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How Do Baby Chicks Die?

One thing that has always struck me about raising animals is that the smaller the critter, the more vulnerable they are to the variables.

An adult chicken is a fairly hardy animal – one of the best livestock animals for a small hobbyist to raise. Baby chicks, however, can die fairly easily if you don’t watch out for three common hazards.

  • Temperature Control
  • Hydration
  • Protection

Should you have the benefit of a mother hen to help with these three variables, then you can expect your workload to be a little less. But, understand that if there is no mother hen to care for them, then their survival depends 100% on you, as baby chicks do not have the means to care for themselves.

Simply put, baby chicks without direct care will die.

Chicks And Temperature Control

One of the most challenging aspects of keeping chicks alive and healthy is temperature control. This is because a chicks’ ideal brooder temperature varies according to their age.

Hatching to Day 793 Degrees F.
Day 7 to Day 1488 Degrees F.
Day 15 to Day 2183 Degrees F.
Day 22 to Day 2878 Degrees F.
Day 29 to Day 3573 Degrees F.
Day 36 to Day 4268 Degrees F.

* Important! This chart is meant to be a guide. Always be sure to monitor chick behavior for exact temperature.

In the example above, you can see that baby chicks really need it toasty warm when they are first hatched.

However, if you were to continue to keep the brooder this hot, then at 3 weeks of age, this could be quite detrimental for their health.

This is extremely important as was stated above, the smaller the critter, the less time you have to correct any issues.

Why Does Brooder Temperature Vary?

It can be a little frustrating and confusing, especially to those who are new to raising chicks, why the right temperature can be so finicky for your flock. The culprit to this perpetual challenge is quite simple.

Feathers!

When a chick is hatched, they are covered with a soft fuzzy down. But in a very short period of time, this down will be replaced with feathers.

It is this feathering process that reduces the temperature demands of the brooder.

Think of it like this.

If you were at home, during the cold winter months, and decided to dress for the beach, then you would need to set the thermostat a little higher.

But, for every layer of clothing you decide to put on, you would turn the thermostat down in order to stay comfortable.

It is the same thing for the chicks. As they add feathers, their ability to retain heat increases.

Consequently, for every week that they grow additional feathers, you will need to reduce the heat in their brooder.

So Why Don’t Adult Chickens Get Too Hot?

Adult chickens can handle heat much better than baby chicks because of combs and wattles.

Combs and wattles are essentially heat sinks for chickens. If the internal temperature of the bird gets too hot, then extra blood is pushed through these fleshy appendages allowing the unwanted heat to be radiated out and away from the animal.

As the combs and wattles on a baby chick are not yet fully developed, they are unable to discharge heat appropriately. This means that an over-heated chick is at risk of dying if you do not intervene and cool the bird off to an appropriate temperature.

Over-heating is how a lot of baby chicks die.

They can not be too cold, they can not be too hot! They need to be just right.

And ‘just right’ is a moving target.

How To Keep The Temperature Just Right

baby chick being toasty warm

We have found that the best way to help baby chicks keep the right temperature is by providing a reliable heat source and the means to escape it.

Our chick brooder is quite sizable, measuring roughly 2ft wide and 8ft long. This large size provides the chicks with lots of room to explore and consequently, lots of stimulation – (and stimulation helps prevent bullying).

By placing the heat lamp on one end, we provide the chicks a chance to sit directly underneath the heat (when they’re cold) and 8 ft of space to get away from it if they’re hot.

Most families do not have the means to provide regular, round-the-clock observation of baby chicks. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you do NOT use a small brooder to raise your baby birds.

Temperatures in a brooder can change within minutes – especially if direct sunlight moves through the room. If the chicks’ environment, the one that you are responsible for, does not provide them the means to escape the heat, then it is very likely that they will die.

Chicks And Hydration

Unlike a lot of animals, baby chicks do not always display any indicators of understanding the need for food and water.

When a mama hen is present, they will learn by observing her.

However, if you are raising chicks without a mama hen, then that knowledge must be given to the chicks by you.

Further complicating this is the fact that this knowledge must be taught quickly.

Remember, the smaller the critter, the less time you have to fix things.

In the case of mail order chicks, this means that the chicks have probably already been 48 to 72 hours without water and that is NOT an ideal situation.

While many hatcheries recommend the ‘dip the beak’ solution, we have found that this can be traumatizing to a small fuzzy critter that has just spent the last 2 to 3 days in shipping. So instead, we use the spoon method.

Moving very slowly, we introduce a medicine spoon filled with water and hold it right at ground level.

Baby chicks are very curious and, with not having any hands, they use their beaks to peck at anything that strikes their curiosity.

This is advantageous to you in two ways.

First, this gives the chicks the taste of water without trauma – and thereby the knowledge is transferred much more effectively.

Second, this allows you to make a mental note of which chicks have learned and which ones have not.

Do not consider the chicks safe until all of them have displayed that they understand the need to drink.

Also, it should be noted that there is a difference between pecking with their beak and actually drinking.

Remember, baby chicks do not have hands, so they use their beaks for pretty much everything.

What you are looking for is the chick to tip their head back and swallow. This is a very recognizable gesture and one that should give you confidence that they have learned the value of water and should stay hydrated when proper water is supplied.

## Note ##

With mail order chicks, it is not uncommon to see that they take a long drink from the spoon, repeatedly dipping their beaks, tilting their heads and swallowing. This is because they have just realized that they are very thirsty – having been in transit for so long.

Protecting Baby Chicks

Protecting baby chicks is, quite honestly, a very big job!

Not only is there an endless amount of wildlife that would love to eat one, but baby chicks have a knack for getting themselves in mortal situations.

There are three main areas that one should focus on when working to protect their baby chicks.

  • Predators (wild & domestic)
  • Insects
  • Themselves

As in the examples of Temperature and Hydration, should there be a hen to help protect her chicks, then some of the workload can be shifted to her. But unfortunately, not as much as you might think.

Protection is a responsibility that will primarily fall on you.

Baby Chicks and Predators

Arguably, the best chance for your chicks to survive and grow into adults is by giving them a solid brooder that is close to people.

For our chicks, we like to put the brooder in the garage.

Living on some acreage, outside of town, there is a plethora of critters around that would eagerly dine on our baby birds.

But by having our brooder in the garage, this offers the chicks two layers of protection. Not only would the predator have enter the garage (close to human activity), but they would also have to spend the time breaking into the brooder.

This gives us time to react as baby chicks cry out when they are stressed.

For an in-depth look at this, please read: Chicken Brooder In The Garage.

It is also worth noting that family pets can be a significant risk to your flock. Sadly, there have been many MANY instances where the trusted ‘always so nice’ fury companion managed to kill an entire batch of chicks.

Baby Chicks And Insects

It might seem kind of odd, knowing how much chickens love to eat bugs, that any insect could be a hazard to a baby chick. But there is one insect in particular that can be a nightmare for your baby birds.

And that would be the ant.

Should you find ants in the brooder, you should act immediately to resolve this.

In our case, we will temporarily move the chicks to a safe location and completely remove all food and bedding material from the brooder.

After that, we will do a quick wash of the floor, with the intent of removing any sticky or unseen ant-enticing substance from the area and then wait for everything to dry before adding fresh new bedding.

Once the brooder has been thoroughly ‘refreshed’ the chicks should find a whole new ‘ant free’ playground for them to scratch and play around in.

Baby Chicks And Themselves

As mentioned above, baby chicks have an incredible knack for getting themselves in trouble. But there are three different behaviors that we seem to encounter with every new flock.

  • The first is suffocation.

This is something that you need to watch out for, especially to during the first two weeks of life.

Like most babies, muscle strength is not something they have on the first day of life. Yes, they will walk and can actually scoot fairly quickly even just a few hours outside of the egg. But they do not have the strength to push another chick off of them.

And as baby chicks huddle together for warmth, it is not uncommon for them to pile up on top of each other.

For this reason, it is highly recommended that you round out the corners of your brooder by piling up ample of amounts of bedding in them. (Corners are notorious for getting stuck in).

Another way to prevent suffocation is by placing the heat lamp in such a way as to avoid the walls of the brooder – as chicks will huddle under the lamp to stay warm.

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## Note ##

Your goal should be to provide the chicks with ample room to climb all over each other without being able to brace themselves against something.

Those little round balls of fluff should sink their way down to the bedding so long as there is nothing solid to hold them up, avoiding anyone being unable to push another chick up and off of them.

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  • The second way chicks can get themselves into trouble is by flying out of the brooder.

By four weeks of age, a chick’s flight feathers should be developed enough for them to easily perch atop a two foot high brooder wall.

If a baby chick happens to fly out of the brooder, then they can become chilled quite quickly. And just because they were able to fly out of the brooder, this does not mean that they are smart enough to fly back in. (The drive to explore will be replaced by stress and their behavior will change accordingly.)

  • The third common way for chicks to hurt themselves is by bullying.

Bored chicks are cranky and will quite often focus their frustration on each other.

If you have a brooder that is too small and has little in the way of stimulation, then your chicks will get bored. If this boredom is allowed to fester, then they will turn their boundless energy on the runt.

For this reason, you must be especially observant of any injuries or ‘red spots’ on your baby chicks. A single spot of blood on a baby chick can mean an endless series of curious but painful pecks from the rest of the flock.

This kind of harassment can be lethal for a baby chick if not dealt with quickly.

Bonus Info: Pasty Butts

If you have a hen that is caring for the chicks, then pasty butts isn’t usually a problem. But if you are the one that is acting as ‘mama bird’, then this is a responsibility that must not be overlooked.

Chickens do not have the same internal plumbing as mammals. For more on this watch the video, “Do Chickens Pee?

In short, their excrement is neither a solid or a fluid, but rather more of a gooey paste. And this paste sticks easily to downy feathers.

It is not uncommon for this waste to build up and eventually block off the exit. Clearly is less than ideal for any living creature.

For this reason, daily checks of your baby chick’s vent are recommended – at least until the down if finally replaced with feathers.

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