Ask the Expert: Chicks

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Ask the Expert: Chicks

Peroxide or Not?

We have some chicks that are about four to five months old, I think. They got pecked on the neck and head. We have them inside in a blanket and we put peroxide on the wounds. Is there anything else we should do?

Julia Donoso, New York

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 It sounds like you’re taking good care of the chicks.  The peroxide is probably good at first, but it can slow tissue regrowth and healing, so I wouldn’t continue to use it. Chickens’ high body temperature (usually around 106 degrees F) helps keep infections down, so they should be okay.

Reintroducing them to the flock can be a challenge. Sometimes putting them across a fence so they can interact with each other, but can’t attack, can be helpful.  A cage or pen within the other pen will work for this, too.

Rearranging the pen (feeders, waterers, etc.) can sometimes help. Giving them hiding places at first also may help.

Good luck with them!

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Clip The Umbilical Cord?

Help! I am new to incubating chicks and this is my first hatch. I have one that hatched today and still has the cord attached. I think it will eventually fall but do I need to apply an antiseptic to the area and if so what kind and how often? Do I need to put something on it to help it dry? There is no foul smell and signs of infection so I think I am early enough to prevent infection.

Barbara Guidry

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Hi Barbara,

If it’s just a small piece, I’d probably leave it alone. If it seems to be bothering the chick, you could clip it off. Don’t pull it. Hopefully, it’s on a fairly clean substrate, so it  doesn’t get an infection. You could apply an iodine solution (such as betadine) if you have it. Congratulations on your new chick. I hope you have a few more on the way!

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Incubation Timing

I would like to hatch my own eggs to grow my flock. I’d like to add an additional 10 birds at minimum. My current four hens are only laying three to four eggs a day. I want to put them in the incubator at the same time to get all to hatch together as close as possible. How long can I leave the eggs out (either in room temp or the nesting boxes) before they go bad until I can collect enough? Is there a time limit to get the eggs in the incubator?

Dean LeBlanc

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Hi Dean,

We recommend seven to 10 days of storage prior to incubating. After seven days, the hatch rate will go down. So, we like to collect for five days and then set them for best results.

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What Incubator Should I Buy?

I would like to buy an incubator to start raising chicks. Do you recommend any brand name or types that you prefer? I don’t want to get stuck with one that doesn’t break down easily. Thanks for any help you can provide.

Cindy Zappe

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Hi Cindy,

Incubators come in many types: Styrofoam, plastic, and cabinet. You want an incubator that regulates humidity and temperature well. I would recommend the Genesis Hova-Bator if you are looking to spend less money. I have had some that lasted five years with no problems. However, if you want to get somewhat of an upgrade and a reliable incubator, I would recommend the Brinsea products. They are a bit more expensive but definitely worth the money.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck with your new chicks!

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A Chick Mystery

Something just happened that unsettled me a bit. I ordered 20 new layer pullet chicks, four each of single comb Rhode Island Reds, red and black Sex Links, Black Australorps and Barred Rocks. They are 5 days old, had a good trip and arrived looking good. They got off to a strong start.

While using a warm, damp paper towel to clear up a pasty butt, all of a sudden out of her mouth came a clear gel with some foam in it. It looked like an aloe gel. She went limp and was completely still inside of 20 seconds. I had my eye on another one who needed this procedure, but decided to back off and wait. I’m stumped. I’ve done this 100 times and never a problem. What do you think?

Chris Fitch

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Hi Chris,

We’re not sure we have a great explanation for this either. The gel may just have been water and saliva from the crop. Depending on the substrate they are on, the chick might have eaten some litter and/or feed and had some of that mixed with water and saliva. We think it’s possible that some bile might have been passed up the digestive tract, too, which would give a greenish color. If the vent was completely pasted shut, we suppose there may have been buildup of wastes in the digestive tract, and something may have ruptured when you picked it up. To die that quickly, a blood vessel must have ruptured or it had a heart attack or something like that.

Or, it could be that the chick had something else wrong, and it was just a coincidence that it died when you picked it up.

As you mentioned, pasted vents can usually be gently cleaned with a wet cloth or paper towel, so we don’t think that was a problem, especially since you’re used to doing it.

Hopefully, this was just a rare occurrence, and the other chicks are fine.

Good luck with them!

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Marek’s Vaccine

In How to Administer the Marek’s Vaccine to Poultry Chicks, the author states that the vaccine would have to be refrigerated. I contacted a supplier of the vaccine, and they essentially said the same thing: it needs to be shipped and kept with liquid nitrogen. Is there any other Marek’s vaccines that don’t need to be refrigerated or could be activated in some other way?

Misty (Kruse Hatchery)

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Hi Misty,

The type of vaccine that is discussed in the article is supposed to be refrigerated, but not kept in liquid nitrogen. You can purchase this type (lyophilized, essentially freeze-dried) from some of the mail-order hatcheries and/or mail-order poultry supply places. It is a dry powder that is reconstituted with diluent, which comes along in a separate bottle. I think they will still ship it with cold-packs, but not with liquid nitrogen.

Commercial hatcheries usually use a different form of vaccine that is kept at -80 degrees, in liquid nitrogen, and then thawed out when it’s going to be used. This requires more handling and different techniques, so I wouldn’t suggest it for most smaller flocks.

Ron Kean

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Small Chick

I bought a few Rhode Island Red chicks in the middle of April. Out of all the chicks, which were all the same size, I have one chick that the size and feathers have not changed from the time I brought it home. It is still looking like a baby chick but is eating, drinking, and jumping up on the perches etc. It’s acting very healthy except for those two factors. The other chicks that came in the flock are easily four times the size. I personally picked out these chicks and brought them home all at the same size. Does anyone know why this chick is not growing?

Deborah Ambeault

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Hi Deborah,

It’s hard to know exactly what’s wrong but it’s likely the chick either has some internal infection, or it has a metabolic problem that doesn’t allow it to properly utilize nutrients. In either case, it’s just a matter of time until the problem “catches up” and the chick will get worse.

As long as it eats and drinks, and doesn’t seem to be suffering, it’s probably not bad to monitor it and keep doing what you’ve been doing. Things might change and it might start growing. The odds aren’t great, but you never know. If it does get to the point where it seems to be suffering, you may have to consider euthanasia.

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Weird Beak

I purchased 10-day-old chicks about five weeks ago: four Ameraucanas, four Buff Orpingtons, and two Rhode Island Reds. All are doing well except for one of the Ameraucanas, which has a badly deformed mouth. I first noticed the deformation at about two weeks of age, and it appears to have gotten much worse. The chick eats and drinks but is still smaller than the other chicks. I suspect that it will not survive to adulthood. Have you ever seen anything like this before and what might cause this deformation?

Donald L. Snyder, Maryland

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Hi Donald,

Unfortunately, this type of beak is seen occasionally. As you have guessed, the chick will probably not do well, but some people have nursed them along for quite a while.

This can be a genetic defect. It is probably more often caused by an incubation problem. It might also be due to some injury to the beak while it was a chick. It also might be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency, though that is probably less likely.

Determining why one chick might have it and the others don’t is difficult, especially if it is due to a deficiency or an incubator problem. There is natural variation in biology, so some respond differently. Or, there might have been an overly warm area in the incubator or something like that.

At any rate, it probably won’t get better. Some people have tried trimming the beak as it grows, so it doesn’t get more offset. Keeping feed and water deeper in the pans can also help, so the chick can sort of scoop it rather than pecking.

At some point, the chick won’t be able to eat and drink enough to keep up. The others may start to bully this chick, too.

As long as it seems to be healthy and not suffering, you can wait and see. If it gets to the point where it seems to be suffering, you may want to consider euthanizing it.

Good luck with the flock!

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Sick Chick

Lately, my chicks have been a little bloodthirsty and beat up several chicks and even killed three of them. We separated them out so they all have more breathing room now, but one of the chicks is not looking very well. She has a very hard time pooping and looks very much in pain when she tries, there is build up on her bottom and it looks rather swollen. I’m not sure what to do and have tried to wipe it for her but it seems to hurt her and she retreats. She also is the only chick without full feathers, she has wing and neck feathers while the rest of the flock has full body feathers. I’m not sure if that relates, but it is rather peculiar since they are all the same age. Please do get back to me soon, I’m quite worried about her. Thank you so much!

Aislinn Korb

P.S. As I was writing this, I was watching her and as she struggled to relieve herself, gas was let out and watery noises as well.

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Hi Aislinn,

It’s hard to know what to suggest. If there are feces stuck to the outside and blocking things, this can usually be gently removed with a warm, wet cloth. In this case, it sounds like there might be something going on internally. If that is the case, there may not much that can be done. Since she has not feathered out, she may have had some illness for a while. Sometimes, a chick can have an infection and live with it for a while. This might be the case with this chick. If you like, you might find an avian veterinarian to look at it.

As far as the pecking, there are a few things you can check. First, high temperatures can be a concern. If they can’t get away from a brooder lamp, for example, this might cause pecking. It’s a good idea to put heat to one side of their space, so they can move closer or get farther away as they like.

Bright lights can increase pecking, too. You might consider switching to a dimmer bulb, or a red bulb if they still need the heat.

As you mentioned, sometimes more space is helpful. Giving some hiding places for those getting pecked can be helpful, too.

If they aren’t on a commercial feed, there could be a nutritional problem. You probably want to wait until they are at least six weeks old before changing their diet. You could try adding something for them to peck at (instead of other chickens). Giving them some hay, or a root vegetable, or something like that might help. In that case, definitely keep the complete ration there for them, though.

If they continue to peck, you may want to consider clipping the tips of their beaks. This can be done fairly easily with a dog nail clipper, or a large human nail clipper. If you just take the tip, it shouldn’t bleed and will grow back. It might help blunt things for a while.

Good luck with them!

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Sick Chick

My chick is about four months old. Lately, her stomach area has been swelled up. Every day it gets bigger. She eats and drinks normally and is very active. Her poops are very small and watery. Today she began throwing up into her beak. She also swivels her neck like she has a cramp. She does that over and over. Thank you for such a great magazine.

Aislinn K.

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Hi Aislinn,

It sounds like you are talking about the crop (in front, above the breast muscle). If so, the chick may have a pendulous crop. This could be caused by a blockage (which sounds possible since you said the chick is producing very little waste). If that is the case, you might be able to help her. You can try to hold her upside down by her legs, and somewhat gently massage the crop area. Hopefully, she will spit up a lot of the material in it. This might clear the blockage. Some people have tried putting a small amount of vegetable oil down the chicken’s throat before doing this, in an effort to lubricate the throat.

If that doesn’t work, then it’s hard to know what to suggest. A veterinarian could open the crop and clean it out, then stitch it back up. Blockage like this can occur from eating long blades of grass, hay, or straw. These can get balled up in the crop and block the opening to the rest of the digestive tract.

The other thing that can cause this is damage to the vagus nerve, which controls emptying of the crop. If that is the case, there’s not much you can do, other than to try to keep her comfortable and hope that it recovers. Unfortunately, the chances of her recovering are pretty low. This could be a sign of Marek’s disease. While Marek’s disease commonly affects the sciatic nerve, causing leg paralysis, it can also affect other nerves. Given the age of the chick, this would fit pretty well.

If you are speaking of the abdomen instead (lower and behind the breast muscle), then there could be some blockage of the intestines, though this would be less common. It could be that she has an infection or tumor internally, that is growing. If it is fluid-filled, it could be a sign of a respiratory problem or kidney damage. These can cause ascites or fluid buildup in the abdomen.

Without further tests, it’s hard to know what to suggest. You’d probably need to find an avian veterinarian to help with that.

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Boys or Girls?

How can you tell the boys from the girls in your flock?

Courtney Lamb

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Hi Courtney,

It takes an expert eye to tell the sex of chicks, so most of us have to wait until the chicks grow up to truly tell if they are roosters or hens. You will start to notice the roosters taking on male characteristics, depending on the breed, as they start to get fully feathered. The roosters also grow spurs, and, of course, crow, as they mature. Hens will start to lay eggs around 18 weeks, and generally are smaller than the roosters. So, the short answer is, you probably have to wait a bit to really tell the difference.

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Chest-Bumping Hens?

Hi! We are first-time chicken owners. We bought 18 hens who are now nine weeks old, and we are wondering why they chest bump each other? Is this normal

Donna Lemon

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Hi Donna,

This is normal. Pullets and cockerels will start to puff out their chest and start to position themselves in the pecking order, and while males tend to be more aggressive in this behavior, females do it as well.

In fact, it’s a pretty similar process to what our human teenagers go through during puberty, when their hormones start directing them differently, and to start noticing the opposite sex.

This behavior will likely go on for a while until the flock is set and the structure is in place. You may want to keep an eye on them to make sure the chest-bump-ing does not turn more violent, or to make sure one hen isn’t bearing the brunt of the punishment.

Best of luck with your flock, and we’re so happy you’re getting into raising chickens!

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Sexing Chicks?

I love your magazine and have been a long-time reader. I am in need of instructions for chicken sexing. I’m not sure exactly how to tell them apart, short of letting them grow up. I don’t like ending up with three or four roosters every time I get chickens. Help!

Michael Tomaino

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Hi Michael,

Sexing of chicks at hatch is something best left to the professionals. They train and apprentice for more than two years to learn their trade, and good chick sexing experts are in high demand at hatcheries. If tried by a novice, sexing a chick can harm them.

Even with all the practice, hatcheries are only 90% effective. So, each time you add to your flock by buying day-old chicks, you run the risk of roosters. Also, if you use a broody or incubate hatching eggs, the rate is much higher; well over a 50% chance of roosters.

The best way to sex chickens is to watch for clues as they grow. Usually a rooster will be bigger than the rest with a larger and redder comb and wattle. They will also start to get decorative hackle and saddle feathers around three to four months of age.

We hope this is helpful!

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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