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My chicks are dying :(

 
Galadriel Freden
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I need some help. I've had four chicks die on me in the last week.

There are currently six left. They are about one and a half to two weeks old and don't have feathers yet, and are a mixture of colors and breeds. They are in a brooder we made ourselves, which is averaging between 85-100F. All of them have been lively, eating, and drinking well, turn lethargic for a few hours, go to sleep, and die. A few have had blocked vents, but we have been very vigilant about chekcing and cleaning them. None of the dead ones died with their vents blocked, or had blockages during at least a 24 hour period before death.

The only thing they have to eat is chick crumb. They have fresh water. The brooder has newspaper underfoot.

I talked with the woman we bought them from, and she said the most likely cause was from a chill, as she has not had any deaths from the rest of that batch. However, we have also been very vigiliant about taking temperatures in the brooder, and the chicks are not clustered together under the light, but moving fairly freely and sleeping separately: close to but not under the light.

The only symptom we have seen, and we have been watching them closely since the first death, is sudden lethargy. The last chick who died this evening was white and seemed to have a black undertone to the skin around her face, too. The other dead chicks were dark colored so I don't know if this is also a symptom.

Any help is appreciated.
 
Kristin Kolakowski
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When we brood chicks, we always put about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in their water to help support their immune systems. I recently had chicks with pasty bottoms for the first time, and after doing some research I found the cause is often them being chilled. Are they staying bedded enough, dry and clean and fluffy? Did their source of heat accidently get taken away for a little while, i.e. maybe a child unplug it or power out? Maybe they were chilled in the transfer to your place? Don't know what else to tell you, hope something here helps
 
Galadriel Freden
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Thanks Kristin; I don't think they could have been chilled in the last week or so, but I don't know for certain. I'm pretty sure their light has been on constantly. I understand how they can get cold and die, but not how they can get chilled, warmed, and then die a few days later. The first one died the first night, then the next two died about four days later. Then we had one die last night, about 10 days after we got them.

It really is distressing; I feel so helpless. Obviously something has been/is now wrong, but I don't know what it is, let alone what to do.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Have you tried to give them different feed? My chicks have never been healthier since I stopped using any kind of commercial prepared chick feed. I feed mine mixed bird seed from the grocery store and buckets of good soil from the vegetable garden, which contains worms and other critters. They start getting buckets of dirt at about three days of age. After about a week I start giving them bits of leafy greens.

I agree it's possible getting chilled has debilitated them. If no part of the brooder is warmer than 85, that is not quite warm enough for very young chicks, who need 95F in the warmer parts of the brooder during the first week.

Chart for chick temps: http://www.nutrenaworld.com/knowledge-center/poultry/heat-lamps-for-chicks/index.jsp
 
Galadriel Freden
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Have you tried to give them different feed? My chicks have never been healthier since I stopped using any kind of commercial prepared chick feed. I feed mine mixed bird seed from the grocery store and buckets of good soil from the vegetable garden, which contains worms and other critters. They start getting buckets of dirt at about three days of age. After about a week I start giving them bits of leafy greens.

I agree it's possible getting chilled has debilitated them. If no part of the brooder is warmer than 85, that is not quite warm enough for very young chicks, who need 95F in the warmer parts of the brooder during the first week.

Chart for chick temps: http://www.nutrenaworld.com/knowledge-center/poultry/heat-lamps-for-chicks/index.jsp


Thanks Tyler. After the first chick died overnight, we observed that the remaining ones were clustered under the light all the time, so we adjusted the insulation on the brooder to raise the temperature. Since doing so, they have been moving about and not huddled together any more. When I check the temperature, it is generally 90-100 at the edge of the light, and 85 in the corner where the water is.

I had wondered about the feed. I also asked at the feed store and the man there said that chick feed comes with medication in it, so he doubts it is an infection (though of course it's possible). I know when we switched to the premium non gmo feed our adult hens stopped laying soft eggs. I will look into bird seed for them.

We raised 10 chicks last spring in the exact same set up and the exact same feed and had no problems whatsoever. The only real difference was they were about 10 days old when we got them, as opposed to 3ish days old for this lot.

I thought of something else I had noticed: the last chick to die--the white one with the black undertone in her face--seemed smaller than our remaining white chick. I know the still living one was once the smallest chick, but she has grown bigger than the now dead one. We have definitely seen them all eating and squabbling over food, but now that I reflect on it, that little white one was probably not growing.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Another source for feed for a small number of chicks is organic grits and other cereals from the grocery store. If you have a grinder, you can also grind oats and sunflower seeds, which aren't GMO (yet) to make chick feed. I personally feel that grains should only be part of a chicken's diet, not most or all of it, so making small amounts of special grain feeds is more plausible.

 
Miranda Converse
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I'm sorry to hear about your chicks
It could be any number of causes but here is what I would do in that situation;
I would buy a new bag of food, immediately. Even if you don't switch the type of food, moldy/soiled food can take a bird out very quickly (botulism). Also, buy the food from a different place too. We once bought a brand new bag of feed from one place and it chock full of flour bugs. We didn't even have to open it, we could hear them scratching, there were more bugs than food. Anyway, my point is, the feed stores don't always have the freshest food.

As already stated, add apple cider vinegar to the water. I do this any time I even suspect illness. I would also get some Sav-a-Chick vitamins. Neither of these will cure anything but it will help with their immune systems.

Clean and sanitize the entire brooder along with any feeding bowls. I'm not a big fan of 'sanitization' generally, I think a bit of dirt is good, but once something is present that is causing quick deaths, a good cleaning might help. You might even consider adding some dirt from outside, lots of people would disagree with this but I think it helps their immune systems.

I think heat can be just as detrimental as chill, so be sure they have access to a fairly cooler place too. I suspect that dehydration from overheating plays a part in pasty butt. At two weeks old, they don't need 100 degree heat anymore. I actually had two mother hens this winter basically abandon their three week old chicks, when it was in the 40s-60s. Not saying you should toss them outside in a week, but they can withstand a bit more cold than we give them credit for.

Hope this helps!





 
Galadriel Freden
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Thanks, Miranda. I don't think the feed store sells chick feed that often, so it could be an old bag. Tyler's suggestion of mixed bird seed should be easier for me to get tonight; the only other local source of chicken food is a pet shop and I know they only carry the same brand as the feed store. I will also try digging up a dandelion from the garden, to get them a taste of dirt and/or greens.

I don't have ACV, or a ready source for it. I made some at the same time I made apple cider, but it was only a small batch and is long gone. Would a drop of apple cider (the alcoholic kind) work in a pinch? Alternatively, I have some home-fermented saurkraut in the fridge; what about a drop of that brine in their drink?
 
John Polk
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...temperatures in the brooder, and the chicks are not clustered together under the light, but moving fairly freely and sleeping separately: close to but not under the light...

This tells me that it is too warm under the lights - they are avoiding it.
They could be getting chilled because they are avoiding too much heat.
 
Miranda Converse
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Do you have feed for your adult chickens? Not something I would feed chicks long term, but it won't hurt them and will get you through until you can get a replacement.

I would stay away from the Apple Cider, I don't think that would have the same beneficial properties as the vinegar since it's different microbes that creates alcohol. The microbes are a big part of what makes the vinegar beneficial. The sauerkraut might be actually be ok for them, although I've never used it and don't know much about it so maybe do some research on it. Homemade yogurt/kefir would also be good for them.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, excess heat is just as bad as cold, it can stress them so much they become cannibalistic. This happened to me one year when I was late by one day getting my chicken house ready to move birds into it - the juvenile chickens in the chick hut got too hot when that one day hit 100F, and they became cannibalistic, a problem I could not stop in the flock.

I think I've made just about every fatal mistake a chicken raiser can make.
 
Galadriel Freden
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Thank you so much for your generous replies. Here is what I have done today:

Vigilantly checking temperatures (every 1-2 hours during the day) reveals that the temperature has been between 89-97. 89 was when I had the door open to change food and drink. The temp rose back up to mid 90s once I closed it up again. I will continue to check frequently, and to keep the door closed as much as possible.

I threw out the chick crumb in their feeder, and replaced it with crushed growers feed, which is all I could get at short notice. I also watched them eating and noticed that the smaller ones have difficulty with the bigger pieces of crumb, and all of them favor the small broken pieces and crushed meal. Additionally I fed them all from my hand and had a good look and feel of them. One of the smallest ones has a very prominent breastbone, as though she's too thin. This makes me suspect she's not eating enough food, whether because of the quality or the size of the pieces. She was able to eat the crushed feed much easier, but she's not as strong and pushy as some of the others, which may also be a factor.

I also dug out a little patch of chickweed from the garden, with about an inch of soil attached and placed it near their feeder.
 
Tyler Ludens
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If you have a food processor or blender, you can grind some of the food to smaller pieces.

As mentioned before, make sure the chicks have a cooler place to get to in case they're getting too hot. Also make sure they aren't panting.

 
chad duncan
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You might also want to consider trading the heat lamp for a 'mama heating pad'.
Here is a link to describe the 'mama heating pad'
http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1088644/mama-heating-pad

Cheaper and safer than a heat lamp and this makes the overall brooder temp less critical as the chicks just run under the pad when they get cold instead of relying on the ambient air temp.
 
Galadriel Freden
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Tyler Ludens wrote:If you have a food processor or blender, you can grind some of the food to smaller pieces.

As mentioned before, make sure the chicks have a cooler place to get to in case they're getting too hot. Also make sure they aren't panting.



I crushed the growers pellets with a rolling pin and a chopping board No panting. The smallest ones still sleep under the light but the bigger ones sleep just outside it. The temperature just outside the light was 94F ten minutes ago. The light is at one end of the rectangular brooder. The other end, with the water and feed, is cooler.

chad duncan wrote:You might also want to consider trading the heat lamp for a 'mama heating pad'.


Thanks Chad, that looks like a good idea.
 
Galadriel Freden
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A quick update: the remaining six are still alive, and the biggest ones are starting to feather up. The smaller ones are just now growing a few feathers on their wings and/or tails; they seem so much less developed than the big ones however, that I'm still anxious about their well-being. The smaller ones are bantam hybrids.

We bought a new bag of chick crumb, new brand; they have been eating pretty well, I think. When I check their brooder temperature I have a look at their crops, and they appear to be keeping full. They seemed to eat the crushed growers pellets just fine too. The new crumb is in much smaller pieces than the first brand, similar in size to the pellets I was crushing.

Still checking temperatures regularly, and it's remained about 94-97 just outside their light, with about 89 at the other end of the brooder. They are still moving freely and not bunched up when sleeping. No blocked vents since my last post, either.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm very glad they seem to be doing well now!

 
Galadriel Freden
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Another update: we have had another death, one of the bantams. She had been eating, drinking, and acting normally up until she died--I don't know what happened to her. I checked on the chicks a few hours before, then we found her dead, laying on her back near the light. She was still quite small and not growing feathers as quickly as some of the others. This slow feather growth is also apparent in the other two bantams. The large chicks seem to be growing and feathering out much faster than the bantams, which I thought was just a large vs small issue...? I don't know.

This new death was also a white chick like the last, and she also seemed to have black undertone in her face, though I observed this in her immediately after her white sibling died--so maybe this was not a symptom but just her coloring.

Temperatures in the brooder are around 90-94 just outside the light, and cooler at the other end--we are still checking regularly. The rest of their living conditions have also not changed.

I'm really concerned for the two remaining bantams. I know at least three of the five dead were bantams (the other two were very young at the time so I'm not sure if they were also bantams). I also know that the three big chicks are growing fast, and the bantams are not. Is this typical of bantams? Or do we need to change something to get them growing?

My husband thought, seeing as we found her laying on her back with her head at a funny angle, that maybe she was fatally injured. Is it possible that she could have had a freak accident involving a large chick? She had no marks on her, but the others who died all were lying down normally, and she really was in a strange position. The large chicks are quite a bit larger than the small ones, but I'm not sure they are big enough to accidently kill a small one.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm sorry you're still having fatalities!
 
Ian Rosewarne
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Hi Galadriel, sorry to hear about your chicks, there is a site in Australia, backyardpoultry.com.au, that has some very caring and clever folk.

Join up and hit the forum and they may be able to give you the help that you need.
 
Galadriel Freden
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I'm marking this thread as resolved, but we never really conclusively decided what killed our chicks, other than the first probably being chilled.

Since last month, the smallest bantam had a two week period of losing what few feathers she'd grown, and had a constantly engorged crop. We really had no clue what was wrong or what to do. Her crop felt like a balloon, as though filled with air, and it was really swollen, making it hard for her to walk. We gave her daily crop massages (which she hated), and wet mash made with brine from lacto-fermented garlic (which she loved). Remarkably, she recovered. She's nearly fully feathered now, and her crop is mostly back to normal--but I don't know if our treatment helped at all or if she simply got better on her own. She's now bigger than the other remaining bantam chick, but unlike the rest, is pretty timid and hates being picked up. Understandable, considering what we put her through! I'm still keeping a close eye on her though, and give them all a dose of the garlicky mash once or twice a week, to be on the safe side.

 
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