Selenium, may be beneficial.
You will need to show patience for this as it may take up to a month before you see any results. During that time you will also have to make sure that your chick is getting enough food and water as well.
Unfortunately, this is a lethal one. Marek’s disease is a viral infection that has no cure. Chicks from respectable hatcheries are usually provided with vaccines to help fight against this disease, but it’s far from foolproof. Symptoms to look for include visible tumors on the outside or the inside of the chick, cloudy gray eyes, and paralysis.
Chickens under 20 weeks of age are highly susceptible to this disease, especially if not vaccinated against it. If your baby chick contracts Marek’s disease you will need to cull it as soon as possible. Even if the chicken is able to survive with it for a while, it’s a highly contagious illness and there’s no treatment for it anyway, so there is no point in allowing it to infect your whole flock.
Pullorum is a rare disease, but that doesn’t make it any less cause for concern. It is highly contagious for both chickens and people. If it’s been contracted by one of your baby chickens, you must remove that chick from the bunch as soon as possible. Its symptoms include trouble breathing, lack of appetite, sneezing, lethargy, anemia and a pasty vent with white diarrhea.
Like Marek’s disease, there is no vaccine available for Pullorum, so if found in one of your young chickens, you will need to put it down immediately. This is such a serious disease that some states require that you report it and all of the chickens in the flock will need to be euthanized, even if they’re all perfectly healthy.
These are just a few of the common diseases you may find with a new batch of baby chickens. Some are very manageable, while others require a bit more work and swift action. Owners and caretakers should make sure to pay close attention to the baby chickens after they hatch and monitor each of them carefully to prevent any unnecessary discomfort and fatalities in the young hatchlings. They are very delicate and vulnerable, so getting ahead of these problems will help your flock of baby chicks grown into a healthy and happy group of chickens that will soon be roaming freely in your backyard.
If your eggs are still to hatch, take a look at out complete guide on how to hatch eggs from your chickens.