• Jennifer Sartell

How to Choose Healthy Baby Chicks at the Feed Store

One of the most exciting times of the year is when I walk into our local feed store and hear the peep, peep, peeing of baby chicks. It's like Christmas morning! Even though nowadays we hatch out most of our spring chicks

in incubators, it's still exciting to walk around the bins, to look at all the different breeds, colors and shapes.

If you do decide to take home some fuzzies of your own, here are 7 tips when choosing chicks from the feed store.

1. Are they Being Well Cared For?

The first thing I look at is the living conditions in the store brooder. Are the wood chips clean, do they have dry food and clean water? A heat source? If the store seems to be doing a good job in caring for the chicks then that's a good sign.

2. Do they let the public handle the chicks?

Feed stores are getting better about setting up brooders in a way that keeps people away from constantly handling the chicks. But make sure there is a barricade in place around the bins (often they use cattle gates to create a "brooder department") or at least an employee close by to help people and to watch over the bins. These chicks have just come through a stressful shipping process, they're often less than a week old and the additional stress of being handled and chased by every Tom, Dick or Harry can cause a lot of stress and often health issues with a chick.

3. Wait!...if you can

I know it's near impossible to walk away from a brooder bin once you've decided to get chicks. But as I mentioned above, the stress of shipping can weaken a chick and if a chick isn't going to make it, it will often pass within 48 hours of arriving at the store. If at all possible, ask an employee when the chicks came in. If you can put some chicks on hold or wait until they've been settled at the store for a day or two you will weed out the injured, sick or dying chicks that aren't going to make it. The reality is that chicks are lost in the shipping process. If you can let that happen at the feed store rather than home, it will save you a lot of disappointment.

4. Ask the return policy

While tragedy happens, feed stores should stand behind the health of their chicks. You should be able to return a sick chick, or one that has passed away within a reasonable amount of time. Make sure you're comfortable with the return policy before you purchase.

5. Lethargy

Look out for chicks that don't join the rest of the chicks, chicks that are too easy to catch. Chicks that don't run when roused.

6. Excessive peeping

Often if a chick has an internal injury it will peep excessively. This is a frantic, loud type peeping that will also happen if a chick is separated from the rest of it's brood mates. If the chick is just standing there peeping loudly and for a long amount of time, it may be injured or in pain.

7. Pasty Butt

Pasty butt is often a result of stress. It's when the chick poops and it sticks to the hind feathers. If left unchecked, the poop will build up and block the chick from defecating. This can result in death. Often the chick is too small, weak or ignorant to clean itself, and in the wild, mama hen would take care of it.

If a chick has pasty butt in the brooder, it's not necessarily a bad chick, but you will have to be Mama Hen and clean the chick off with a warm cloth, sometimes repeatedly until it gets big enough to clean itself. If you want that chick, go ahead and get it. But if there's another one to choose from, choose the clean-bottomed one.

A note about choosing the biggest of the bunch

It might sound like common sense that you would want the largest, most strapping chick of the bunch. But beware, if the chicks are all the same age, often a large chick will be a rooster. Which is fine if that's what you want. The hatcheries claim that in a batch of sexed chicks you will have a 95% chance of getting a pullet. (In my experience it's more like 75%) But those large chicks, that stand upright and bossy, are often roosters.

Speak up!

I'm not a forward person... in fact I can be quite shy and awkward. But over the years I've learned that a little forwardness when picking out chicks, can save a lot of disappointment. I recommend that you watch the chicks for a while before even getting a sales associate involved. See which ones you want. Which ones look robust. Are they eating and drinking, scratching, joining in with the other chicks, responding to outside noises and disturbances?

Ask if you are allowed behind the barricade to pick out your own chicks. If not, make sure you let them know if there is a chick that stands out to you. You might get annoying looks as you tell them "no...not that one...the one by the feeder..." ...but they'll get over it and you'll be happy that you did!

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