Sad News About The Chicks

All was going well with eight chicks after the saving of Slowmo, until Sunday morning, Day 7 for most of the chicks. I found a dead black chick in the coop. But it actually wasn’t Slowmo. It was right up against the door of the coop on a little wet patch of wood shavings. I surmised that Frodo chose to sleep right next to the door that night, a night of heavy rain, and a bit of water came through the bottom of the door and that chick must have been sitting right there, getting wet and cold. I was quite gutted. It was the first time I’d had a chick die unexpectedly and I wasn’t feeling ok about it.


What made me feel slightly better was that Slowmo was still alive. He was still behind the others and I wasn’t confident of his ongoing survival, but he had survived nonetheless. I kept Frodo and chicks inside the small coop until a brief outing on Saturday, because Slowmo needed longer to learn how to eat properly and to gain more strength.

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Wee Slowmo. I rescued him after he hatched, but was it worth it?
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Slowmo was slow with his feeding lessons.

Then things got worse. The next morning, I found another dead chick, one of the blue ones. I moved Frodo and chicks into the big cage in the garage in case it was something in the environment and to keep them away from the threat of horrible rain, and I put vitamins in their water. I struggled to piece things together and figure out what was going wrong as we juggled outings and time with our families through most of the day. Late in the afternoon, two more chicks died: Slowmo and the black Josephine chick. Thankfully, I found them just before my nephews arrived. Something was going majorly wrong and I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t sure of the cause. It wasn’t mites. Was it the sulfur powder in the coop? Was it the cold and was Frodo not keeping them warm properly? Was it a deficiency? Was it something infectious?

The next morning there was another dead chick, the black firstborn one. We were down to three chicks. Checking the chicks had gone from something of excitement and joy to something of dread and fear. I didn’t want to go and look at them for fear of finding another dead one.

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This was not how I expected things to go.

What I had witnessed was Slowmo and the other Josephine chick before they died, with heads leaning backwards and falling over, unable to keep balance properly. I also saw this in the blue chick the day before it died, but it looked ok later on. They seemed unable to pull their heads forwards properly, their necks kept tilting back. I tried giving vitamin water to Slowmo and his mate but I think they were too far gone at that stage. This behaviour is the biggest clue I have as to what could be wrong. I remembered reading the term ‘stargazing’ somewhere before and it being related to a vitamin deficiency, hence why I had put vitamins in their water.

Since I’ve had time to do some research, I think it was a vitamin E deficiency, although that’s probably not the only thing. And it’s quite likely this deficiency could have come from one or both parents. When I think about this, it starts to make more sense. Mr Darcy had the paralysis stage of Mareks not long after I’d collected eggs that had been fertilised by him. He was obviously not in good health for being a father. And then we have Josephine, one of the two bio mums. Josephine is in chicken hospital for bumblefoot, which surfaced while she was under investigation for egg-eating. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the underfoot bumblefoot, it was bumps on top of both feet, which proved difficult to operate on, as there are scales and a difficult surface to try and prise the hard bits of core out of. She does like to clamber around up high, so who knows what she did to her feet? I’m willing to bet that the third Josephine chick was one of the ones that died too. Of course, both these parental health concerns arose after the eggs were already incubating under Frodo, but I didn’t realise what impact they could have on the chicks. Boy, have I learnt a harsh lesson about egg parents needing to be in good health.

Josephine is being treated for bumblefoot.

The remaining three chicks seem to be doing well and are getting vitamin E and selenium (for absorption) in their water. It sure is survival of the fittest. I feel so sorry for Frodo to have lost five babies. But I am grateful she has some left. Let’s hope they’re strong enough to keep on surviving. And if that’s not enough, Frodo’s scaly leg mites, which always surface when she’s broody, managed to transfer to her face. Frodo and chicks got a dose of Cydectin, because oil alone doesn’t give me enough assurance for killing all the face/leg mites considering the other circumstances. Frodo is having a rough motherhood this time!

I was on the verge of culling Josephine because I wasn’t willing to spend loads of time and first aid equipment continuing to treat her when she was under high suspicion of egg-eating, and considering the fate of her chicks. I’m not keen to breed from her again, so she needs to be a useful layer. However, she caught me in desperate chicken-saving mode. Her feet are healing, but she’s going to have to stay away from the mud outside for a while longer, and from the others while my scrutinising eye looks for signs of egg-eating. All I know is her eggs from the top nestbox were starting to disappear, and I blamed Paris, which may have been a mistake.

In good news… boy, do we need some good news, there doesn’t seem to be any egg-eating going on at the moment. Unless Josephine is eating, but it’s hard to know with her condition. Juliette, Paris and Rory have been laying very nicely. Paris seems to have calmed down, which I am surprised but thrilled about. Betty was by herself in one pen for a little while and has been laying on again-off again. It’s tricky in winter, as laying does reduce. Annie still hasn’t started laying. Juliette had one stellar stretch of 19 days of eggs in a row, but is winding down as winter advances. And to keep things interesting, Betty started crowing from the kennel coop roof in the mornings while she was by herself. It wasn’t a perfect crow, but she was loud! She’s piped down since being back with the others, but then Josephine had a crack at crowing from the garage and did a surprisingly good rooster crow. These girls are getting nutty without a rooster around.

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Juliette is definitely the biological mother of two of the chicks and probably the other one too. She seems in good health, but her husband wasn’t.
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Paris settled down into good laying, so was allowed back with the others. She’s laying nice big eggs. She’s a smart, stealthy one though, so I will keep an eye on her. I can’t leave gates or doors open around Paris, as she’ll be out like a shot and is tricky to catch.

Now that we have some much-needed sun again, Frodo and the chicks have moved back out to the small coop after a thorough clean. They are really enjoying being in the sun and getting to forage around in the big wide world after being in the big cage for so long while I kept a close eye on them. Here’s hoping for a fresh start.

Frodo’s little family are back out in the small coop.
It’s a big wide world out there.
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The shy black one.
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Go well, little chickens.

11 thoughts on “Sad News About The Chicks

    1. The chicks didn’t actually die of Mareks. They can’t have symptoms of Mareks under the age of 3-4 weeks, as, although they can be exposed to the virus and ‘catch’ it from day 1, it has a long incubation period. So I rather think that they were just poorly developed due to lack of at least vitamin E but probably other issues too, because one or both parents would have had low immunity and potential deficiencies from being unwell at the time. It’s fair to say Mr Darcy was not as great as I thought he was, because I was turning a bit of a blind eye to his hardiness. He was the first to get favus (ringworm on face) when he was a little younger, so I knew deep down that he wasn’t the healthiest of the lot, but I tried to put his looks and temperament first and look where that got me! Health and hardiness must come first. I will repeat that to myself.
      I am more nervous than usual about the chicks reaching 9-10 weeks though, as there’s even more possibility that Mareks could take these guys out. Oh well, nothing to do but wait!


  1. That would be frustrating to experience such problems among such well cared for chicks. Those in my neighborhood seem to do quite well despite the neglect. I know that some get taken by coyotes, but they just keep making more. I suppose there is a lot that goes on that I am not aware of. (The neighbors really should take better are of their hens.) Such nice accommodations as yours should keep them safer and healthier.

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    1. Yes, it was very frustrating! I have realised that there is going to be an adjustment period whenever I bring in new genetics, which is going to result in losses. With our small gene pool, there’s a danger in focusing too much on looks in purebreds at the expense of hardiness, and then also there’s the fact that our environment here is just different to wherever other birds have come from. We have the challenges of very wet weather and hot summers. I first need to focus on breeding chickens that are really healthy and hardy and then focus on looks. What I really need to do is bring in bigger numbers of eggs (or chickens) and do some harsh culling or selling in order to get less finicky purebreds, but I need to acquire a decent incubator and brooder set-up for that.
      It’s funny how some chickens can do so well. I often hear stories of mother hens turning up from the depths of people’s properties with a whole bunch of chicks towing along behind. They’ve survived just fine in ‘the wilds’. We don’t have coyotes, but we do have other predator dangers: hawks, stoats, weasels, ferrets, rats, hedgehogs, cats and dogs. Crossbred chickens generally do a lot better though, as they have hybrid vigour. The reason I prefer getting a broody to hatch eggs outdoors (in a coop) is that they are exposed to more challenges early on, so only the strongest will do well. So, I just have to suck it up and focus on the strong ones!

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      1. In our region, the hardware store stocks only the trendy breeds, which is fine, because those who get them do not keep them long anyway. As soon as the breeds are no longer trendy,, they get given away. It is sad, although it makes it easy for those of who do not care what breed our hens are. ‘Keeping hens’ became trendy a while back, but mostly among those who just like to brag about it to their friends, while those who keep house for them actually do all the work. My old Rhode Island Reds, which are a lowly breed, are the healthiest in the neighborhood.

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        1. That is sad. Keeping hens has become more trendy here too. There are a lot of people who dive into it not realising how much work chickens can be and how much you need to learn about looking after them. I was one of them! Fortunately, I love learning. One of our main problems here is the oodles of roosters listed for sale as ‘not for the pot’. It seems to be an increasing thing as more people in urban areas hatch fertile eggs to get hens. Funny how males sometimes come out too. It’s a fair enough request if it’s an excellent breeding rooster, but nobody wants another Little Jimmy just because he’s ‘special’ but annoying the neighbours.
          I don’t think RIRs are a lowly breed. They’ve obviously staid the course and remained popular with those who want decent, dependable chickens. Your’s certainly don’t sound lowly anyway.

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          1. We had araucanas when we lived in town because they were so quite; but their eggs were weirdly colored, and they were to docile to survive in the new neighborhood. Foxes would have taken them right away. They went to a home where they lived in a fenced yard all the time. (They are funny looking hens.) I wanted white leghorns because I thought that they would defend themselves from the foxes if they were allowed out for part of the day, and because they are so striking white, but we figured that the coyotes would take them. We decided on the RIR, but had to keep them fenced all the time. They came out only when I worked in the garden. I think that they are the best compromise. The white leghorns might make better eggs, but they are not as good for meat. The araucanas were just too delicate, although I do miss them. They were so nice.

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          2. Could you not have a few Araucanas if they’re fenced in? Or are they too small in comparison to the RIRs? You have a lot more variables to take into account with breed and fencing decisions in terms of predators than we do.

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          3. Oh yes, The Araucanas would be safe fenced. However, they are not my favorite. They are not very meaty. (That is only a guess based on their size. I have never eaten one.) Their eggs are somewhat small. I just happen to like their quiet personality, even though there are no neighbors here to be bothered by noise. If I get to select hens next time (rather than merely acquire those who need to be rehomed) I will likely get Rhode Island Reds again, and just keep them fenced most of the time. They seem to be the best compromise for both eggs and meat. White leghorns are probably a bit more likely to be able to defend themselves from some of what would come after them, but a coyote would take them regardless. Coyotes are the most likely predator, so there is not much advantage to being able to defend against foxes and raccoons. I am not sure I want to bother with aggressive chickens just because they can defend themselves better, or because I like white hens.

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