For more information on chick care, check out these episodes of our podcast; Chicks 101, Quick Guide to Chick Care, Episode 115 – Medical Care for Chicks, and Episode 75 – Failure to Thrive in Chicks.
The United States Postal Service has been delivering day old chicks through the mail system since 1918. It’s not a perfect system and over the 2020-2021 seasons there have been some serious problems. But shipping does remain the primary means for obtaining chicks each Spring in the US.
If you’ve received chicks through the mail, or even from your farm supply store – who also received those chicks through the mail – you may have chicks that have arrived stressed or chilled from shipping. We have some tips to get your little ones warmed up and ready to thrive.
If you’re new to chicks and have just received a shipment, the main thing you want to see is bright eyed chicks who dart about and quickly start drinking and eating. Any chicks who are hunched, have their eyes closed, and are not moving around much may be chilled and stressed. Loud distressed peeping that goes on for a long time can also be a sign of a stressed or chilled chick. Give these chicks a good look over. They may need one or all of the following.
Have a heat lamp and blow dryer available.
The very first thing you must do for a chilled chick is warm her. This is crucial to his/her survival.
Most Americans still keep their chicks in a brooder under a heat lamp, but brooder plates are becoming more and more popular. They’re great for healthy chicks but a chick chilled in shipping may need temperatures as high as 105 F to warm them. The brooder plates don’t reach these temperatures and it’s also hard to keep an eye on a chick once she’s tucked under the plate. This is why we keep back up heat lamps with extra bulbs. The heat lamp can be lowered to get her under higher temps immediately and also allows you to keep an eye on her and monitor her condition closely. This is even more important if you have more than one chilled chick. We use thermometers or an infrared digital read out gauge or gun to monitor brooder temperatures.
If you’re using a brooder plate, don’t have a heat lamp, and have a chilled chick, you can warm her with a blow dryer. Place her somewhere safe where she can’t jump or fall and gently waft a blow dryer set on low heat over her. Place your hand next to her to make sure the air isn’t too hot. It may take as long as 15-20 minutes to warm up your chick but once she feels better you’ll see that she becomes much brighter and responsive. This method does work well in our experience but the downside is you can’t do more than a few chicks at a time.
Once your chick is warm, you can give her a boost with Nutri-Drench. It’s absorbed directly into the chick’s bloodstream from the mouth/crop and delivers much needed calories and nutrients. This means your chick benefits quickly, without the need for the nutrients to pass through her digestive system. A drop is enough for one chick. If your chicks are stressed but already drinking, you can mix it into their water. Mixing instruction are on the label. It’s an excellent thing to have on hand before your chicks arrive.
Probiotics and Electrolytes
Once your chick is looking more alert and warm enough to start moving around the brooder, she’ll probably follow the other chicks right to the food and water. Adding probiotics and electrolytes to the drinking water helps your chicks to become fully hydrated and build up some beneficial bacteria in their digestive system.
Shipping stress can also bring on pasty butt, which is potentially fatal if not treated. The chick’s droppings may be soft/sticky and cling to her down feathers. Too much of this will build up and dry and block her vent. If she can’t poop it can kill her. Check their fuzzy butts often and remove any dried droppings by moistening them with a wet paper towel, then gently wiping them away. Oatmeal is an old remedy for pasty butt and it really does seem to work. We generally use a pinch of quick oats that we crumble and sprinkle over the chick food. Old fashioned oats will work but you want to grind them in a coffee grinder, etc. We give the oats once or twice a day for a few days and the pasty butt generally stops happening.
We hope you never need to use these tips, but they’re invaluable if you do find yourself in a situation where your chicks have been stressed or chilled. We wish you hours of chick love and plenty of happy, healthy baby chickens!
Holly & Chrisie