20 July 2010

003 - What is My New Chick Trying to Say to Me?

So you bought some chicks, looking to start a flock, but you have no idea what they're trying to say to you! That's what this post is going to be about. New chicks, where they come from, what they eat, how they communicate, and more.

Where to Find New Chicks

First thing is where to procure new chicks. The first chicks that came into my life were bred by my house mate, the eggs set in a styrofoam incubator for twenty-one days, and then put into a tank in her bathroom until I felt comfortable having them in my room ( at the time I had lost seven chicks, and had only JUST started raising chickens so was still uncomfortable around them, but allured by their adorable fuzzy butts and content cheeps ). Out of seventeen chicks ( hatched from eighteen eggs ), I chose Bo, Socrates, Jules ( originally Julie ), and Cassiopeia ( shortened to Cassi ) to raise, in the end only keeping two. I knew right away who was going to be mine and who would be my house mates - whenever I separated Jules and Cassi, the other one would scream and wail until reunited. I couldn't have that.

My second batch of chicks were also bred by my house mate ( but kept in my room from day one ), but my third and fourth batch came from Del's Feed Store. My fifth and most recent batch came from an Auction. On top of these, you can also order your chicks from a hatchery such as Murray McMurray, purchase chicks from a local breeder, find chicks at shelters ( albeit, shelters tend to have older or even adult chickens ), or maybe you just found a chick that wandered into your lawn one day and couldn't find its owner.

Auctions

My experience with feed stores and auctions has been poor. Most animals taken to auction are unwanted, uncared for, and sometimes even diseased or otherwise in very poor health. The two Japanese that my house mate purchased from an auction were in surprisingly good condition ( they even smelled like pet shampoo as if the person that sold them dolled them up in hopes they would go for a higher price ), but the two silkies she purchased were underfed, and one of them has what looks like a very painful foot condition in which the two outside toes ( neither of the back toes ) have grown UNDER her foot, causing her to have difficulty walking and balancing, and is possibly quite painful. My house mate also purchased a turkey chick with a rather nasty eye infection.

Feed Stores

Feed stores are kind of hit-and-miss. I have noticed that many of my chickens purchased from feed stores have minor genetic defects that void them from being able to be shown, but I doubt have any effect on their ability to lay or produce meat. I have not had any chicks reach maturity yet ( my eldest from Del's are about three months old ), so I don't know if feed store chicks have the same amount of defects when it comes to producing meat / eggs as they have so far had with show quality such as floppy combs, poor colour, etc. Then again, breeding for show quality, and meat / egg production are two very different lines of breeding and generally, a feed store focuses on meat / egg production as opposed to show. Still, I realize now that buying from a feed store is akin to purchasing from a pet store, and should be avoided. In the future I will look for local breeders, and in shelters, but for now I have what I have and I will love them all the same.

On top of genetic defects, I have also been sold sick chicks from feed stores. A couple of them died within a few days after showing signs of illness since the moment I brought them home, and one even spread the disease "coccidia" throughout my entire flock. The feed store was willing to do nothing about it - not compensate me for the deathly ill chick or the chicks I lost because of it, nor were they willing to take any further precaution with their own chicks in sanitizing cages, isolating, etc.

Hatcheries

I've heard mixed reviews of hatcheries. Some people swear by them, some people damn them. I, myself, have never had any experience with hatcheries. I know that different hatcheries have different reputations - the most common hatchery that I know of is Murray McMurray, and I've heard fairly good things about the birds that come out of their shipments. Some things that hatcheries do that some people disagree with is hatching lots of chicks in an incubator, and not with their mothers, shipping at a young age ( or shipping at all ), and discriminating between male and female - often times discarding males the moment they're sexed at hours old. Different hatcheries work different ways, and I've never talked to the people at Murray McMurray so I have no idea how they work. I do know that people disagree with shipping because the chicks are often times mailed in regular class, and often on air planes all across the country, being shipped with regular-class mail and not even where pets are regularly shipped. There have been some reports of chicks arriving frozen to death. The other issue some people have with shipping is lack of food or water for the first day, sometimes two. However, I question this because when hatching naturally, the mother hen will sometimes sit on her nest without eating or drinking, or even allowing her newly hatched chicks to eat or drink for the first two days until EVERYONE has hatched. Hatcheries also generally require you to purchase 25+ chicks at a time, intending business for commercial farmers and not regular backyard birds.

Breeders

Just as with puppies and kittens, looking for local breeders of chickens should be done with scrutiny. Just because someone is a local breeder does not mean that they take good care of their animals - a breeder should never make a profit from breeding. Any respectable breeder will tell you that breeding is just a hobby, and the amount of money they make from selling chicks should barely exceed the amount of money it takes to raise a healthy brood. Just like auctions and feed stores, breeders can be hit-and-miss until you learn how to discern good breeders from bad breeders - the biggest way to tell is the amount of profit they make from selling chicks in relation to raising them, and the facilities in which they breed. Asking to see the parents is very important. See their personalities, temperaments, colouration - look for any defects in their parents or their siblings. If you see anything, inquire about it. Maybe ask the breeder what they hope to accomplish - are they trying to better the breed, or is it just a hobby? Either answer is a good one, so long as they are passionate about what they are doing. If they are not willing to show you their facilities, or if the facilities are poorly taken care of, or if the breeder is not certain which chickens are the parents, these are all red flags.

Breeding Your Own Chicks

Unless you plan on keeping all of your chicks, I would personally not advise breeding your own. There is about a 50% ratio of males to females when breeding, and there is a gross overpopulation of males going unwanted. Most factory farms that hatch their own chicks will do quite awful things to their males when they are only hours old from gassing them to throwing them into a trash bin, still alive, and crushing them by stomping on the trash bin to pack down the unwanted males. Females on factory farms are sometimes debeaked ( their head is shoved into a machine with searing hot blades that slices off the beak then cauterizes the bleeding ), often causing life-long pain and difficulty eating.

If you do breed your own chicks, you'll have to understand broodiness ( a subject for another post ), and incubating your own eggs. In short, "broodiness" is when your hen decides she wants to hatch some eggs, stops laying, and will sit on anything vaguely egg-shaped ( I've even seen a hen sit on a bunch of newly born kittens ). Incubating your own eggs takes an incubator and turning the eggs now and then ( I will have to do some more research before I can give a very good description on how to incubate your own eggs ).

Breeding your own chicks is, however, probably the best method for controlling the quality of chick you produce. You can manage your own flock, look for genetic defects, take care of them from day one, and don't have to worry about their life before they came to you, purchasing chicks, etc. You can even start breeding for specific traits that you, personally, find appealing.

Shelters

From my understanding, shelters seldom have young chicks available, but they will often have adult chickens or sometimes even juvenile. Most people will keep their chicks until they start showing obvious signs of being either male or female, and if they don't slaughter their males, or give them away for free, the males usually end up in shelters. The unfortunate truth is that many, many more males are in shelters than females, and people usually pick up males to eat or fight. I'm a firm believer that male chickens can be wonderful pets, and it is quite unfortunate that males end up as unwanted as they are. I have never picked up a chicken from a shelter, but in the future I will certainly try.

On top of each of these ways to obtain chicks, you can sometimes purchase fertile eggs and hatch them at home. These are generally cheaper since there's no guarantee they'll actually hatch, and hatching is a time-consuming process. You can usually purchase fertile eggs in lieu of newly-hatched chicks from hatcheries, breeders, and even auctions. I have not seen fertile eggs for sale in feed stores, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were there, too.

The First Day...

So you just brought home your chicks ( or they just hatched ). The first day your chicks will probably be clumsy, and curious, but it's fairly likely that they'll just sit in one place and hang out there for the first few days until they become comfortable with their surroundings. On the other hand, your chicks might want to get into everything! My general experience with day-old chicks is that they are needy and cuddly, and mostly just want to stay warm and snuggled up with something they can call "Mum"... but they're also curious and will want to wander around a little bit, but seldom manage much more than a minute or two before they want to be held again.

How to Encourage Eating and Drinking

This is the most important lesson for chicks to learn - it will quite literally stay with them for the rest of their lives. Chicks need to learn how to eat and drink. They can learn through experimentation, but it's best to teach them right away where food and water are. Teach your chick where water is by gently pushing its head down until its beak is in the water. Repeat until the chick tips its head up and guzzles some water - you'll see their little neck vibrating as they lick up the water in their beak and let it drain down their throats. Chickens cannot sip, gulp, or chew, so when they drink water they try to lap up a nice mouthful, then tip their heads back to let the water drain down their throats. Eating is a similar process.

To teach your chick to eat, take your index finger and "peck" at their food. Make a high "Peep peep peep!" sound to imitate when a chick has found food and is telling the other chicks that food is near. Otherwise, you can imitate an older chicken finding food with a lower-pitched "gurble gurb-gurb-gurb gurrrble!" I have had more success using a sound imitating a chicken of the same age as the chicken I'm trying to encourage to eat. Once one chick starts to eat, others will likely follow.

What to Feed Your Chick

Chicks need a high-protein diet. You'll find that most chick starter is about 24% protein. If you don't have any chick starter, use scrambled eggs, but I would discourage bread crumbs or crackers. It is important that the egg be scrambled and not fried or boiled so that the egg crumbles apart into tiny sections that the chicks can easily peck at and pull apart. Chicks have a very sensitive digestive system and can't handle much variety at this point - try to get them on a chick starter as soon as possible, and stick with the starter with very, very little supplementation of anything else until they're at least fully feathered ( I tend to wait until they're two or three months old before I start supplementing with All Purpose Poultry, and other food stuffs such as compost, bread, crackers, oatmeal, fresh grass, etc. ).

I tend to use a medicated chick starter, just because when I DIDN'T use a medicated chick starter ( I was interested in my chicks being healthy and organic ), they came down with coccidia and I almost lost all of them. When consulting my local chicken-knowledgeable vet, he said that I needed to get them on the medicated chick starter as soon as possible. Since the medication doesn't hurt them, but rather helps boost their immune system, I have no issues medicating them for their first few months, especially if it means I can fight coccidia before it even starts.

If you intend to use any sort of medicine with your chicks, make sure you research the appropriate detox period before you begin consuming eggs or meat, because the medicine can affect you through egg or meat products from your chickens, and after being processed by the body, the medication can be dangerous to humans - on top of that, it's medicine designed for chickens, not humans, so it's probably bad for you to begin with!

Enclosures for Your Chick

When I started with chicks, they went into a cardboard box, but I quickly threw it out ( literally ) when one of the boxes caught fire. Luckily, all of my chicks survived, and after that I have strictly been using glass aquariums with some form of netting or metal grate on top in order to allow for air flow, but not allow the chicks to jump out. Since the heat lamp was keeping me up at night, my latest batch of chicks have been given an electric hot-pad to snuggle up with that I keep on either "Medium" or "Low" temperature. They are quite content with their hot pad, and it doesn't shine light through my room all night long, keeping my other chickens and myself awake. I've also noticed that with the hot-pad I can keep my chicks on a regular day-night schedule which seems to keep them much happier.

I have seen many other types of enclosures for chicks, and my previous enclosure was a giant aquarium with a heat lamp on one end with a box underneath it ( the box had a "door" cut into it so that the chicks could have a safe little hiding place that would absorb the heat in case the rest of the tank was too cold ). The aquarium is quite long so they could either huddle under the lamp ( or in the box ) for heat, or escape the heat by moving to the opposite side of the aquarium. I have been trying to train all of my chickens to be water-bottle dependant ( I push their beat into the tube until they get a little water and guzzle it down - it generally only takes a few days of doing this a few times a day for them to figure out this is where water is ) because water dishes can make horrible messes and even drown chicks. Water bottles generally only release water when the chicken pecks at the bottle, keeps cages clean, doesn't allow anyone to drown, and are much easier to clean than water dishes. I would keep a dish in the cage while chicks were learning what a water bottle was, but since the dish also tended to become buried in dirt or litter quite quickly, the water bottle also allows the owner to keep chicks happily hydrated without fear that they will bury their water.

After graduating from the aquarium ( this usually means "outgrowing" ), I like to put my chickens in jumbo-sized dog cages so that they have room to move around, as well as room for food dishes and water bottles. I would have a pen for my chickens outside, but at the moment I do not own the house I live in and thus cannot make such changes to the yard, so my chickens stay inside with me and occasionally go outside on leashes ( we also have a family of hawks and coyotes, so I'm fairly content with them being inside ).

I have usually filled my enclosures with fresh dirt from the backyard, but my most recent batch of chicks I have been using kitty litter pellets ( they're plastic pellets, and though I don't condone plastic pellets, it's doing a better job than the dirt ), and my first batch of chicks I used white aquarium sand. I'm torn whether the pellets or aquarium sand have been my favourite litter - I'm definitely not fond of the upkeep the dirt takes, but it's quite available and doesn't cost anything.

Alternative litter can be torn up newsprint, paper towels, wood shavings ( I have heard wonderful things about pine, and not-so-great about cedar or other shavings ), and hay. Avoid straw, as it can puncture the chick or even harm their eyes, and slick surfaces such as the inside of a cardboard box or plain newsprint. If using newspaper, mist it first and let it air dry in order to be a little rougher so that the chicks have something to grip - it can lead to health problems later in life if their legs are stressed too much on slick surfaces. I sometimes used cloth towels for bedding , but not often since they need to be washed often in that case - I mainly use cloth towels when tending to an injured chick that I need to place in isolation.

Litter Training

At this age you can also litter-train your chick! Chickens have what is called a "cloaca" - this is a single posterior opening for faeces, urine, and reproduction. Due to the combination of faecal matter and urine, chickens do not urinate they only defecate. The "urine" is turned into what is called "uric acid", and is the slightly moist, white part that is generally accumulated at one end of a chicken dropping.

As young chicks, chickens generally defecate once every fifteen minutes. As they age, this time span becomes longer - I've noticed that Bo doesn't tend to defecate but every few hours or so. If you want to train your chick to use a litter box ( or toilet, or trash can, or whatever you want them to use ) you will time between defecation, and try to place your chick in the litter area at about the time it defecates. Upon defecation, give it a command word ( my command word is "Poop!" because it is quick and easy to say, and comes to mind quickly - my X-house mate used the command "Hurry up!" for her dog ), then say the word when it defecates. Soon, you can set it in the litter area just a little while before it would normally defecate and give it the command word, and it should defecate on command. After that, you will gradually develop a habit and the chicken will seek out the litter area to keep defecation in that area only.

It is possible to teach an older chicken in this manner as well. Since chickens are creatures of GREAT habit, it is actually surprisingly easy to do. I have not perfected this yet, though, since I have been juggling twenty-seven chickens, trying to re-home most of them, keep the others clean and happy, etc.

Cheep, Sweep, Chirrup, Trill, Chortle, Koo-koo-koo

There are many different sounds your chick will make, and it is important to have a basic understanding of each one so you know the emotional state of your chick and how to respond. The most common sound you'll hear is "Cheep cheep cheep" as your chick explores its new surroundings, and makes certain the other chicks are with it and everyone knows where everyone else is. In places like feed stores, you might also hear chicks going "CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP!!" at a much louder, much more alarming pitch. This type of cheeping is generally something that should be tended to immediately - they're out of water, out of food, too hot, too cold, or somehow unhappy. The first few days after you take home your chick, except to hear this sound. A lot. Expect to learn what your chick needs just by listening and responding to it.

HOWEVER, when you first put your chicks down to sleep, they will CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP wondering where their mother is, and at this point it is okay to ignore them so long as you are certain they are warm, but not too hot, covered, and safe. They should stop screaming between ten and twenty minutes. Expect them to cry periodically throughout the night. What I tend to do is put them to bed about an hour before I go to bed. Check them in ten minutes - check temperature, see if anyone is panting and hot, or if anyone is huddled and cold. Check again in twenty minutes, then thirty, then an hour. After checking that last time, if no one is too hot or too cold, I go to sleep. With my most recent batch I woke up a few times to someone screaming - turns out they wandered away from the rest of the brood and were looking to be reunited. After a few nights of this, and knowing that they're perfectly safe I just put a pillow over the tank and let them sort it out. They've been perfectly fine with no one waking up in the middle of the night after about three or four days.

Your chick will tell you if it is too hot or too cold - the recommended "90-95*F, lowering about 5* a week after the first three weeks" may not be what your chick wants. If they huddle and cry, they are too cold. If they pant, or lay sprawled out on the ground, they are too hot ( I have not heard any of my chickens cry if they are too hot - but almost always hear them cry when they are too cold ). I have found that accelerating the cool-down process actually helps them grow in their adult feathers more quickly and you barely even notice their "ugly as sin" phase. I do NOT force my chicks to be colder than they're comfortable with - I simply encourage them to spend more time away from their heat source, and diminish the heat source a little quicker than what is recommended - but if ANY of my chicks are suffering from this, I allow them to develop at their own pace.

Happy sounds include a "schoo-schoo-schoo" or "twee-twee-twee" sound when they are nestled up with you or another chicken. This whistling call is also how they say "good night" - you'll hear this often after you cover their cage with a blanket, and everyone has settled down for the night. Suddenly there is a symphony of quiet little "kwee-kwee-kwee" or "schoo-schoo-schoo" depending on the individual singing as they nod off and fall asleep. Not all chickens do this, so don't be alarmed if yours is silent.

I have found with some of my chickens, especially the more cuddly of them, to make a trill when they are excited. My first chick, Agatha, would trill when I held her. She would snuggle up on my shoulder right next to my head and she would "trill-trill-trill" or she would just "triiiiiiilll~". It was usually soft and sweet, but sometimes I would hold her and she would go "trill!" and I would say back, "Trill!" and our trills ( well, her trill and me just SAYING "trill" ) would become louder and more intense until we were both screaming at each other. You could tell she had a ball because she would put her all into it, her whole body expanding and contracting as she took deep breaths and shouted back "TRIILL TRILL TRIIEEEEEIILLL!!" I can't say I know for certain what a trill actually means, but in my experience it's either a content or excited noise - both of which are fairly happy. I have OCCASIONALLY heard a trill used indignantly, but it's usually short and to the point ( usually I hear it when someone accidentally steps on someone ).

One of my favourite sounds to hear a chicken make is a "chortle". Both young chicks and adult chickens will chortle, and it almost sounds like they say "BWA-HA-HA-HA!!" I'm not too sure what a chortle means, but it seems to be an excited sound like a human laugh.

Two sounds that are very similar yet mean very different things are a long, growling-like sound. A lower pitched growl can be caution. Something along the lines of "I don't know you" or "I'm not comfortable with that's going on." A high growl can be curiosity and inquisition. "Oh~ what's that?" or "That feels good!"

Sometimes you will hear a quick, sharp, indignant "PEEP!" This usually means that one of the other chicks tripped on a chick, stepped on them, pushed them, or pecked them unexpectedly. It's a denotion of surprise, but doesn't generally mean anything of too much importance. I have only paid any particular attention to this sound when one of my Australorps was pulling out all the feathers on the backs of my Ameraucanas. My Ameraucanas would go "CHEEP!" when they were pecked, and if I heard an intermittent "CHEEP!" and a few moments later "CHEEP!" and again, I would know that the Australorp was at it again. I solved the feather-plucking problem by selling one Australorp, and when the other picked up the habit, I dumped her in the cage with the larger chicks. She was picked on for a couple days, but she was no longer the largest chick in the cage, and no one is eating anyone else's feathers anymore.

Day Two and Beyond...

Day one is probably the most stressful day - you're just learning all of your new chicks sounds and mannerisms, hoping that they figure out how to eat and drink, and worrying all night about every sound they make while trying to sleep. Day two is exciting because you're starting to figure out everyone's individual personalities, the hardest day is over, and everyone survived the night - and at this point, you're pretty sure if they made it one night, they'll make it another.

I would say there's a good three to four day adjustment period to figuring out your chicks. The sounds they make, what and how they eat, how often you should refill their water, etc. I try to clean my chickens cages about once a week, and their water dish once a day. I refill their water whenever I notice that it is empty or dirty, and give them new food whenever their dish is empty and there's no obvious signs of food on the ground ( beware! Chicks like to bury their food, so sometimes just churning the litter a little bit will uncover a vast stockpile of food, but don't let them eat it if it has become moist ).

After day one, your chicks start to know you as where food comes from, warmth, and love. I have had success setting my chicks down at about a week of age and having them follow me when I walk away. The first thing to change about your chick is their wings. Little wing feathers will start to poke out of their tiny arms after just a few days, then as the tips of the wings are just about starting to reach their hind end, tail feathers will begin to develop. After that you'll start to get some feathers on the backs of their shoulders, then usually two lines on either side of their breast of new feathers, and a line right down the middle of their back. Usually the last place to grow feathers is the area under the wings and their faces - I would guess the under-wing area is the very last, but it has always been pretty close to the face in last place from my experience. As your chicken grows and matures, there will be less and less feathers and fuzz covering the face - but their heads should not be entirely bald unless their breed specifies such.

As the chick grows, you will start to notice differences between males and females even before they start laying and crowing. Here is a photo of pair of Japanese chicks that I had. Male is on the left, female on the right:


This photo was taken when the pair was probably only about a month old. Notice that the male has larger and redder wattles and comb. The female has much smaller wattles and comb, that are a pinkish colour. In fact, pullets ( female chickens that have not started laying yet ) will have almost non-existent wattles and comb that are a light pink colour until they start laying, in which their wattles and comb will seem to "suddenly" appear. SOME females will develop at a similar rate as males, but this is extremely rare.

Most people will tell you that you can't tell the gender of a chicken "until they either start crowing or laying," and most people who are experienced at sexing a chicken will tell you that after day one, it is impossible to sex a chicken until they start showing "secondary sex-related characteristics" such as wattle and comb growth and colour. If you are uncertain of a chicken's sex then you may just have to wait the full five to seven months it takes for a chicken to fully mature ( some breeds mature as quickly as four months ) and either start laying or crowing, as they say.


Similarly, above is a photo of a mature and immature male chicken - the one in back is Bo and the one in front is Socrates. This photo was taken when they were about six months of age. The mature male will have a bright red face, while the immature male will have a pink face ( albeit darker than the female ) most noticeably. Also note that Socrates has a little more feathering on his face, his comb and wattles are smaller than Bo's, his feathers aren't as shiny, he has no sickle feathers ( the large, long arching tail feathers ), his neck feathers aren't as pointy or full as Bo's, and his saddle feathers ( feathers on the posterior end of his back ) are barely noticeable at all. Above all, Socrates looks pretty mangy.

At about four or five months your chickens voice will start to change. It will become hoarse and rhaspy, while they still try to cheep like a chick but start to cluck like a chicken. I think I find this to be the most endearing stage in a chick's journey to growing up. This is also the age that your chickens MAY start crowing if they are boys. I have only heard my Socrates DEFINITIVELY crow today, and it was a weak, experimental, quiet, gurgly crow - and he's nearly eight months old! Young crowers can sound like they're being strangled, or sound like a hoarse, grating scream. Some cockerels ( young males ) actually get it right their first time, but this is rare - usually a cockerel has to experiment long before he can figure out what he's actually doing.

Isolating an Injured or Sick Chick

I think this has to be a very important thing to mention because I've had many chicks that have needed isolation and only my experience in the veterinary field prepared me for this one. First and foremost, find a good cage for isolation ( I call them "Iso Chambers" after the isolation area in my vet clinic that I worked at ). A good iso chamber is a cage that's just big enough for your chick to stand up, walk around, and flap its wings, but not big enough to give ample running or romping space. If a chick is injured, I generally choose another chick that might be a little younger, or at least smaller, and medium to low energy to be in the cage with the injured chick because chickens don't do very well when isolated. If a chick is ill, however, it's best to isolate it all together.

When introducing new chickens to an existing flock it's a good idea to keep them isolated for MINIMUM of four weeks - this is about the amount of time it would take for most illnesses to run their course and flee out of the body. When I brought home a silkie with coccidia from the local feed store, it did not occur to me to isolate the chick because I was optimistic that the feed store would be a proper place to buy healthy chicks. I DID put it in the isolation chamber I had for another chick whose toe went necrotic at only a few days old, and after a few weeks the toe had finally fallen off. I put this chick in an isolation chamber with a few tiny ones to keep it company just while its toe healed over. I put the new silkie in this cage just so that it could be accepted by a few of the chicks before being introduced to the whole flock - being accepted by even one other bird makes introductions a whole lot easier for a new member.

Unfortunately, I was swapping out chicks so that no one would become estranged from the main flock, and the disease spread. When the disease spread, I put all of the chicks in one cage and treated them ALL, making certain to clean the now-unused iso chamber with bleach then vinegar ( I could only find evidence that vinegar killed coccidia - almost nothing else did ) so that the iso chamber could still be a safe place for any new recruits. Out of everyone, and a very, very deadly disease I only lost three chicks to coccidia - I was congratulated by my local vets for a very lucky fight against the disease.

I also had a chick that was put outside ( one of my house mates chicks out of the second brood I helped raise ) attacked by an opossum, her toe ripped open with the claw completely disjointed from the rest of the toe. I made a daily routine of pouring hydrogen peroxide over the wound for the first week, and then smearing triple antibiotic ointment over it, and lastly covering the toe with gauze and taping it with medical tape. I changed the bandages once a day ( I had limited supplies, otherwise I would have done it twice a day ), and after the first week eliminated the hydrogen peroxide, but kept the rest. Her toe healed miraculously fine ( didn't even lose the end of it, which the vets and I agreed would probably go necrotic and fall off ).

Lastly, I had a chicken slit his own throat open. I was in my room and heard him crow then heard "snap-gurgle". I was fairly certain he had broken his neck, but one house mate who was a field medic and my own veterinary skills saved his life after a few hours of trying to stabilize him. Since his was a very, very sensitive wound, for the first few days I wrapped him in a towel that I stuffed in a box, put a blanket over the box and tucked the blanket under the box, then put a pillow over top ( I did not want him moving, let alone escaping ). I changed the bandages every day and checked on him every couple of hours, helping him to eat and drink until I saw progress in his wound healing. Once I saw progress in his wound healing, I put him in the iso chamber where he could move around a little bit, and he eventually healed back to full health.

Here's Horus, showing off his very silly bandage job - the wound was RIGHT between the wattles, so it was VERY hard to bandage perfectly right, so I ended up taping it to the comb to keep the bandage in place:


Other Chick-Related Information

First and foremost, sleeping. Chicks are babies, babies sleep. This is something I had to figure out myself because after losing several chicks, I was really afraid that when they stopped moving they were dead. I spent weeks with Bo and Socrates' brood poking them all when they'd fall asleep just to make sure they were alive. Chicks will go through bouts of energy, then crash. Even if you have a brood of twenty chicks, sometimes you'll walk in and they will all be sprawled out over each other, collapsed, not moving at all, but I guarantee, make a noise or poke one, and one will "Peep peep?" then others will join in.

Your chick WILL eat rocks! This is okay - they need rocks to digest food. Since chickens don't chew, they eat rocks and grit so that their crop can appropriately break down food before it enters the stomach where it will be properly digested.

Speaking of the crop, the crop is a pre-digestion organ that you can feel right on their breast. The first time I felt a crop, I thought it was a tumour! Even more frightening, when a crop is particularly full, you can SEE the food inside it. Your chickens crop should be full at least most of the time - a gentle palpitation of the chest should find a relatively large "lump" that is your chickens crop. If you don't feel anything, feed your chicken!

Dust bathing was another thing that scared me when I first saw it. The first time I saw dust bathing, I was watching Bo, Socrates, Cassiopeia, and Jules. When I looked up two or three were on the ground, flailing and seizing. Then one collapsed and also started seizing - I thought they had eaten something poisonous and were having seizures! But as I watched, it dawned on me that they would sit up, look around, then flop over on their sides, fluff up, and start flailing again. They had nothing to throw around on top of them, but it dawned on me that they were simply trying to dust bathe... with naught but newspaper on the bottom of their cage.

Regular old grooming can look a little alarming to the untrained chicken owner, too. The chicken raises some feathers just above its tail, and starts nibbling at something and rubbing its head against its backside ( NOT its cloaca - on the top of its back ). There is an oil gland on the top of the tail, and a little fleshy tube that comes out of the gland. The chicken uses its beak to squeeze and tug on the tube in a similar way as someone might milk a cow to encourage oil flow. The chicken may then rub its face on the gland. The chicken will collect oil on its beak and then pull some feathers through its beak - distributing oil over its body. This oil helps them keep pests away, and stay somewhat waterproof. The oil gland CAN feel like a "lump" on the end of their tail, and it can even be expressed like a pimple. I would not advise doing this unless you're suspicious your chickens oil gland is infected, or somehow blocked.

Sneezing, head-shaking, coughing, wheezing, favouring a leg or wing, etc. are all things you should pay attention to. The occasional sneeze, cough, or head-shake is nothing to worry about, but excessive amounts of sneezing, coughing, or head-shaking should be paid close attention to. These are all signs your chick might be sick or injured. If sick or injured, your chick should be isolated from other chicks ( I still like to use glass tanks and set them near other tanks of chicks so they still have SOME interaction ). A lot of the time, a chick will heal all on their own - they are pretty darn resilient, especially if you love on them. If a chick wants to be held while sick or injured, I usually use a towel that I can wash afterwards, wrap them up, and carry them with me ( I like to let their head poke out so they can see what's going on and know I'm there ), but don't move them around too much. If a chick is insisting to be with me while sick or injured, I will usually wrap it and find something to do on my computer so that I am not moving around too much, and let them snooze in my lap. The other thing I will sometimes do if I NEED to go somewhere, but also want to keep an eye on my chick is wrap my scarf around my neck and make a little basket for my chicks to cradle next to my neck in. I would NOT recommend using the scarf method unless you know exactly what you are doing.

As your chick grows, it will develop little pieces of chick down still attached to the ends of new feathers - it is okay to pick these off. Mother hen would usually groom these off, and eventually the chick will groom them off, themselves. I usually pick a little bit here and there, now and then, just so that my chicks don't become irritated with the activity, and it helps them look quite a lot nicer and a whole lot less mangy.

I think that's about it. Any questions, comments, concerns, or requests on what I should write about in the future, please Email me or leave me a comment ( I will probably respond to Emails quicker ).

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