Reduce Shipping Stress in Chicks


Unless you live local to a breeder, you will likely have to mail order your chicks.  This can bring a wide variety of breed options to your doorstep!  Unfortunately, shipping can be a very stressful experience especially if over long distances and extreme weather temperatures.  While the post office and breeder do all they can to reduce stress, it’s not uncommon to loose some chicks in transit due to chilling, overheating or stress.  It’s also not uncommon for chicks to arrive to your home appearing diseased or ill, even though they left the hatchery perfectly healthy.

When your chick order is shipped, you will be notified so you can plan their arrival.  The post office will either deliver them to your door (plan to be home!) or let you know when they arrive at the post office so you can pick them up.

The hatchery will send them in a box with a nonslip surface to prevent sliding around and splay leg issues during transit.  Newly hatched chicks don’t need food during the first 72 hours due to their absorption of the egg yolk a few days before hatching.  It provides nutrients for those first days, which gives the breeders a window of opportunity to ship.  Have food and water available once they arrive at your house.

Before the chicks arrive, have their brooder completely set up.  I like to have the heat lamp on and warming the bedding.  Lukewarm (not cold!) or room temperature water with powdered electrolytes and vitamins (or a couple tablespoons of sugar per quart of water) for their first day is helpful to give them a boost.  Chick food out and available near the water.  After the first day or two you can give them plain, cold water.  But warm water is very beneficial the first day.

Avoid too much handling – before hatching, your chick absorbs the egg yolk through its navel.  Rough handling, squeezing or letting chicks accidentally fall can cause this sac to burst, which will kill your chick.  It’s best to let them be not only to avoid this from happening but also to allow them a chance to recover without adding more stress, as handling chicks will stress them more no matter how calm you do it.  After three days, they will be much better suited to handling.

Once the chicks arrive, immediately introduce them to water first (to help guard against dehydration), then food.  Dip their beaks in each.  Then allow them to recover.

If you notice your chicks seem very stressed it’s perfectly fine to offer them equal parts mashed up hard boiled egg, pepper and cornmeal.  This will give them a boost and also help fight off “pasty butt”.  Probiotics mixed in room temperature water (not cold!) is also a great idea. You can find these at your feed or farm supply store.

Over the next few days, watch your babies closely.  Sometimes they may not eat enough to recover from the stress – you won’t notice that if you don’t spend time simply watching your chicks.  You may need to force feed and water your fowl, either by dipping their beak into their food and water, or actually putting small bits of food in their mouth manually.  “Pasty butt” may make an appearance also – if you notice this, remove the caked on poop with a warm washcloth and gentle handling.  If it’s really stuck on their skin, don’t forcefully remove it or you may end up yanking out their entire intestinal tract! Warm water and gentle handling will eventually un-stick it.  You may wipe vegetable or coconut oil on their behinds to prevent more poop from sticking.  If left untreated, this condition will kill your chicks.  Observation is critical the first few days.

If you ordered waterfowl, be aware that they may drink more water than they should when they first arrive, especially if they are dehydrated.  It’s best to limit their water to about 10 minutes time every hour for the first few hours.

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