So your baby birds have finally arrived!
You’ve made it through the first three days and everyone looks to be well on their way to happy times of foraging in the backyard. But as you’re standing outside of the brooder adoring your new little charges, you watch in dismay as one of the fat little fuzzballs walks right over a sleeping chick – much to the dismay and discomfort of the napping bird. It is at this point, you begin to wonder if your optimism isn’t a little misplaced.
While generally not intentional, baby chicks can pose a health risk to each other – sometimes to the point of being fatal. This accidental act, usually comes in three forms; suffocation, excessive pecking or hypothermia.
- Suffocation – Baby chicks love to huddle together. Chickens are a flock animal, so sleeping close to each other does provide a measure of comfort. But it also provides heat, and as the young birds are unable to maintain their own body temperature, the act of huddling together is quite beneficial to them.
Unfortunately, it can also be fatal. If a small bird finds itself at the bottom of a pile of huddled chicks, the weight of its ‘flock friends’ can make it difficult to breathe. And if this bird is unable to maneuver from underneath the constrictive situation, it will suffocate.
For this reason, it is always a good idea to pile up bedding in the corners of the brooder. This fills any chick-sized voids than can act as a trap for any bird looking to snuggle in.
### Important Note ###
So long as the chicks have the ability to ‘get out’ of any situation they find themselves in, then you shouldn’t be overly concerned about someone being suffocated. It may look strange, seeing the small birds lounging on each other. And it will probably make you cringe when you see a chick walking over everyone trying to get a the best spot. But this is normal chick behavior.
- Excessive Pecking – Chickens, whether they’re fully grown or baby chicks, will peck at anything that strikes their curiosity. This means that if someone in the flock has a piece of bedding stuck to their wing (or any other part of their body) someone is going to give it a peck.
The occasional peck is not a problem. Repeated pecks, however, are certain to cause issues. In this situation, even if the item that caused the pecking to begin with is removed, the damage could have been enough for a spot of blood to appear. This new ‘spot’, then provides something interesting for all of the other chicks to be curious about – which causes more pecking.
Not only is the pecking painful for the small chick, but it can lead to an infection. Also, the gang-up behavior exhibited by the other birds, is certain to raise stress levels on the helpless victim, which has health risks of its own.
For this reason, it is highly recommended that you do careful checks on your new chicks, daily.
We have found that the best time to do this is when checking for pasty butts (poo can sometimes stick to the chicks’ behinds and block off the exit). Just a quick general check of your fuzzy friend can go a long ways to their health.
- Hypothermia – Somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks of age, your little birds will start to get rambunctious. They will be jumping around and doing these little high energy flights inside of the brooder. (For a brooder that will accommodate this behavior, check out ‘How To Build The Perfect Brooder For Less Than $20’)
This ‘spazzy’ behavior, is great exercise for the birds, but does pose risks.
Should an over excited chick choose to try perch on top of the chick waterer, then their impact can knock the waterer over, spilling its contents for the bedding to absorb. If the amount of water spilled is significant, then your chicks will be unable to escape the soggy cold landscape that they live in. This can lead to hypothermia.
For this reason, I recommend that you switch from the small quart sized ground based waterer to a hanging waterer, when the chicks reach 3 weeks old. Not only will this limit their ability to knock things over and soak themselves, but it eliminates the risk of someone poo’ing in the water that they all need to drink from – as their butts hang directly over things when they’re sitting on top.
Can You Raise Chicks Of Different Ages Together?
A few years back, we brought a batch of broiler chicks home. It was a spontaneous purchase as they were on sale at a box store, and I figured we’d raise some to fill the freezer.
At about two weeks into raising them, I noted that one of the chicks was not growing as quickly as it should. And this did not improve as time went on.
Roughly four weeks into raising them, I heard the loud cries of distress from someone in the brooder. Quickly moving to the garage, I peeked into the brooder to see my little runt, hiding under the waterer and chirping loudly.
Turns out, that the size difference between the chicks had become so great, that the bigger birds were looking at the runt with ‘interest’.
Chickens are omnivores and as such, only broody hens should ever be allowed around baby chicks. If the size difference is enough, the bigger birds may try to kill and consume the smaller chicks.
Generally speaking, chicks that have hatched at the same time should have no problems growing up together. So long as you have provided for their needs – which includes adequate space to be rambunctious – your chicks should enjoy each other’s company, even if they are of different breeds.
For example, our last batch of chicks had 15 birds. Four of these were Barred Rock, four more were Orpingtons and the last seven were Easter Eggers. And I am happy to report, everyone managed to get along without incident – though the Barred Rocks were a little ‘spazier’ than the others!