Chick care through 4 weeks of age
Your chicks are growing by leaps and bounds! You have been diligently feeding them chick starter everyday, changing out their water, remembering to add vitamins. You started off at 95 degrees, but are reducing that temperature by 5 degrees each week. You can probably tell the difference between your hens and your roosters at this point. The roosters will start to show a more pronounced comb, will be a little bigger in size, and may be growing in longer tail feathers. Often times, you can pick them out by personality also as they may be a little more aggressive to the other birds. You may have had to move them from their starter cardboard box to a bigger brooder. After a couple of weeks they will need a half a square foot per bird of space. Soon, they will be ready to introduce to the great outdoors.
Possible problems at this age:
Stress can greatly affect the health of a chick and can lead to a weakened immune system, which can open the door to many other problems. Common stressors include being too hot, too cold, dehydration, starvation, or being handled too much.
A thermometer is very important to monitor the temperature in the brooder. Another way to know is by watching the behavior of your chicks. If they are chirping loudly or huddling underneath the heat lamp, they are too cold. If they chirping loudly or avoiding the heat lamp like the plague, they are likely too hot. Smothering can also occur if the chicks are too cold. This happens because they will pile together in an effort to get warmer, but they may crush and suffocate the ones in the middle or on the bottom.
Coccidiosis: Coccidia is a natural protozoa that lives in the digestive system of chickens and is deposited in the brooder via poop. The protozoa irritate the intestinal lining and inhibits nutrient absorption. Birds will naturally develop an immunity to the protozoa in about 14 weeks. In the natural course of chick life, it is possible for the chicks to ingest more coccidia than their gut can handle from poop in the litter or in the water. It is very important to keep the litter and water clean and poop free! Early symptoms of coccidiosis is a runny, off-colored, or bloody poop and slow growth. It can be fatal. It is recommended that you use medicated feed because often damage is done before symptoms present themselves and an affected bird may never thrive or be as productive as unaffected birds.
Pasty-butt: Stress can also be a cause of a loose stool. Pasty butt is not uncommon in the first couple of weeks due to the stress of shipping, but can happen anytime and be caused by any stressor. When the stool is runny, it may stick to the down feathers below the vent. If allowed to collect, it can seal the vent off, rendering the chick unable to poop. If untreated, the chick may become toxic and die. If you notice poop collecting, use a wet paper towel to clean the area. Only get wet what is necessary (remember, chills are bad too), and return to the warmth of the brooder as soon as possible.
Picking: Sometimes chicks will peck each other and is often the result of overcrowding, overheating or other stress. They may peck toes or other parts of their roommates. Once it starts, it is a difficult habit to break. It is possible to prevent with a red heat light. The red makes it more difficult for the chicks to pick out visual differences that may attract attention.