Stress in mail-order chicks–backyard poultry

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By Rebecca Krebs It’s spring, mail-order chicken season. You might start with chicken, or you might be a seasoned poultry warrior with your eye on a new rare breed. Either way, you’ve decided to bring some chicks into your life. But you’ve heard recent horror stories about shipments of dead chicks arriving or stressed that they died shortly after arriving. How do you make sure that doesn’t happen to your chicks? You can take several steps to reduce the risk of chicks experiencing shipping stress and save them if this happens.

where to buy

The first step is choosing the best place to order chicks. Besides business reputation, the most important factor is the distance the chicks have to travel to get to you. They will benefit from less travel time and less weather variations if shipped from a nearby hatchery. Better yet, you can take any stress out of shipping by picking up chicks from a reputable local breeder. Refrain from buying within a particular area if you can find better options elsewhere; Be aware that shipping conditions become more unpredictable the farther away the chicks travel, although they usually survive long journeys without adverse effects.

Order considerations

Now that you’ve found a hatchery, it’s time to plan your application. Chicks are susceptible to exposure and shipping delays due to severe weather, but you can prevent this by scheduling their arrival in a mild season. Mid-March through mid-October is usually a safe time frame in the north, and in the south, avoid hot summer temperatures. The fewer chicks in a shipment, the more cold weather will affect them, which is something to remember when buying from small chicken hatcheries.

How the chicks are shipped is almost as important as the time. USPS Priority Mail is the most common service used to ship live chickens in the United States. No shipping method is immune to delays or rough handling, but Priority Mail Express is the most reliable, and generally arrives within three days. Mail-order chickens can handle three-day shipping, though two is preferred. Losses are high if they’ve been on the go for more than three days. However, I would recommend paying the extra fee for shipping via USPS Priority Mail Express if the hatchery offers that option.

before arrival

Your order has been placed, and you are eagerly awaiting the chicks. While you wait, buy everything you need to raise her. Set up the brooder and stabilize the temperature under the heat source at 95-100°F for at least 24 hours before you expect the chicks. Time is of the essence if the chicks arrive stressed, and you want to be ready when they need help recovering.

Please pick up the chicks immediately when the post office notifies you of their arrival. Keep your car toasty warm for the ride home, but don’t put the chicks right in front of the heater.

Revive stressed chicks

Understandably, mail order chicken is always somewhat stressed by shipping. It is normal for the chicks to huddle together in the box and peep loudly. In most cases, they recover soon after being transferred to a preheated brooder with warm water (with added chick electrolytes) and food. Gently dip each chick’s beak into the water to help them find it, and you may need to dip their beaks a few times before they become even. After they drink, show them the feed by simulating the speedy tic-tuk-tuk call of mother chicken while spraying the feed.

Some chicks are inconsolable if they arrive too nervous, while others are too weak to stand up or scream. They may not open their eyes when handled. If they have been in transit for more than three days, if there are dead chicks in the box, or if the box is damaged, assume the surviving chicks are very stressed.

Time is of the essence if the chicks arrive stressed, and you want to be ready when they need help recovering.

Consistent warmth is essential for stressed chicks, and those that arrive shivering or weak from the cold need to warm up quickly. 10 to 15 minutes under a hair dryer does the job. Monitor the temperature by placing your hand at the level of the chicks. She is very hot if she is panting.

When the chicks are dehydrated and too weak to drink, you can hand water them using an eye dropper until they are strong enough to drink on their own. Tilt the head back, open the beak by gently pressing on the corners of the mouth, put one drop of warm water inside, and let the chick swallow. Repeat until you feel a slight swell of water in the chick’s crop. Use the same method to hand-feed weak chicks with your fingers or tweezers, dropping one millet-sized piece of food at a time into the back of the mouth. Keep it dry and warm while working with it.

Eggs are the ideal food to promote the feeding of stressed chicks for quick recovery and good early development. For this reason, I recommend feeding scrambled or boiled eggs to all shipped chicks. Feed one finely chopped, hard-cooked egg to each of the 15 standard breed or 20 bantam chicks twice a day for a week.

The chicks’ stressful environment should be low key, and they should not be unnecessarily picked up or removed from the brooder. However, they can lose their will to live if they feel abandoned, so spend some time caring for their children while they settle down. They thrive on baby talk.

after arrival

Even after the chicks begin to recover, it is essential to monitor them for stress-related issues that develop several days after arrival. The most common problem is doughy butt – droppings stick around the opening, which can prevent waste disposal. Clean the chicks with warm water and a mild soap and dry them completely with a hair dryer before returning them to the brooder. Gravel and probiotics in the diet help relieve buttock pain.

Also watch chicks that are not learning to eat or drink. They cheer loudly, stand hunched over, and run aimlessly. Reoffer them water and food; If that doesn’t work, try watering/feeding by hand until indicated.

Despite everything you do to prevent and relieve shipping stress, sometimes chicks don’t survive due to uncontrollable circumstances, and you don’t have to blame yourself. However, you can rescue many severely stressed chicks and see them grow into strong adults with care and diligence.

Originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of Countryside Journal and Small Stock They are regularly checked for accuracy.

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