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Common Chick Problems To Watch For


As Spring slowly makes it way back, it is time to start thinking about the arrival of spring chicks! 

Today, I’d like to give you some information on treating some common chick ailments because, as they say, knowledge is power!

Here are a few non-infectious ailments that you might encounter whether you buy your chicks from a hatchery or hatch them yourself.

  1. Most common is probably Pasty Butt (also known as sticky bottom, pasty bottom or pasted vent), especially in mail-order chicks who might arrive with their vents already pasted shut.  Pasty butt happens when the droppings stick to the soft feathers around a chick’s vent and dry.  Eventually this can plug the vent and can become fatal quickly, as the chick will get backed up.  However, it isn’t difficult to treat as long as you keep an eye out for it and take quick action. 

What you will want to do is take a warm, soft washcloth or run warm water over the bottom of the chick to soften the dried fecal matter.  Carefully wipe the fecal matter off of the chick being careful not to pull on the feathers.  Pulling the dried matter off can cause serious harm to the chick.  If it seems to be a recurring problem, you can put Vaseline or an antibiotic ointment (not vegetable oil) on the area to help keep it from happening again.  Make sure that your chicks are getting adequate water right after hatching and that you keep the water source clean and fresh.

  1. Dehydration – This is a common problem for mail order chicks but it is possible to have your own hatchlings experience dehydration if they are not given water right away.  If your chicks arrive looking listless, immediately give water.  You may need to dip their beaks in the water to get them started and you may also want to add a vitamin and electrolyte solution to the water to help get them on the right track.
  2. Unhealed Navel – This can occasionally happen and there is no need for concern. Be careful that you don’t confuse this with Pasty Butt, you do not want to pick at any umbilical scabs.  Picking these off could cause a severe infection.  If it appears that other chicks are picking at the umbilical scabs, separate the chick and treat it with a bit of iodine to help dry up the area.
  3. Over or Under heated – One of the biggest problems with newly hatched chicks and if caught early will not cause lasting harm.

In an overheated brooder, the chicks will cluster to the edges of the brooder seeking out the cooler areas.  They may pant and eat less.  In contrast, an underheated brooder will cause the chicks to cluster near the heating source, piling on each other for warmth.

I suggest using a brooder heating plate as opposed to a dangerous heat lamp, also make sure that the brooder is large enough for the chicks to have the room to regulate their temperatures as needed.

  1. Splayed leg – also known as spraddle leg is another concern. In a recent hatch I had two chicks who hatched with this problem.  Most of the time splayed leg is caused by the floor of the brooder being too slippery and the chick’s legs slip out from under them in opposite directions.  This damages the tendons and could be permanent if not treated.  In my case, I was using a different incubator than I usually do and this could have been the issue… it was also a set of eggs that were mailed to me, so it could also have been something that happened in development or in the humidity and temperature of the trip/incubator.

Treatment will consist of splinting the legs into a normal position.  This can be done with a bandage, vet wrap, pipe cleaners or any other materials you may have, just make sure that it doesn’t cut into the skin of the chick’s legs and can easily be removed.  If the chick cannot stand at all with the splint, set it wider and adjust it in closer in small increments.  Timing will vary depending on the situation but you will need to keep them splinted until the muscles are strong enough to hold itself upright.  Make sure that the chick has access to food and water while splinted.

  1. Curled Toes – Chicks can be born with curled toes or they can develop shortly after hatching. There are a few factors that can lead to curled toes in your chicks.  These are: riboflavin deficiency, improper incubator temperature or injury.  Curled toes are easily corrected as long as you address it quickly. 

When a chick first hatches, their bones are still soft and will respond well to splinting.  You can use vet tape, sticky bandage, or medical tape to splint the toes in the correct placement by holding the toes straight and covering them on both sides.  Check often to make sure that the splints remain in place.

  1. Scissor beak – Also called Crossed beak. There is not a cure for scissor beak but you can help your chick eat by raising their food up higher and give them softer and smaller food.  One thing that you will want to keep an eye on with a scissor beak chicken is that they may get picked on more, you may need to separate them so that they get enough food.

I hope this helps calm some fears of new expectant chicken moms and dads!  Can’t wait to see your chicks!!!


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