Buying day-old baby chicks from a reputable breeder or hatchery will generally result in healthy chicks, but sometimes things still go wrong, and at times one will fall ill. Here's a quick guide to a few of the most common ailments and how to treat them naturally.
What it is - Chicks, with their elaborate respiratory systems are very susceptible to breathing problems which can manifest themselves as runny or bubbling eyes, coughing or sneezing or runny nostrils. Sometimes the symptoms of a more serious illness, often these symptoms are merely caused by irritants in the brooder.
Prevention - Use large-sized pine chips as brooder bedding to cut down on dust that sand (NEVER recommended!) or sawdust might create. Never use bleach to clean your brooder, since ammonia (in chick poop) mixed with bleach creates toxic fumes. (Clean the brooder with white vinegar and water instead well before you start to smell ammonia.) Don't use cedar shavings which can lead to respiratory problems.
Treatment - Sometimes a squirt of saline solution is all that is needed to clear debris out of a runny eye. For more serious cases fresh minced garlic served free-choice and apple cider vinegar in the water (just a splash) can help. Chopped fresh basil, clover, dill and thyme all aid respiratory health. (Respiratory illness that doesn't clear up in a week or so or continues to get worse can signal a serious illness and a vet should be consulted)
For more on respiratory ailments read HERE.
What it is - Coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract that causes red-tinted or bloody stools and lethargy, is the number one cause of death in baby chicks. It is highly infectious.
Prevention - Although medicated feed is the conventional method to protect chicks until they can build immunity, instead studies are being done using oregano oil and cinnamon at natural antibiotics. Adding both to your chick's diet can help protect them. Again, apple cider vinegar, probiotic powder and garlic can help build strong immune systems so chicks are hardy enough to combat any coccidia they encounter in their environment.
Treatment - If you do suspect a chick has contracted coccidiosis, separate her and try a mash of equal parts chick feed and milk mixed with some plain yogurt. This will generally cause diarrhea, which generally isn't desirable, but diarrhea is your body's (or a chick's body's way of flushing out undesirable pathogens), so the mash will help flush the intestine and clean out the parasite. Follow the mash up with probiotic powder in the feed to help rebuild the good bacteria. Feed fresh oregano or dried sprinkled over their feed along with some cinnamon. And be sure to provide plenty of fresh water with electrolytes to replace those lost from the diarrhea.
Read more on coccidiosis HERE.
What it is - Marek's Disease is the name for several viral disease that show themselves mainly in tumors and paralysis, with sick chicks usually starving because they aren't able to get to feed and water. Highly contagious, it spreads bird-to-bird or via infected dust and dander, but not to a chick through the egg of an infected mother hen. Not always fatal, chicks will develop resistance to the virus through contact
Prevention - Many hatcheries and breeders offer a vaccination for the chicks before they ship them to protect against Mareks, but the vaccination is not 100% effective. A clean brooder and practicing good biosecurity measures when going back and forth between your existing flock and new chicks is your best prevention along with building a strong immune system as mentioned above with ACV, garlic and probiotics.
What it is - Feces literally stops up a chick's vent so they can't excrete their poop. It can be potentially fatal.
Prevention - Keep the brooder bedding dry and change out wet litter to remove bacteria that can cause diarrhea. Pasty butt is most common in shipped chicks, so if possible purchase chick locally or hatch your own. Often caused by stress or temperature fluctuations, keep your brooder temperature constant and don't let children or household pets harass your chicks.
Treatment - Cornmeal or ground raw oatmeal can help clear up pasty butt, as can adding probiotic powder to your chick's feed. Chick-sized grit should also be provided in the brooder. Dirty vents should be cleaned off carefully with a q-tip dipped in olive oil and rechecked/relubricated until they clean (usually takes a few days).
What it is - Spraddle Leg is a condition whereby one or both legs slip out to the sides making a chick unable to stand or walk. Spraddle leg can appear at hatch if the temperature in the incubator was too high or varied too much, or from a vitamin deficiency. It can result several days after a chick hatches if the brooder floor is too slippery for the chick to grip, which causes the legs to slide to one side.
Prevention - The easiest way to prevent spraddle leg is to cover your brooder floor with rubber shelf liner not newspaper.
Treatment - Wrapping a band-aid or some vetwrap around the legs to stabilize them for a few days normally allows the legs to strengthen and correct themselves. Be sure the chick isn't being trampled by the other chicks.
Read more about Spraddle Leg HERE.
What it is - Scissor or Crossed Beak is a deformity in which the top and bottom of a chick's beak don't line up property. It is most often genetic and will likely worsen over time as the chick grows.
Prevention - To prevent future cases, don't breed any chicks with the condition (or the hen who's egg hatched the chick with scissor beak)
Treatment - There is no treatment per se, although its possible a vet could perform surgery. Filing down the beak with an emery board can help it to close better. Moistening the chick feed a bit and raising the dish or feeder to shoulder-level can help a chick with the condition eat a bit easier. Feeding the chick separately can also assure it is getting enough to eat.Stargazing
Read more about Scissor Beak HERE.
Read more about Scissor Beak HERE.
What it is - Stargazing is the condition where a baby chick is unable to hold its head up so it tilts back and rests on its back and the chick will be unable to walk normally and instead start walking backwards.
Prevention - Stargazing is thought to be partially caused by a Vitamin B (thiamine) deficiency, so if you hatch your own chicks, be sure your mother hen is in tip-top health and given a multi-vitamin such as Nutri-Drench prior to laying her eggs you'll be setting, or sprinkling some Brewer's Yeast over the chick's daily feed.
Treatment - Same as for prevention, adding Brewer's yeast is an excellent source for thiamine, or you can administer Nutri-Drench to the affected chick. Try massaging the chick's neck carefully for a few minutes several times a day and be sure the chick has access to feed and water and isn't being trampled by the other chicks.
Despite how scary all this might sound, rest assured that purchasing chicks or hatching eggs from a reputable source and practicing good biosecurity/brooder management will more than likely assure you never encounter any of these problems, but if you do, now you'll be prepared.
New to raising chicks? Read our Basic Chick Care Guide