Grit Blogs > Lessons Learned From the Flock

Chicks Are Not Puppies

It’s chick season around here and that means that people will flock (pun intended) to the local feed stores in order to bring home their newest backyard poultry members.  

Baby chicks 

In a recent chicken workshop, I warned my students that chicks are not like puppies, you don’t want the calm one who is taking a nap when you inspect the litter. Quite the opposite, when you pick out chicks, you want the ones who are most lively and active. Those are the ones who will have the greatest chance of survival. Things to consider when choosing chicks:

Beak– don’t bring home a chick that has a broken or deformed beak. That could translate to eating problems as the chick matures. Depending on the age of the chick, though, she might still have her egg tooth and that’s fine. The egg too tooth is something that will fall off in a matter of days.

Eyes – Choose chicks that have bright and shiny eyes. Make sure there is no drainage or deformity (half-closed, etc.)
  • Body – a chick should have a well formed body.  Sometimes there will be a skeletal problem (I’ve seen chicks with breastbones that weren’t formed correctly and that stuck outward) inspect the shape and make sure you are getting a bird that has good structure.  
  • Feathers – chicks don’t have real feathers yet (they will have the beginnings of them on their wings) instead they are covered with down. Make sure that your chicks do not have any bald spots or areas where the down has been rubbed off or is splotchy.
  • Feet and legs – make sure that the legs are study and not twisted. Look at the feet, gnarled and twisted feet will cause problems as the chick matures. Webbed toes can be fixed but if you decide to get a chick with webbed toes then you need to make an effort to fix that problem (surgical release and splinting.)
  • Activity – leave the sleeping chicks for someone else, you want the chicks that have a lot of energy and that scurry away from you when you reach down to them. A docile chick may be sick, it may be dehydrated, or it just might be its personality – you’re simply taking your chances with one that doesn’t act vibrant.
  • Breathing – chicks with respiratory problems breathe quickly and they “pull” into their chest when they breath. Oftentimes you can also hear a slight “whistle.” A respiratory infection in a chick can kill it within a few hours and it can infect the rest of your flock. Not only do not choose those chicks but alert the store clerk of a chick with breathing difficulty so that it can be immediately removed from the others.
  • Chances are, if you are buying your chicks from a feed store, they will have already been inspected and any chicks that have problems will have already been removed. Because the chicks are also constantly monitored, sick ones are also isolated very quickly. Still, it’s best to know what to look for in a young chick to make sure you bring home hardy stock, especially if you are only buying a few to add to your backyard flock.  

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    I write about lessons learned living with children and chickens in New Hampshire. You can follow our family's stories at my blog: Lessons Learned From the Flock.