Archive for April, 2010

Handling chicks


Handle your chicks from the time they come home, and as adults they will be well adjusted to human touch.

So you just got those cute, fuzzy little chicks! You’ll also note that those tiny little feet get poop all over them! So you may not want to handle your chicks.

It’s very important to handle chicks from the time they are little. You should pick them up,  touch their wings, examine their beak and vent, and hold them in different positions. The reason is very practical–if your chicken needs to be caught or handled as an adult, it will already be habituated to human touch.

Remember, chickens are a prey species, so they are skittish by nature. Careful nurture can change that.

Sometimes an  injured or scared bird needs to be recaptured. Adding fear of human touch to that equation will create one freaked-out bird, and she may make things worse or injure herself by trying to escape from you!

It is also important that a bird be handled as a chick because she will respond better to human contact if you have to treat or medicate.

When handling your chicks, though, keep in mind that birds have no diaphragm. Humans have a muscle that helps the rib cage expand to breathe in. Birds do not. This means that if you compress a bird’s rib cage, it CANNOT expand its rib cage to pull in oxygenated air. If you (or your child!) hold a bird too tightly, you can suffocate it. As you handle your chicks, hold them firmly but loosely, with extra space in your hand to allow them to breathe.

Also, do not let chicks run around on the floor where people (or your children!) might be walking. They are very fast and can get underfoot quite quickly!

So remember these tips when you get your mini-flock:

  • Handle chicks often, everyday if possible.
  • Don’t squeeze!
  • Keep them out from under foot.

You will have happy, healthy hens who aren’t afraid to be caught, picked up, examined, or petted!

Chicken panel at Navy Pier Green Festival May 22


Do you want to

  • know more about keeping chickens?
  • have more chicken-keeping resources?
  • connect with other chicken keepers?

Come to the Green Festival at Navy Pier on May 22 and see Home to Roost in the chicken panel at 2 PM!

Martha Boyd from Angelic Organics (www.learngrowconnect.org) is leading a panel discussion about

  • chickens in Chicago
  • chicken care basics
  • backyard chicken-keeping experiences and advice
  • egg business
  • chicken supply delivery business
  • resources for urban chicken owners

Come talk to us after the event.

Soft-shelled egg removal


Today’s emergency call was a hen with white, watery liquid in her fluff and some odd stuff happening in and around the vent.

The owner did a fabulous job of documenting the case in his initial email query to me: the other birds, symptoms, behavior changes, description of eggs. He even included pictures! My best guess without seeing her was  uterine prolapse.

I asked the owner to isolate her from the flock to prevent spread of contagions and also keep the other hens from picking at any odd things at her back end (yes, chickens do this!).

The owner did exactly as instructed, and I found the hen resting comfortably in a wire cage under the porch. Her crop was full, which I was pleased to find!

Getting down to business involved gently removing the white urates on her vent and fluff. When they were cleared away, I found a tiny piece of eggshell and part of an egg membrane protruding from the cloaca. This was the major key to the solution. The hen had a soft-shelled egg broken inside of her.

Cleaning the vent

I gently cleaned Maisie's vent with soap and water.

She fretted a bit when I gently pulled on the membrane, but it stimulated her to bear down, and the piece of shell membrane came out. I was hoping it would bring the rest of the egg with it, but no such luck.

I was about to attempt a warm water bath when I discovered that I could stimulate her to bear down, and she passed the rest of the egg! Besides, the hen did not really want to sit in a pan of warm water and kept perching on the side of the tub!

soft-shelled egg

This is what was giving Maisie such a hard time!

I cleaned her up a bit more, swabbed the area with alcohol, and by now the uterine tissues had receded inside the cloaca. We put some warm honey (anti-biotic/anti-inflammatory) mixed with KY Jelly in and on her vent.

Home care suggestions include oyster shell, liquid calcium in the bird’s water, honey treatment for a few days or if red tissues appear again, and observation and isolation until better. I also told the owners to keep an eye on egg production, watch the poop for both light and dark waste, and look for the birdie  “I’m not feeling well!” symptoms:

  • eyes partly closed
  • fluffed
  • not eating (empty crop)
  • lack of vocalization.

Egg issues can be a little dicey, but here’s to a full and complete recovery for Maisie the chicken!

Off and running!


This rooster, unfortunately, was named Stew...

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