Chicken Doctorin’ – Part 1

By Bev Sandlin

Trust me, a chicken and any other poultry are not worth a vet bill. But whether you are raising chicks or have a a sick hen, there are some basic things you can do that may save their lives. Most of this is applicable to turkeys, ducks and geese. I’m writing this for chickens, but I may insert some pertinent points.

chicks in a rabbit cage


So, you order in or buy some baby chicks and one or more start looking sickly. Here is your basic checklist:chick sick

Are they warm enough? Huddled together and they are too cold. When the light is on and they are at the outside of their box or pen, it is too hot.

Baby chicks should be kept draft free as much as possible. A cardboard box in the house, a child’s pool in the basement or even a spot in the greenhouse could be good places to put chicks. DEFINITELY go for a child’s pool or plastic liner for ducks and geese. These need plenty of water and will literally spurt water out of the back of their beaks as they drink. DO NOT however, put a little pool in with them when young as they need mother’s wing oil for babies to be waterproof and will drown if in “deep” water without it.

Have an isolation cage/container handy. That could be a single cardboard box off to the side, perhaps a cat carrier, etc. Preferably it should be able to be safely rigged with a clip on light (incandescent so that it throws off heat) or some source of heat. A simple heating pad can often do wonders. Why an isolation cage? Because chickens are notorious for being cannibalistic and just plain running over the weaker one(s) until it does die.

chick cat carrier isolation

Sugar water or corn syrup added to warm water can be the instant boost of energy that will save a chick’s life. You may have to gently hold the chick and dip its beak into the water a few times and very gently stroke its throat to get it to swallow – BE GENTLE. I always give sugar water to chicks I have just ordered in for the first day or so because of the stress of the trip.

A hard boiled egg chopped finely is the most compatible high protein food you can give an ailing chick. I just make a practice of boiling up some eggs and feeding them to the chicks for the first day or so when ordered in.

hard boiled eggs

Poopy Butts – Yes, between day 3 and 10 you will likely have some chicks with a poopy butt – manure stuck to its anus blocking any more excretions. This is certain death for a chick. Grab a shallow pan and fill it with warm slightly soapy water – think of water suitable for bathing a baby. Gently hold the afflicted chick in the pan for several minutes, sometimes that is all that is needed to GENTLY pry off the manure. Sometimes you need to add a little drop of liquid soap to your finger and massage it into the manure and attempt to pick pieces of it off. Sometimes you need a long soak and baby oil. Wet a wash cloth in warm water, rub baby oil over the afflicted area and either sit with the chick for 20 minutes or so or figure out a way to keep it from moving out of the wash cloth, perhaps wrap another cloth around it with the head exposed or even prop it between stuffed animals or give it to a child to hold. I have never seen this NOT work. Sore butt? Gently massage it with baby oil. You can also use your favorite diaper rash lotion if you have some around. Preparation H on a raw butt can really help. ISOLATE any chick that doesn’t seem perky after this treatment (or group of chicks). Be sure not to allow them to catch a chill after being wet.

chicks and hen

For the ladies only…  :-D

If your chicks, ducklings or goslings are running with their mother outside, remember that she can’t count. A chick that isn’t keeping up is left behind and will die before morning without her protection. Usually you will be walking along and hear the “distress call” and go over and investigate. Sometimes the baby is trapped, sometimes cold or sick, or sometimes it is wet. If it looks healthy and fine put it back with mama and hope for the best. However, I have saved many a wet duckling or cold chick just by putting it in my bra – head sticking out forward – and carried it around while I am doing chores until it dried off and/or warmed up and then put it back with mom. Or carried it home to an isolation cage and kept it warm and dry overnight.

Note: Never feed medicated chick feed to baby ducks or goslings, it will often kill them.

Tomorrow Chicken Doctorin’ Part 2 Adolescents, Pullets & Hens





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