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What To Look For When Choosing A Healthy Chick

What To Look For When Choosing A Healthy Chick

Ahhh Spring!  What chicken lover doesn’t get starry eyed when going to their favorite feed store to see if the baby chicks have arrived?

Recently my husband went to the feed store solo and had to Facetime me when he got back to the chick area saying “Guess what?  They’re here!” 😊

So just what do you look for when picking out your chicks?  I’ve learned so much since buying my first group of chicks at a swap meet – but THAT experience is for another day and post!

So just how do you pick out a healthy chick?  There are a few things to look for and questions to ask.

  1. Are they active and alert? Happy, healthy chicks should be busy in the brooder – busy exploring, eating, pooping and drinking.  Pick the most active chicks in the brooder, one that is difficult to catch.  Notice that healthy, warm chicks won’t huddle together.  That is a sign of being cold, injured, lost or hungry.  They will also not be chirping loudly and constantly.  A happy, healthy chick will quietly talk to the others.  If they are being persistent and loud, there is something wrong.
  2. Observe their legs and feet. You will want to check that the chicks have a normal posture with their heads directly above their feet.  While standing, the chick’s legs are straight under them and the toes are straight and not curled or crooked.  They need to stand and walk sturdy.
  3. Check their eyes – you want open, bright and alert eyes. Sick chicks can often appear to be staring off into the distance.  They might not react to your approach and their eyes may be partially open or even crusted closed.  These are all signs of an unhealthy chick.
  4. Also, check their beaks. If they are laying around with a partially opened beak, this is a sign of distress.  Make sure that their beaks are pointed forward and that they are not pointed up towards the sky or bending sideways/backwards.  These conditions are referred to as Stargazing Syndrome or wry neck.  Stargazing Syndrome is a nervous system disorder that prevents the chick from eating or drinking correctly.
  5. Check the navel area. While some stores will not allow their chicks to be handled, you will need to ask the employee helping you to see these two areas by parting the feathers in the area to check for any issues.  The navel, or belly button, is located just beneath the vent.  There may be a small amount of discharge from hatching and this should not be removed but allowed to dry and fall off.  However, there should not be any yolk left after hatching.  When a chick hatches the yolk is consumed by the chick for nourishment.  If there is any yolk on the outside of the navel or if the navel has not closed completely this can be a life-threatening situation.  You do not want it to look red, oozing, or have anything stringy attached to it. 
  6. Check the vent area. When checking the vent area (this is where the chick poops and will later lay eggs) it will need to be clean.  It is important to watch for droppings sticking to the feathers around the vent area.  If this happens and isn’t cleaned the poop can build up to form a blockage that can be fatal unless removed.  This condition is called Pasty Butt and is common in commercially sold chicks.  Pasty Butt is not necessarily a sign of a sick chick but it is something to watch for and treat.  Overcrowding and getting too hot in the brooder can lead to Pasty Butt.  To treat, use a cotton swab with warm water, vegetable oil or olive oil and swab the area to loosen the stool.  Once loosened you can take a warm washcloth and wipe away the poop.
    1. The final bit of information that you need from the seller is if the chick has been vaccinated and if so, what vaccines they received. There are several different common vaccines given especially at hatcheries and the store or hatchery will be able to tell you this information.  Of special note:  if the chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis which is a common, often fatal, intestinal disease you will negate the vaccine by giving the chick medicated starter feed.


    Recently on a Facebook group that I’m in, I saw a posting from a woman saying that her husband told her that she could only get 4 new chicks on her trip to the feed store, so she brought home 8!  Sounds like something I would do!  Hope this helps you find the perfect 8 to add to your coop this spring!