Chicken Doctorin’ – Part 3

By Bev Sandlin

Chicks are sooo fun! I just love watching them. And once you’ve kept them alive and well for the first 5 days you generally have a break for two weeks to just enjoy them.

Within a few days, give or take depending on the breed, of two weeks they start feathering out. That simply means they start to get their “real” feathers and go into adolescent behavior…

Three things I should give you a heads up on at this point.

1. Provide a place for them to roost – get up off the ground.

adolescent roosting

2. Chickens can’t swim! Okay, you may think, “Duh, why is this important?” Because I have lost a lot of chicks (and chickens) to drowning.  There is a reason chicken/chick waterers are made the way they are. If you just put down a bowl or a pan, for sure the chicks will fall in and get wet and drown. FYI, a water trough for horses, cows, sheep or goats is also a death trap for adult chickens. Trying to provide a family group with a fresh water pond is a mistake – the babies will fall in and drown. Raising them with ducklings and geese who need a lot of water is also a mistake. Just let them get a little larger or provide a beach that they can climb out on.

adolescent chicks drowning

3. Provide them with a way to start dusting themselves. Sand works, but if you heat with wood, try wood ashes as they prevent lice.

adolescent chickens dusting

What defines adolescence? Personalities begin to emerge and bullying.

In chickens, this is called “pecking order”. Take what you want and leave the rest, this is just – Lordy, I’m gettin’ old – 50 years of experience with chickens and trust me, I don’t know it all…

adolescent chickens just getting feathers

A note before I go into this, probably should have mentioned this before… Some chicks (turkeys, ducks, geese) are born with dormant genes that come to the forefront and have teeth and a tail – again, remember that these are descendants of the dinosaurs.

chicken to dinosaur

That said – DON’T KILL THEM! They may be worth something in the circus!  :-D

WARNING! Graphic image ahead.

Pecking is an exercise in dominance. One or more chicks will begin pecking each other and especially the weaker/less dominant chicks. They will literally peck them to death. They are even cannibalistic and will eat the dead ones – and yes they can have plenty of food and water and a balanced diet and do this. This is normal behavior for confined chickens. Chicks raised with their mothers (hens) normally do not go through this – and they don’t have poopy butts either.

adolescent pecked

Pecking often comes on suddenly. Morning chores and everything is fine; evening chores and you have a bloody chick. ISOLATION CAGE NOW!

You can doctor it with almost anything you would use on you or the kids – antibiotic ointment. Sugar water NOW! Boil an egg and chop it for feed. It may live till morning. Keep it isolated until it heals.

Pecking epidemic! It happens! Six out of 25 are being pecked in various areas of the body. Can’t isolate them all. They will just start pecking each other!

The traditional solution is PINE TAR. Dab a bit of pine tar on any pecked spots. Antibiotic properties and the other chickens don’t like the taste. Pine tar is actually getting kind of hard to find, what else? I strongly recommend any kind of mechanical grease – some even have antibiotic properties if you read the labels. Petroleum jelly will work. It kind of depends on how bad it has gotten and how much time you have. Yes, you can lose 6 chicks in 24 hours to pecking if you are not watching closely.

Husbandry is critical here. You can stop most problems quickly just by observation and intervention. But hey, if you are doing chores once a day, working fulltime and have a family too boot… It can get away from you in 24 hours and then you are playing catchup – much less if you actually go camping for a weekend…

Onto pullets and hens and more pecking tomorrow.

 

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