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Common Chick Issues

Baby chick standing on a wooden bench

Getting baby chickens is very exciting! But there are things to be aware of before you bring them home. The best way to stop your fragile chicks from getting sick or dying is to know how to prevent it! Let’s go over some common issues you might come across when you bring home chicks this year.


Coccidiosis is a common intestinal tract infection that chicks get from an overload of coccidia (a single cell organism found around most animals). You can feed your chicks medicated chick feed for the first few weeks to give them a little leg up on the coccidia as they work to build strength. Some hatcheries vaccinate against it. If your chicks are vaccinated for coccidiosis, you should feed them normal chick feed, not medicated. No other vaccines play into this decision. I use Scratch and Peck’s organic chick crumble and it is not medicated. I just make sure to keep the brooder as clean as possible. I add a little sprinkle to the top of the bedding daily and a few times a week I will switch out the whole batch for new. The more chicks you have crowded into a brooder, the more likely they are to have an overload. Keep their food and water sources clean!

baby chicks in brooder common chick issuesSigns of coccidiosis include lethargy, watery poop or blood in droppings, not eating/drinking, & puffed-up chicks. The treatment for this is usually 2 tsp of a medication called Amprolium (common name Corid) added to a gallon of water and changed out daily for about 5 days. A repeat dose should be given in about 10 days for just 3 days or so. As always, consult a vet for exact dosage and treatment options but it can kill them quickly so please don’t wait.

Cats & Dogs

This one is self-explanatory! We must be careful with our other pets who may not be used to having chicks around. A secure brooder with a lid will help keep curious pets out. I like to keep my brooder up off the floor on my mudroom countertop or in a room where the door can be shut. I don’t have my chicks in the house after two weeks but for those two weeks I am very careful!

Food &Water

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to feeding and watering chicks. Chicks need access to fresh food and water all day and all night. Open waterers can be dangerous for chicks who are brand new if they are deep enough for them to drown. If you use an open waterer, consider placing marbles in the bottom so they can’t get inside the water. Dehydration can kill chicks so be sure the water is always full.

IMG 0027Chicks need chick starter until they are 8 weeks old. Keep in mind, chicken feed is one of the most well studied animal feeds. Making your own mix for chicks is a good way to stunt their growth or cause unnecessary problems.


Chicks need to be warm, but not too warm! Many people have used heat lamps for years, including me. I started using heat lamps in 2006 when nothing else was available. Today we have safer heating options that aren’t known for catching fire or making the chicks overheat. We use a brooder plate. I do keep them in the house for 2 weeks if the garage temps are below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chicks under brooder plate for common chick issuesThe brooder plate acts more like a mother hen and lets them get warm when they need it and come out when they don’t. If you are using a heat lamp, make sure the chicks have a place in the brooder to get out of the heat. If your chicks are too cold or are in a drafty area, they can have just as much trouble surviving. Watch for chicks who are open mouth breathing and spread out around the brooder meaning they may be too hot. If they are huddled together and chirping really loudly, they may be too cold.


Birds of all types have a sensitive respiratory system. Toxins and fumes and the air are silent killers. If your chicks are in the house, watch out for plug ins, air fresheners, cleaning sprays, candles, nonstick pans, paint, smoke (cigarettes included), new carpet fumes, and other common fumes. If your chicks are in the garage or barn add gasoline, paint, and fertilizer to the watch list!

Rough Handling

Chicks are especially fragile during those first few weeks. Rough handling can hurt them or even just stress them out. If young children are holding chicks, it works best if you hand the chicks to them while they are sitting on the ground. Chicks can move quickly and jumping from high up isn’t safe. It is best not to scare the chicks. Crazy, quick movements can really startle them so teach your children to act calmly around the brooder.

Pecking Order

Even as young hatchlings, chicks will establish pecking order. This means, if you have a weak chick, she will likely be pecked at by the other fluffballs. It is best to separate her if she is unable to withstand the abuse. Any chick with a visible injury should also be separated. When chickens see blood or even red exposed skin, they will peck and peck and not stop. When picking out your chicks, try to get the ones who are moving about and are active. Lethargic chicks will be harder to care for.

Pasty Butt

pasty butt common chick issuesI go over all the ins and outs about pasty butt in this video. Be sure to check your chicks rear ends daily for dried poop. If droppings have dried to their bottoms it can cause a blockage. Usually just a bit of picking will get it off but it if has gone on for a few days, the poop dries on pretty good so I run their butts under warm water and work at it until it comes off. Dry the chick well and put her back with her buddies. It is a good idea to add some probiotics to their water and watch out for it to come back. Check out the video for more info!

Failure to Thrive/Illness/Disease

Here is the thing about chicks…There are so many different variables in hatching eggs that can cause there to be issues with the chicks. Sometimes, they just don’t develop right and aren’t compatible with life. Sometimes, they just don’t make it. Failure to thrive can also be caused by improper nutrition, incorrect heat, bacterial infections, pecking order preventing them from eating, and other things. When I have a chick who appears unwell, I like to separate them (it’s a great idea to have a separate back up brooder for this reason), provide them with electrolytes and vitamins, give them raw egg yolk, and keep them warm!

There are many illnesses that can plague your chicks. If you aren’t sure what is going on with your chick, it might be time to reach out to a veterinarian.

Other Resources:

Chicken Keeping Pure and Simple by ME!

Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow

Poultry DVM for all your wellness concerns

nikki bio photo scaledNikki Husted is the author of Chicken Keeping Pure and Simple and runs the social media channels @purelychickens on instagram, tiktok, youtube and facebook.  After deciding to stay home with her kids and quit her teaching career, she found that teaching people about chickens was just as fulfilling.  Her main goal is to share her love for animals and make chicken keeping easy for others. 

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