My chicks are weak, cold, and lethargic. What now?
Chicks are actually tough little things and can usually withstand the rigors of mail travel without any major issues in their first couple days after hatching. But if a postal delivery is delayed because of extreme weather or if temperatures drop lower than predicted during the shipping period, your chicks may arrive tired, chilled, and weakened. There are some things you can do to help them out.
Warm them up: Warmth is number one – immediately put them into the warm brooder under a heat lamp. If you know there has been a shipping delay, get the brooder set up and heated up beforehand so all is ready and you can get the chicks immediately into the warmth without wasting any time.
While the temperature under the lamp should be 95 degrees F, it is okay to increase this temperature up to 103 degrees for the first few hours for cold chicks. After 2-3 hours, reduce the temperature to the 95 degrees. The chicks should gather into a little group cuddled together under the lamp. Keep an eye on them as you may have to place the chicks directly under the light, depending on how weak they may be.
Be observant and adjust brooder temperature as needed. Remember, the chicks will tell you if they are too hot or too cold, but you have to be observant. If the chicks huddle together under the lamp and do not seem inclined to peck about, they are probably too cold. You may need a second light or you may have to raise the general room temperature. If the chicks are gathered as far out of the heat from the light as possible, then the light is probably too hot. Keep a close eye on the chicks while they are in the brooder. Their temperature requirements will change weekly. Chicks will often also make a loud peeping noise when they are uncomfortable.
Hydration: As your chicks start to get warmed up in the first hour or so make sure each chick gets a drink of water. If one is too weak or not interested, gently pick her up and carefully dip the tip of the beak into the water. This usually will get a chick interested in drinking. You know the chick has actually swallowed the water when she tilts her head back on her own. Warm water is best at this critical stage.
Sweet energy boost: You can also add some honey or sugar to their water for encouragement and for a little energy boost. I usually heat enough water to fill the mason jar I use with my chick waterers. It is a quart size. I add 1 teaspoon of honey or sugar to the warm water so it dissolves, then pour it into the jar for the chicks. The sweet taste is attractive to the chicks, and honey has a lot of great healthy benefits too. Only do this for 8 hours, then use plain water.
Electrolyte Boost: Electrolytes are another way to give stressed chicks a little boost on the second day after you receive them. There are many products available for chicks. Just follow the label instructions. You can also give them a mineral boost using a tea made with Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) herb. I just add about 1 tablespoon of dried nettle to warm water, let it seep as you would normally for tea, and then add it to the chicks’ waterer.
Egg Yolk: Adding some hard-boiled or scrambled eggs to their regular chick starter feed can also help give your chicks an extra boost of protein, nutrients, and healthy fats.
Regularly examine chicks for “Pasty Butt.” One thing to watch for in chicks, and especially in chicks that have been stressed, is “Pasty Butt.” Chicks may sometimes produce loose stool, which gets caught on their fluffy feathers and builds up so it blocks the vent. This can happen very quickly and it can be deadly. Check your chicks at least once a day by picking them up. If you see poop starting to build up on their behinds, clean if off as soon as possible. (It is also much easier and faster to clean the earlier you catch it.) Clean the chick by wetting a tissue in warm water, and hold it over the area for a couple seconds to a minute or so depending on how much stool needs to be soaked off. Gently pull and rewet and pull again until the feathers are clean. Try to keep the chicks as dry as possible during this process. I try to hold a dry tissue around the chick to soak up some of the water dripping, but the chick will still end up wet. It is very important that after you are done with the cleaning of the pasty butt, you dry the chick off as thoroughly as possible and get the chick back under the heat light.
A second brooder: If only one or just a couple are weak and the rest are jostling the weaker ones too much, consider setting up another brooder just for the weaker ones so they don’t get stepped on and overly harassed.
It is always upsetting and sad when your chicks aren’t thriving and active. The above tips work very well in most situations. Hopefully this will be helpful to you, and your chicks will recover and be happy, healthy, and active in a short time.