Troubleshooting – When Your Chicks Are Dying and You Don’t Know What To Do!

You got your chicks and you think you have everything all figured out.. yet you keep losing a couple every day. What’s going on?! Keep calm and let’s double check several things that may be wrong.

There are 3 main things that chicks need: Heat, water, & feed. Let’s explore each basic need in detail:

  • Heat. The heat in the brooder should be precisely between 90-95 degrees. Not hotter and not colder. It doesn’t work to just put your hand in the brooder and say, “Yea, it’s hot.” Put aHow to tell if your chicks are too hot or too cold thermometer in the bottom of the brooder and keep tabs on it.
    • Is your brooder too hot or too cold? At 100 degrees your chicks will start dying (maybe even before that). Chicks that are too warm will get diarrhea and will eventually lose the lining of their intestines. At that point they will have trouble absorbing food and will get probably die. The best thing you can do for them is to give them a powder probiotic. This will help restore good bacteria in their intestine that will aid digestion. At around 85 degrees your chicks will start getting lethargic and will eventually die. Temperature is very important to young chicks and you must have the proper temperature for them to thrive. The temperature in the brooder should be very even and consistent. A good rule of thumb is to have your heat lamp about 18″ from the top of the bedding. Heat bulbs come in different sizes and strengths and so you need to see where the sweet spot is for your heat lamp. Put in a thermometer and let it reach an accurate measurement. If the temperature is above 95 degrees, raise the heat lamp a couple inches and wait until the thermometer registers a new reading. If it still is too hot, raise it again. If the brooder is 90 degrees or below, drop your heat lamp down closer to the bedding or get a bigger – or second – heat lamp. The temperature absolutely must be a consistent 90-95 degrees. That means not 88 degrees and not 98 degrees but 90-95 degrees. (TIP: It is a very good idea to have your brooder heated up and at the proper temperature before your chicks show up at your post office). Remember, as your chicks grow, you should lower the temperatures. Start the first week out at 90-95 degrees and drop the temperature by 5 degrees every week after.
    • Is your brooder protected from drafts? Your brooder must not be drafty. It should have walls that are at least a foot high to prevent drafts from blowing across your chicks. The temperature in the brooder should be very even and consistent. If your temperature is fluctuating between 85 and 100 degrees, you can’t just assume it averages out. It needs to be consistently warm. Even if the radiant heat under a heat lamp reaches 95 degrees, the air temperature of a cold draft will lower the chick’s body temperature. It’s OK if the corners of the brooder are slightly cooler than the center. The entire brooder area doesn’t have to be exactly the same temperature but there should be a sizable area that is in the recommended temperature range. The chicks will naturally hang out in the area that is the temperature of their liking.
    • Are you letting your chicks spend too much time outside the brooder? You can get your chicks out and play with them but be sure to limit there time outside their brooder since they will get cold. I know it’s tempting when it’s sunny and warm to let your chicks run around outside but remember that they need to stay warm. You can take them outside for a jaunt in the yard (and exposure to the outdoors is good for them) but don’t let them wander too long. It’s easy to lose one or two and chicks need to stay warm so be sure that you limit their time outside of the brooder. In nature, they would have their mother to run back to when they get cold. Without their mother, they have you so don’t let them get cold! There are signs to look for when trying to tell if your chicks are cold or hot. Hot: The chicks will be panting. If they are in a brooder, they will be in the corners, as far away from the heat source as possible. Cold: If they are cold, they will huddled together probably right underneath the heat lamp. Perfect: Running around, sleeping all over the brooder, pecking at things. These are just guidelines. Make sure the temperature is within the recommended range.
  • Water. Water is a must and should be available to your chicks around the clock. You can put marbles in the water dish so the water isn’t deep enough for the chicks to drown in.
    • Are your chicks dehydrated from their journey? Add Sav-A-Chick electrolytes (available at Tractor Supply and all over the internet) to your chicks’ water supply since this helps chicks get over any stress or dehydration they may have encountered during shipping. A new batch of electrolyte water should be mixed daily. You can also dissolve a pinch of sugar into their water for quick energy.
    • Are you giving your chicks cold water? Do not give the chicks cold water since they are sensitive to cold. The water should be lukewarm and fresh, not stagnant.Stagnant water from ponds, puddles, or feeding troughs can be full of disease that your adult poultry may be immune to. Your chicks’ immune system is still developing however, so fresh water is a must.
    • Is your chicks’ water too hot? Do not put the water right underneath the heat lamp since chickens do not like and will not drink hot water.
  • Feed. It is important to have the right feed for your chicks. Any commercially prepared chick starter should have all the nutrients a chick needs included in it. You really don’t have to feed your chicks anything else, although you can if you wish (here’s some fun things to feed chicks). Chicks need grit to grind up and digest their food but commercially prepared starter feed should have grit included in it so there is no need to give them more. Do not try to mix your own feed unless you know what you are doing. There are two main types of feed:
    • Non-medicated and Medicated. Medicated chick starter feed contains medications to treat coccidiosis (what is coccidiosis?). If you got your chicks vaccinated for coccidiosis, do not feed them medicated feed since the feed and vaccination will counteract each other and become useless. If you got your chicks by mail order, then you probably did not get them vaccinated for coccidiosis since the coccidiosis vaccine takes a toll on chicks and usually results in fatalities when additional stress is placed on the chicks during shipping. If you got your chicks vaccinated for Mareks disease then you can feed your chicks medicated feed, there shouldn’t be a problem. Many people simply choose to always use medicated feed as sort of an insurance policy since it has no contrary side effects and prevents one of the most deadly and common diseases, coccidiosis. Some people want to raise their chicks naturally and so they avoid the medicated feed and vaccinations. It is up to you. There are situations, however, when you may have to use medicated feed. More details later.
    • Are your chicks able to all eat at the same time? Make sure there is enough feeder space for your chicks to all eat at the same time. The weak chicks may get pushed back if there is competition for feeder space and will die from starvation.
    • Is your feed fresh? Many vitamins and nutrients have a shelf life. If you have an opened bag of feed that has been sitting in the shed for several months, get a new bag. Store your feed in a metal trash container if you have problems with mice getting into it.
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Ask yourself those questions and go over that checklist. Remember, use a thermometer! Be precise. If it’s all OK, then let’s continue to look at more possibilities.

  • What kind of bedding are you using? This typically isn’t that important of a question but if you have chicks dying then we need to look at all the possibilities. Cedar shavings are known to be toxic to poultry but I have had people use it without problems. I wouldn’t recommend it however, just to be safe. It’s thought to be toxic to juvenile poultry. Some people use sand and have success with it. However, sand can get impacted in the chicks’ crops since they pick it as they peck at the bedding in the brooder. If you are using sand, get coarse, raw sand that doesn’t have silicates in it. We recommend large chunk pine shavings – it’s classic, cheap, and easily available. Don’t use smooth newspaper since it’s too smooth and can cause spraddled legs. Chicks leg muscles aren’t fully developed and if they are on a slippery surface they will do splits. Shredded newspaper is OK. Non-slip rubber drawer liner will work as well.
  • Did you clean out & disinfect your coop? (Here’s more on why you should keep a clean coop) This is an important step to raising chicks. If you didn’t clean and disinfect your coop, it may well have disease in it from your previous flock of chickens. If it’s a new coop then it’s not so critical. If you have chickens in it before then it should be cleaned and disinfected. This is because your chicks do not have developed immune systems. “But my last flock of chickens were healthy, I don’t need to clean the coop out,” you say. As chickens grow they develop immunity to diseases exposed to them in small amounts over time. There is disease in every chicken coop but your chickens have developed immunity to it. Your chicks will not be immune to those diseases and will contract them and die quickly. If you didn’t clean out your coop, you should strongly consider using medicated feed, especially if you are losing chicks and are not currently using it.
  • Are your chicks getting poop stuck on their butts? It’s a condition known as “Pasty Butt” and can be fatal if untreated. It’s often a side effect of traveling stress. Click here to read how to treat it.
  • Is your chick’s poop bloody? Then it’s likely a disease known as coccidiosis. Start using medicated feed immediately. Of course, this isn’t always a correct diagnosis. Many conditions can have similar symptoms. Already using medicated feed? Then try administering a little bit of Apple Cider Vinegar (not distilled) and garlic in their water supply. Also try a some probiotic since coccidiosis is an intestinal disease.
  • Are you feeding your chicks a lot of junk food? Stick to feeding your chicks their commercially prepared feed, it has everything you need. It’s OK to give them outside bugs and crushed egg yolks to eat, but their chick feed has the grit and nutrients they need. If their stomachs are full from eating other treats, then they will not eat their feed. This means they won’t get the nutrients, vitamins, and grit in their feed.
  • Do your chicks have diarrhea? Check your temperature. Chicks that are too hot can have this condition. Feed your chicks probiotics to replace the good bacteria that they are likely losing. Feed them a good quality chick starter. You can also hard boil some eggs, crumble up the yolks, and give the yolks to the chicks. Chicks absorb yolks very easily since they yolks are what the chicks live on during the first few days after they have hatched.
  • Are you giving your baby poultry electrolytes? It is possible to give your chicks an overdose on electrolytes causing them to die. The electrolyte mix has some salt in it. If you give your chicks to much electrolytes, they will suffer seizures and will die from salt poisoning. We recommend using Sav-A-Chick electrolytes that you can buy at Tractor Supply or Amazon or probably your local farm store. It’s very easy to administer the right dosage by following the instructions on the pack.
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I will add to this list as I think of different possible scenarios.

Hope that helps!


BTW, we sell and ship baby chickens nationwide by mail order!

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