How To Prevent Chick Deaths During the First Week of Life

 

20170518_104519One day old chicks are so irresistibly cute when they first learn to eat, drink and move around. First time chicken owners are drawn to the sweetness of a baby chick and make rash purchases before realizing that newborns are more fragile than they think.  There is a huge difference between a chick that is one day old and a chick that is one week old.  Truth be told, a baby chick is much more apt to die in that first week than at any other time in its life.

Some don’t make it to the point of hatching out. Lethal genes or creeper genes can cause chicks to die during development. This is a genetic trait that certain breeds have. Some will make it to the hatcher and then die before hatching due to humidity and temperature issues.

When a clutch of eggs is hatched the chicks that hatch first are usually the strongest and healthiest.  They have no trouble zipping around that shell and breaking free. If the chick is a late hatcher it has been my experience that they have more trouble. They are prone to leg issues or even need to be helped out of the shell.  They tend to be stickier as well and have a harder time fluffing out.  Leg issues include straddle leg or even having a hard time standing up on their feet.  Right from the beginning you have some chicks that are just healthier and stronger than others.

Hatching out too quickly or often when being helped out of the egg, can lead to unabsorbed egg yolk. The umbilical cord can also end up hanging out. Pulling on it can cause the intestines to pull through.  Sometimes by helping it hatch you are giving life to a chick that may not end up living very long. Chicks that have a red or sore looking umbilical area should be watched for infection.

Water and food should be offered to chicks within the first 24 hours.  Hatcheries that ship chicks often rely on the fact that chicks can live off the energy from their egg  yolk for three days. Chicks will become dehydrated if not offered water and will be healthier if they start eating sooner. Shipped chicks have a higher death rate than chicks bought from local breeders or raised by a broody hen.  Some hatcheries will include Grogel to their shipping boxes to help chicks stay hydrated.

By day 3 or 4 chicks are no longer receiving energy from their yolk.  Some may begin to die after the third day.  They will close their eyes and become lethargic.  Then they die.  Losses of baby chicks almost always occur in the first two weeks of life.  A mortality rate of 1-5 percent is considered normal for a hatch.  Anything above 5 percent is abnormal.  Failure to thrive is a very real thing and young chicks often die leaving us wondering what has happened.

One of the biggest chick management factors for early death has to do with brooder temperature.  Most people use a heat lamp and bulb for small groups of chicks.  You adjust the temperature by raising and lowering the heat lamp over the brooder. Often the brooder ends up being much too hot.  Too high of temperature can lead to dehydration. The body of a young chick is 70 percent water. A water loss of 10 percent will cause death.  Pasting up, which is poo that sticks and covers the chick’s vent, is often due to too high of temperature in the brooder.  Many chick deaths occur because their vents have become plugged up with dried poo and they can no longer eliminate.

Low brooder temperature can also lead to deaths in young chicks.  If they are too cool, they can become chilled and develop pneumonia. Chicks that huddle together can ultimately smother the weaker ones. Pasting up can also be caused by too cool of temperatures. Chicks will let you know they are too cold by huddling under the lamp and making very loud cheeping noises.  Too hot and they will gather in the corners, panting and lying down. Transitioning from too warm to too cold back and forth is also a cause of pasting up and ill health.  Any transition can cause stress which can lead to death.

I recommend something with radiant heat like a sweeter heater  or an ecoglow as a heat source. The radiant heat is safer than a heat lamp bulb and will give a constant temperature.  For more information check out Brooder Heat Sources.  Make sure that you adjust  the brooder temperature 24 hours before introducing chicks to it. We like to use a temperature gun for accurate readings.

The food and water you choose to give your chicks can also lead to early mortality. Chick starter that is old and has started to get moldy can cause death. Check for a date on the bag. Chick starter can often come in pieces too large for a newborn chick which could cause them to choke. I like to take my chick starter crumble and grind it up even smaller in a coffee grinder. I feel that this helps with digestion and with pasting up as well.  Do not give newborns a lot of other foods besides the chick starter. Treats should not be given until they are over one week old.  Anything besides chick starter, yogurt or scrambled eggs needs grit (sand) in order to grind it in their crop.

Water that is too salty can lead to early death.  I like to add Rooster Booster with vitamins, electrolytes and probiotics to my water. I also add apple cider vinegar with the mother as well to the water.  Make sure that you have your feeders and waterers up as high as the backs of your chicks. The chicks tend to kick shavings and poo into them which can plug up the waterers and contaminate the water. Change water daily and clean and sanitize feeders and waterers weekly.

You may need to show your young chicks how to drink.  Mother hen usually gently pushes their beaks into the water and you can do the same. If you pick up a chick and it feels much lighter than the other chicks, it has probably not learned how to eat or drink yet.  I will dip their beaks into the water first and then dip them into their feed so that the chick crumble sticks to their beaks.

Make sure that there is adequate air ventilation in and around your brooder. Toxic gasses such as ammonia, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide can kill small chicks if they are exposed to them.  Chicks require a minimum 100 percent air exchange six times in a 24 four period. This should not be a cold draft but continuous movement of air in the brooder.  A plastic tub with high sides does not have a lot of air movement allowed.  One problem encountered with poor air movement is sinusitis. This is caused by excess humidity and ammonia released from chicken poo. Remove damp bedding which causes pathogenic micro organisms  to multiply  and large clumps of poo in the brooder and spread a thin layer of bedding on top of the old. Once a week change out the bedding and sanitize the brooder with something like Oxivir.

Construct your brooder to keep out predators.  A screen should lay over the top to keep out insects, vermin, dogs and cats.  If you have small children who like to handle the chicks make sure that they are supervised.  Newborn chicks can jump out of your hands. Injuries caused by crushing or squeezing too hard are a very real problem with little ones. I would keep handling of chicks less than a week old to a minimum. Any injuries can lead to infection and should be treated with Vetericyn spray.

Avoid having too many chicks in a brooder. Overcrowding is one of the number one causes for early death.  Trampling, starvation and damp litter are caused by overcrowding.  Chicks with vaults like silkies or polish need to be especially careful with having too many pen mates. A well placed peck to the head will result in death. Any drop of blood or open bare spot is an invitation for the other chicks to peck at it. Loss of down caused by pasting up attracts others in the pen to continue to peck at it until bleeding occurs. Separation is sometimes necessary.

Practice biosecurity around your brooder. Wear gloves around your adult chickens and wash your hands before handling the newborns. Wear different shoes or boots around your adults than you do around your brooder.  Newborns do not have well developed immune systems.  You will be bringing in germs and diseases on the bottoms of your feet. You may also bring in mites from the outside coop.  Young chicks are very prone to an attack by mites which will result in death if not dealt with. I use the powder very sparingly if I think that they have been exposed.

Light is important in your brooder.  Chick activity is greatest in bright light. They need to be able to see the food and water. Lights should be low or off at night. If you use a heat lamp bulb, choose one with an infrared coating. This helps with pecking and at night can help simulate darkness.

Coccidiosis can be a killer during the first week of life. Because of possible exposure to the disease people will use medicated chick starter.  I would only use it if you think that your chicks are being exposed. If they are inside and you practice good brooder hygiene you probably won’t need to worry. Medicated feed can rob your chick of some vitamins.

Some items to have on hand just in case of a problem would be Save-a-chick, which goes into their water and provides electrolytes.  There is also one which adds probioticsNutridrench can give a boost to a lethargic chick but read directions for use with young birds.

Chicks under one week old are very fragile. If at all possible try and purchase birds over one week old. They are stronger and sturdier and have a much better chance of survival.  They know how to eat and drink and the pasting up usually ends after the first week.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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A Look at the Silkie Standard of Perfection

20171020_121935-1The American Standard of Perfection is a wonderful book published by the American Poultry Association. In it you will find all kinds of valuable information on all of the breeds of chickens that are recognized by this group.  Their main purpose is to list characteristics of each breed at their highest level.  This information is used by judges to help them judge the qualities of individual birds against what has been decided as the “perfect” bird of that breed and variety by the American Poultry Association. It is also used by breeders to improve their birds through breeding towards the standard and by exhibitors who want to place well in poultry shows who use the standard as a guide for choosing birds.

In judging, there is a scale of points that equals 100.  Points are assigned to different attributes of the bird.  Points will be deducted if the bird does not meet the standard given.  There are also disqualifications that can be given which will eliminate a bird from competition.  Since silkies  have crests and beards their point system is adjusted to include points for those areas.

The disqualifications specifically for silkies include :  Bright red comb, face and wattles.  Shanks not feathered down outer sides.  Feathers not truly silky (except in primaries, secondaries, leg, toe and main tail feathers.) Vulture hocks. There are other disqualifications that are for all birds, not just silkies.  You would find those under “General Disqualifications” elsewhere in the book.

The standard weight for a silkie cock is 36 oz.  The standard weight for a silkie hen is 32 oz.  The standard weight for a silkie cockerel is 32 oz.  The standard weight for a silkie pullet is 28 oz.

The standard then lists descriptions of each of the areas of the silkie’s appearance.  This is all part of the bird’s shape.  It is best to obtain a copy of the standard so that you can read in detail what the standard entails. I will mention a few of the items of interest but there is much more information listed in the book. I will be discussing the Bearded Silkie only.

The comb should be walnut shaped. In the males it should be circular shaped and have a horizontal indentation across the middle of it. Females should also be walnut and smaller. The wattles should be small and concealed by the beard in bearded silkie males.  The females should be very small and concealed.

The crest should be medium sized. The beard and muffs should be thick and full. The neck should be short and gracefully curved.  The back should be short and broad and rising back in a curve towards the tail.  The cushion of the tail should be broad and round and very fluffy.  The tail should be  shredded at the ends.

The wings should be closely folded and carried well back being nearly horizontal.  Primaries should be concealed  by secondaries.  The tips should be well shredded with tips being concealed by saddle feathers.

The silkie needs to have five toes. Three in the front and two in the back.  One toe in the natural position and the other placed above it curving upwards and backwards.  Feathering should be to the middle toe.

Comb should be deep mulberry colored.  Beak should be slaty blue and eyes should be black.  Earlobes should be turquoise blue. Skin should be dark blue and toes slaty blue.

Silkie’s feathers come in different colors and not all colors are recognized by the APA. Here are the ones that are recognized: white, black, blue, partridge, buff, gray, splash, self-blue (lavender) and paint.  There are separate descriptions for each of the different color varieties indicating what is accepted and what is not.

Symmetry, as well as, condition and vigor are also important in judging.  The overall shape and balance of the bird is important.  The silkie should look like a “S” curve with the bottom part of the “s” continuing upward.  They almost look completely circular, like a bowling ball when they stand correctly.

There is much more to the silkie standard than I have talked about in this article.  If you would like to purchase a copy, you can get one through the American Poultry Association here.

There are also old copies and  knockoff copies at Amazon that are not printed through the APA.  I think that they are basically  xerox copies and have the same information.

Hopefully this will answer some of your questions concerning what the standard of perfection is.  As a breeder, we are constantly trying to improve our silkies and have them come as close as possible to the standard that has been set. It is important to show your birds as a breeder or attend shows so that you can talk with judges and other people who are knowledgeable about silkies.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

Information for this article was taken from The American Standard of Perfection 2010 published by American Poultry Association, Inc.

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Why Your Chicken Needs a Dust Bath

20180323_145950-1   All chickens should have access to dust baths.  It doesn’t matter what breed or age of chicken, it is instinctual for them to wallow in the dust and dirt.  It is their way of getting clean and practicing good hygiene.

When you first witness this dust bathing, you may think that something is wrong with your bird.  It almost looks like they are in trouble or having a seizure.  They are lying on their sides with one leg sticking out and the other scraping dirt and dust in kind of a circular motion.  The wings are throwing dirt up into the air so that it falls back down on top of them.  It looks scary , but it is perfectly normal.

Chickens will create a dust bath area all by themselves.  A chicken scratches and digs out a bowl shaped depression in the dirt or will even use the shavings inside of the coop.  The chicken settles into this hollow, fluffs up its feathers and then scratches up the dirt.

It might look like they are making a nest to lay eggs because it is round in shape but these are preparations for dust bathing.  Chickens use their feet and wings to get loose dirt throughout their skin and feathers.  Once they are completely covered in a layer of dirt, the bird will fluff and shake off the substance to evenly distribute it on their bodies.

A chicken’s dust bath helps to remove excess oil, as well as parasites such as lice, mites and ticks.  Dust bathing is an important part of keeping chickens healthy and clean.  It is important that your chicken has access to areas where dust bathing can take place. Most will look for a sunny spot with loose dirt.  Even if they never get to free range, you can set up a dust bath in their coop or pen.

There are four main behaviors when dust bathing: vertical wing-shaking, head rubbing, bill raking and scratching with one leg.  The hen scratches with her feet and beak at the ground.  She then erects her feathers and lies down. They create deep bowls as they wiggle and squirm to get dirt deep under their feathers.  They make happy noises while flipping dirt all over themselves.  The dust collects between the feathers and then is shaken off.  This helps to give the feathers good insulating abilities.

Chickens clean their feathers and skin by preening with their beaks and using an oil gland at the base of their tail. After a dust bath a hen will spend time primping and pecking at their feathers. This helps to smooth their feathers and removes sheaths on new feathers.  Feather maintenance is very important.  Birds of all kinds take dust baths and certain mammals do as well to keep clean and remove parasites.

Most dust bathing occurs in the middle of the day. Warm temperatures increase dust bathing behavior. Hens will tend to dust bath if they see other hens doing it.  It ends up being a very social activity.  It is not just hens that will dust bath, but roosters enjoy doing it as well.

The need for a dust bath is ingrained in their behavior.  They will dig holes if you don’t provide them with a spot.  Free ranging birds will find a place in your garden if you let them.   Battery hens in cages will sham dust bathe.  They will go through the motions of dust bathing even if there is no other material in their cages.

Here at VJP Poultry, we decided it was time to create some dust bathing areas inside of our runs.  We used treated 1″ X 4″ lumber and made 18″ X 24″ boxes with no bottom.  We set them in the run and filled them half full with play sand.

There are other things that you can use to create your dust bathing areas. Any large shallow pan such as a kitty litter pan or small kiddie pools.   Fill it with a variety of substrates.  Some examples would be :  Fine sand, dry dirt,  or peat moss.

Some people like to add food grade diatomaceous Earth or DE.  The sharp edges pierce the soft body parts of parasites and kills them.  Be careful with DE as it can be very harmful if inhaled and can damage lungs.  Use a small amount as part of your substrate.

Firepit ash or ash from a wood stove is another product that can be used. Birds can absorb magnesium, calcium and vitamin K from the ash.  Use ash from hardwood trees and make sure that if you remove it from your own fire pit that there isn’t any additional chemicals such as in treated lumber.

Dried herbs are natural pest repellents.  They can get rid of mosquitoes, flies and ants as well as parasites such as mites, lice and ticks.  They provide calming aroma therapy and have antibacterial properties to heal minor scratches and wounds.  Add them to the substrate as well.

You can also purchase ready made dust bath products.  It is easy to add to what ever other products you want in your dust bath mix.

Remember that you will need to periodically clean out your dust bath area.  I pick out the big chunks daily and give it a good raking.  A cover or a beach umbrella will help to keep out the rain.  You want your dust bath to stay as dry as possible.  One of those turtle sand boxes with a cover or any sandbox with a cover can make a great dusting area.  If possible, move your dusting area inside in the winter to prevent the substrate from freezing.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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