Monday, March 5, 2012

A Couple Chick Caring Tips

I belong to a group called "Mad City Chickens".  This group started in Madison, WI working to make it legal for people to have chickens in the city limits so people could raise their own food.  They have since expanded to include many other ideas such as goats, other fowl, community gardens, and anything else that comes along where laws are set up to keep people from being able to care for themselves.  They also have expanded far past Madison and will go almost anywhere in Wisconsin to help get rid of bad laws that keep people from being able to care for themselves legally.

When I first joined the group I spent a great deal of time helping people set up chicken coops or tractors, start gardens, and buy chicks.  One of the things that bothered me when I would take people out to buy chicks is how many places sold them without giving much information on how to raise them.  I had one woman at Tractor Supply who said, 'do the best you can and if any die we'll give you a refund on them.'  People don't buy baby chicks so they can die and get a refund.  Most people don't like seeing a baby animal die or coming in to check on the chicks only to find one dead.  So offering a refund instead of instructions on how to care for them seems wrong to me.

Luckily chickens aren't that hard to raise.  They are very forgiving to the beginner.  If you keep them warm, out of drafts until they have feathered out, feed them a good diet and clean water in a way that they can't drowned in, most will make it.

There are tips though that can help you out in the beginning.  First one is that chickens and all chicken like birds can be cannibalistic.  They will eat on each other if they are stressed or if they see blood.  The best way to prevent this is to give them plenty of space.  Crowded chicks will peck at each other until they open up a wound.  Once one gets a wound the rest may peck and peck on that one until they kill it.  When they have plenty of room to run around, this usually doesn't happen.  Another way to avoid this is to give them toys.  This keeps them distracted.  Now don't run to the pet store and ask for chicken toys.  That's not necessary.  Go to your junk drawer and find any nuts and bolts or shiny things that you can either tie over the cage or toss on the floor of the cage.  Make sure it is big enough that the chick can't eat it and make sure that it can't be torn apart.  I also won't use nails or anything sharp.  They are drawn to shiny things so a shiny bolt tossed on the floor will be more exciting that a dull old chick to peck on.  I don't always give my chicks toys but if I see them pecking on each other I got straight to the junk drawer, clean up some shiny hardware and either suspend it over the cage or toss it into the bottom of it.

Another thing that you need to watch out for is the vent.  You know how chicks are all cute and fuzzy.  Well, that fuzzy has a dark side too.  All you need to do is turn the chick around and look at the opposite end of those cute little beady eyes.  You should be looking at the butt.  Chickens, like all birds, only have one opening for elimination.  All waste comes out this opening.  This opening is called the vent.  Every now and again, especially if you feed a high protein crumble without any fiber, the poop can get stuck in that cute fuzz around the vent.  Then, if it isn't cleaned off, the next poop can get stuck behind it, and so on, and so on until the vent is plugged and no more poop can come out.  If this happens the chick will die from the toxins building up in its system.  In the wild this doesn't happen because chicks eat bugs and the fiber of all those bug parts keep them clean.  In a human control environment though we may have to clean them up.  Yep, we may have to remove that poop from their vent.

Chicken Butt

See if you can gently peel off the poop.  You don't want to cause bleeding because the other chicks may begin to peck on the wound if you do.  If you find the poop early enough it should just peel right off.  If you don't catch it early though you will swear your chick pooped out cement.  You'll need to get a warm, damp paper towel and soak the poop until it loosens enough to peel or wipe it off.  Keep the chick warm in your hands while you are doing this and try not to get the chick itself wet.  A chill is usually the chicks biggest danger at this time.   All you need to do is clean off the vent.  If there is still a little poop left in the fuzz, don't worry too much about that but keep an eye on it so it doesn't act as an anchor for more poop to get stuck on.  Remember that a chick poops about every 20 minutes so if that vent gets plugged it can kill the chick in a little over an hour.

If cleaning poop off of a chick sounds gross to you...well, I hate to say this but perhaps keep chickens is not a good thing for you.  That is pretty tame to some of the things I have done to my chickens.  Any living animal can have problems and if they are in your care, it is your responsibility to provide that care.

I'm sure there are other things that people can tell you about caring for chicks.  Those of us who raise them have dealt with it so many times we see it as second nature.  This is more for those who are just starting out and might come across someone like I did at TSC.  Ask questions of the people you buy the chicks from.  They should be able to provide answers or maybe they shouldn't be selling chicks.  That's my humble opinion though.  As much as I think everyone should be able to raise their own food if they wish too, I also believe that there is a responsibility in doing that.  Don't just get chickens because they're cute and it's the new trend.   That will only lead to misery for both you and the animal.   Care for them and they will amaze you with their antics and help feed you and yours a better diet than you can buy from a store.


  1. Love your down-to-earth, common sense information. It's that nitty-gritty stuff that beginners NEED to know about! Peep-peep.

  2. Adding my kudos for an excellent down and dirty (haha!) post. Great blog :-)