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How To Identify, Prevent, And Treat Illnesses In Chicks


Raising chicks into healthy, productive adult chickens can be both fun and rewarding. The process is mostly an easy one, but you should be aware of what can go wrong. If you know what problems can arise, you can prevent them or fix them. The best prevention of disease, illness, and parasites in your chicks is cleanliness and vaccinations. If you are hatching chicks from your own eggs, your hens should be clean, healthy, and vaccinated. If you are buying chicks, make sure the seller is reputable and takes all precautions when it comes to the health of the birds.

Pasty Butt

If you are ordering chicks from a poultry source rather than hatching your own chicks from a hen, you need to consider the stress of shipping. It can cause the chicks to develop what is descriptively called a pasty butt. This is when loose droppings adhere to the chick’s bottom. If you don’t remove this mess, the chick will die, so watch them closely for the first few days after the chicks arrive. To remove any plugs you see, moisten it with a wet, warm cloth and pick it off.

Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Farm Chicken…

Spraddle Leg

Another issue you may see with your new chicks is the spreading out of their legs, rendering them unable to stand. This is called spraddle leg and happens when a surface is too slick. If not corrected, the chick’s legs will remain too weak to hold it up and the chick will die. You can fix spraddle leg by keeping the chick on a rougher surface and by hobbling its legs. To hobble the chick, use some kind of soft material, like yarn to bring the legs together and hold them in place. Wrap the yarn around the chick’s legs above its feet so that the legs go straight down from the body. A band-aid can also work to keep the chick’s legs in place. Once the chick can stand and walk on its own, remove the hobbling material.

Curled Toes

If any of your chicks have toes that curl, they need to be corrected. Curled toes could be the result of genetics or a problem that arose during hatching. To fix the toes, you essentially need to create a splint to straighten them. If you do it within the chick’s first few days of life, you can correct the issue. A band-aid with the pad under the chick’s foot and the adhesive portions holding the toes flat to the pad can work. Another method is to use lengths of pipe cleaner that are match the length of the toes. Wrap tape around each toe to hold it against the straight length of pipe cleaner. This will keep the toes straightened out until the bones harden that way.

Newcastle Disease

This can occur in birds of any age, but it is particularly serious in your chicks. They can easily die from this viral infection of the respiratory system. Newcastle is very serious and is highly contagious. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, wheezing, cloudy eyes, twisted head or neck, and paralysis of wings or legs. Newcastle can be transmitted from wild birds, farm birds, and the virus can be carried from one place to another on shoes and clothes. The older the bird, the more likely it is to recover from this disease. To avoid Newcastle, have all your birds vaccinated against it.

Pullorum Disease

Pullorum is a bacterial infection that is fatal in young birds and can harm production in older birds.  Chicks with Pullorum will be inactive, have pasty butts, have difficulty breathing, and may have white diarrhea. Sometimes, however, chicks die from this infection without showing any symptoms at all. There is no vaccine and no treatment for this illness, and the only way to get rid of it, unfortunately, is to destroy the affected birds. Even birds that recover from the disease can pass it on to others. The best way to determine if a bird has Pullorum is to do a blood test. To prevent this disease in your flock, purchase new chicks very carefully and from a reputable source.

Marek’s Disease

Marek’s is a viral infection that mostly affects chicks and younger birds. It can come in a few different forms, affecting different parts of the body such as the nervous system, the viscera, the skin, and the eyes. As a result, there are a variety of symptoms that can indicate Marek’s disease. Some include internal and external tumors, gray eyes, a non-reaction to light, and paralysis. The virus is highly contagious, and birds get it from inhaling contaminated feather dust of infected chicks. There is no treatment for this disease, but there is a vaccine, so it is highly preventable. It can be given to day-old chicks.

Epidemic Tremors

Another viral disease, tremors is usually transmitted from infected parents to their chicks. Although it is not fatal, epidemic tremors can permanently affect a bird. It can cause a paralysis or a disability that makes it difficult to walk. A vaccine is commonly available to prevent tremors.

Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious bronchitis is another viral infection, and while it can affect chickens of all ages, chicks are especially susceptible to dying from it. Bronchitis is extremely contagious and affects the respiratory system of the birds causing sneezing, rattling, and coughing. Often, a whole flock will get it due to the highly contagious nature of the bronchitis, and it will last for one to two weeks. Mortality rates vary greatly, but the younger birds are more likely to die from the disease. Chicks should be vaccinated against bronchitis along with their Newcastle vaccine.

Chronic Respiratory Disease

A bacterial infection, CRD causes lethargy, weight loss, sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, and often death, especially in young birds. It is very contagious and usually makes its way through a flock, even being transmitted from hen to chick through the eggs. Antibiotic treatment is not always effective in eradicating the infection.

Infectious Coryza

Another bacterial illness, infectious coryza shows up in chicks and chickens as swollen combs, wattles, heads, and eyes. The infected birds may also be moist under their wings and have nasal discharge. It is infectious and can be transmitted through contaminated surfaces. Preventing its spread by practicing good cleaning habits is important. For birds that contract the infection, antibiotic treatment can be effective.

Fowl Pox

Fowl pox is a viral infection that spreads slowly and results in scabs and sores, white spots on the skin, ulcers in the mouth, and ulcers on the trachea. It can affect birds of all ages and slow the growth of young birds, but it is rarely fatal. To prevent pox, have your birds vaccinated against it. To treat it, give affected birds warmth, soft food, and time to recover. Once they are well, you need not worry about them carrying the disease.


An infecting parasite, coccidiosis causes diarrhea, sometimes with blood, weakness and lethargy, and loss of appetite. Cleanliness is the best way to prevent this parasite. Take special care to keep droppings out of food and water. You can also purchase feed with an ingredient that prevents coccidiosis.

External Parasites

Parasites that affect the feathers and skin of your chicks are external. These include mites and lice most commonly. The best way to prevent these infections is to keep the coop clean. Additionally, keep your birds isolated from wild birds and pests like rats and mice. You should also check your birds over regularly to look for signs of parasites. Look for anything out of the ordinary on your birds’ feathers, skin, and legs. Look under feathers for lice.

Internal Parasites

These are parasites that infect your birds on the inside, such as roundworms, tapeworms, and cecal worms. The latter is often not a problem, but the others can adversely affect your birds. As with lice and mites, keep your coop clean to avoid these infections. They are not easy to eradicate.

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