Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Feed Store Chick Buying Guide Part 2: Choosing healthy babies

Some people requested that I do a part two of my Feed Store Chick Buying Guide to help people notice signs of illness and defects when picking out their chicks at a feed store. I agree that it is very important for prospective chicken owners to know what a healthy, or unhealthy, chick looks like!

*Warning. There are images in this article of chicks with deformities and injuries. Reader discretion is advised. 

What a healthy chick looks like

A healthy chick reacts to stimuli, such as sudden sounds or movements. He may be sleeping under the lamp, but will wake up and move when a hand comes near him. His legs and toes are straight, strong, and flexible. When he is awake, he is alert and bright-eyed. A healthy chick is playful and hops around the bin, before he tires himself out for another nap. He doesn't peep excessively, but chatters with his hatchmates as he eats. Feed stores that do not allow customers to handle the chicks are likely to have healthier, disease-free chicks, and the chicks are less likely to be injured. 
Red Sexlink Chick from Tractor Supply Co., Blossom
Choco, Golden Sebright Chick from Tractor Supply Co. See her stance, upright with strong, straight legs. Eyes are clear and alert. Wings are held high,

These chicks at Rural King Supply appear very healthy!
We came home with six of them!

What an unhealthy chick looks like

There are many different ailments that affect fragile young chicks, and they appear with different symptoms. Some chicks are sick or injured, while some are simply too weak to survive. Don't pick out a chick that is slow to react, will not move from the heat lamp, or is having trouble standing. I have noticed when a chick is injured or ill, it lets out long, loud peeps constantly. If a chick is going "peepeep. peep. peepeepeep peep. p-p-ppeep" that's good, but if it's going "peeeeep! peeeeeep! peeeeeep! peeeeep! peeeeep! peeeeeeeep!", I've found that to be a sign that something is wrong. An ill or weak chick may be sitting on it's hocks, periodically trying to stand but is wobbly and may fall over. Ill, injured, or dying chicks may also be getting trampled by their hatchmates because they are too weak to move or push them off. Sometimes it pulls at our heartstrings because it seems the others are "just being mean" but this is a sign that the chick is extremely weak and will not live. An unhealthy chick may have pasty butt. Pasty butt is caused when poo gets stuck to the feathers of a chick. It may simply be due to the food that is given to the chicks, and it may suggest illness or stress that is causing diarrhea. Either way, pasty butt must be taken care of and gently wash off, or it can kill the chick!

An injured, sick bantam chick from Tractor Supply Co. He had a peck wound on his beak. Notice how his stance is leaned forward, how he is having trouble supporting himself, his wings are droopy and how his eyes are slightly bugged out. He peeped very loudly, nonstop, likely because he was in pain.

Sometimes chicks may obtain a pecking injury or a broken bone from shipping. Because most feed stores won't let us handle the chicks before they put them in the box for us, it is important to inspect them before you leave the store. Check the legs, under the wings, and around the eyes. If you have an injured chick, tell the staff and they will swap it out for another. Most feed stores will not allow you to return or exchange a chick after you leave the store. 

Don't buy a chick that is excessively sneezing or wheezing. Better yet, don't buy from a store selling sneezing or wheezing chicks! One or two sneezes isn't a huge deal, because chick feed and bedding can be quite dusty and that can cause sneezing. However, if they are doing it constantly, or it is paired with excessively sick and weak-looking chicks, go to a different store (after changing clothes and washing up). The chicks may have come into contact with communicable diseases, such as Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), Coryza, or Infectious Bronchitis. 

Hatcheries usually sort out chicks with defects before sending them to feed stores, but sometimes they slip through. Common defects that are not usually fatal, but will need some special care include curled toes, splayed leg, extra toes (or extra-extra toes!) and crossbeak or even extra limbs! Splayed leg occurs when a chick hatches and is forced to walk on a slippery surface, or simply can't manage to get a grip. Chicks with this defect may have to be placed in a sling, and will need hobbles to correct their legs. Chicks with curled toes will need corrective boots made of bandaids to straighten their toes. A chick with crossbeak may need assistance eating or drinking for the rest of it's life. 
 Potentially fatal defects include wry neck, unabsorbed yolk or intestine, and skeletal or brain deformities. It is best not to buy a chick with one of these deformities, especially if you've never raised chicks before. 

Boots, on the right, wearing correcting boots for curled toes. She is a normal chicken with straight toes now! Both of these Silkies had 6 toes on each foot! From Tractor Supply Co. 

This chick has an external intestine. It hatched with an unabsorbed yolk, which busted. We attempted to clamp it off to stop the bleeding, but we ended up having to cull the chick due to the intestine. I hatched this chick myself. I have never seen this particular defect in feed store chicks!

What does the staff know about the origin of the birds?

Usually, feed stores get chicks from large hatcheries, and you can obtain that information from the pamphlets that they provide. However, some small, non-chain feed stores may get chicks from local farmers. You should be able to find someone in the store that knows where they got them from. If not, don't buy the chicks. Without knowing where the chicks came from, you may be bringing disease in to the birds you already own and there is no way to contact the original breeder that his flock may be infected. 

I hope this makes selecting chicks a little easier and saves you some heartache! I've had my fair share of accidental unhealthy chick buys with sad endings, so this is mainly from my own experience, though some is thanks to the kind users on backyardchickens.com. If you don't have an account on BYC yet, what are you waiting for? Go sign up! Remember to like our Facebook Page  for blog updates and our Instagram for regular pictures of our farm family! Happy chick days!