Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmer: Sick Chick

When we brought the chicks and ducklings home, we felt prepared. We had the brooders, chick and duck feed, a heat lamp, and a waterer. We had debated where they would live while they were small, until the duck-house and chicken coop were built. The ground was still frozen, so we couldn’t start early on construction, and we don’t have a garage. So, after some hemming and hawing, we decided the only place they could live was in the living room.
Looking at the ducks and chickens now, it is kind of amazing to think about how small they were. Their feet were smaller than my thumb nail, their beaks tiny. I would buy water cress for them at the store, chop it up real tiny, and they would run over and eat it out of my hand. The feed store didn’t have crumbled duck feed, so I would have to crush it up for them with the rolling pin. The chickens would come over and eat lettuce from our fingers, and occasionally chick feed. It was fun to watch them running around in their brooders, and when they were tired out, they would all be lying next to each other like a little bird carpet.
It worked out great for the first couple of weeks. The brooders had to be cleaned out every other day so the living room didn’t smell like a barn, but that wasn’t too bad. I figured it was a good way for them to get used to us. It wasn’t too long before the chicks and ducklings seemed to know when we usually get up in the morning. We would come downstairs and they would all be lined up at one end of their brooders waiting for their morning treats of lettuce and cress. If we slept in, I could hear their peeps and clucking get steadily louder as they demanded we get up and bring them their food.
One morning I got up and realized one of the chicks, Rose, wasn’t lined up with the other two, Daisy and Petunia. She was just standing in the middle of the brooder with her head down. After picking Rose up, and her not even flapping her wings, she just sat tiredly in my hand, and seeing red poop, I knew something was wrong. I had read the chicken book, so I knew a droopy chick was a sick chick, and red poop is never good for anyone. What I didn’t know was what was wrong with her, or how to fix it. So, after flipping the disease section of the book, and consulting the internet, I realized she probably had coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis is a common disease among chickens, and it is something I should have researched before deciding on how I was going to manage my chicks, and what I was going to feed them. It is a common intestinal disease caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly in the chickens’ intestines, preventing them from absorbing nutrients from their food. The bacteria can cause lethargy, diarrhea, mucous and or blood in their poop, a loss of color, poor appetite, weight-loss, failure to thrive, and end in death. It can be prevented by having your chicks vaccinated for cocci, by giving them medicated chick starter feed, giving your chicks probiotics in their water, and by keeping the brooder clean, dry, and well ventilated. Since I got my chicks at an animal swap, they weren’t vaccinated, and I had decided at the beginning not to give them medicated chick feed, which turned out to be a bad decision for Rose. After diagnosing her, I started calling around to vet offices to see if I could get her treated. The vet offices told me they did not treat chickens, and would recommend an office, or vet, who might. It took me an afternoon of calling around, but I finally found a vet, who gave me antibiotics for Rose and the other chicks. I got medicated chick feed, and discovered the local feed store is a great resource of knowledgeable people who gave me more advice on treating Rose, and told me to buy Sulmet to add to their water to help treat and prevent further outbreaks.
Unfortunately, it was too late for her. I felt like the worst farmer ever. I had made a decision on what to feed my chicks, without having enough information. I was able to keep Daisy and Petunia healthy, and I made sure to read the disease section of the chicken book more thoroughly. Chickens can sick from a lot of things, but I made sure I knew which ones I can treat so Rose didn’t happen again.


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