So you find yourself at the feed store staring at a bin full of cheeping, peeping adorable balls of fluff and are rendered incapable of leaving without a box full of baby chicks. That’s just how it goes when you get sucked into buying baby chicks. But how to pick which ones to take home? Of course, when you’re buying baby chicks, you want to choose healthy chicks with the best chance at survival, but you might be unsure how to go about it.
There’s no guarantee since you have no way of knowing what they might already have been exposed to. But just like conventional wisdom tells you to kick a car’s tires or check a horse’s teeth before handing over cold hard cash, there are few things you can do when buying baby chicks to increase your chances of choosing the best chicks possible.
We can assume the chicks are all female (most feed stores either separate the bins by sex or only sell pullets/female chicks, so I won’t talk about how to tell the sex of baby chicks, but you can find many other resources about sexing baby chicks).
So what should you look for when buying baby chicks? Avoid some of these sick chicken symptoms:
- Don’t choose an abnormally small chick. Runts of any hatch often have health problems down the road.
- You will want to pick up and hold the chick you are considering choosing. She should feel solid and be of good weight for her size.
- She should be active and squirm a bit to get out of your grasp.
- She should be happily peeping, but a strident chirp could be trouble; it could signal she’s been chilled (chicks can often die even days later if they are allowed to get too cold) or in pain.
- Her eyes should be clear and alert.
- The top and bottom of her beak should line up correctly, and not be scissored or crooked.
- Her abdomen should not be distended or raw and red, nor should her vent.
- Check her vent. It should be clear of any feces. A buildup of feces or evidence of diarrhea could signal vent gleet, pasty butt or other intestinal issues. Seeing a puffy, fluffy butt is a good thing!
- Count toes and make sure none seem bent in the wrong direction or otherwise abnormal.
- Set the chick down and be sure she’s steady on her feet and not wobbly or disoriented. She shouldn’t be standing with her eyes closed or swaying.
- Check that her feet seem centered under her and not splayed out to the sides, which can indicate spraddle or splayed leg.
There still is no guarantee that your chicks will all make it or that they haven’t been exposed to some unknown illness, but by giving your potential new additions a quick once-over, you have far greater chances of coming home with the healthiest chicks possible. Hopefully these tips will help you choose chicks that grow to be happy, healthy chickens.
And, remember that your new chicks will need to be kept under a chicken heat lamp until they are older and feathered out, and will need to be introduced to the rest of your flock slowly to give everyone time to get used to each other and sort out their pecking order when they are about 3 to 4 months old.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.