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What to Look for When Choosing Baby Chicks

Knowing what to look for when you're choosing your baby chicks can result in a healthier chicken flock down the road.

Faced with an array of adorable peeping baby chicks, it's hard to keep a level head, but taking a moment to narrow down your choices can result in a healthier chicken, and therefore much more pleasant chicken keeping experience down the road.

Knowing what to look for when choosing baby chicks at the feed store to bring home with you isn't difficult and well worth taking the time to do.

What to Look for When Choosing Baby Chicks

One of the main benefits of buying chicks locally at a feed store is that you actually get to see (and maybe even handle) the "merchandise" before you buy it.

Although I am a huge fan of ordering online from a hatchery because of the wider selection, better chance of getting the chick when YOU want them, not when your feed store happens to have them in stock, and better chance of getting all females (if that's what you want), buying your chicks at the local feed store has some distinct benefits and advantages.

Buying locally not only supports that local business, your neighbors and town, you do get to hand pick your new baby chicks. And that's a huge plus.

You also get to see the environment they are being kept in.

There should be relatively clean litter on the floor, they should have plenty of feed, and water that's not full of shavings or poop.

The chicks should have a heat lamp over them and be moving about freely, not clustered under it or pressed against the sides of the tub far away from it.

The chicks might all look the same - at least those that are the same breed - at first glance, but using your eyes and ears, it's possible to pick out the healthiest of the bunch.

I get that it's so easy to get distracted and fall in love with them all! But choosing baby chicks carefully gives them the best chance at survival and your best chance at a healthy flock for years to come.

Travel is very stressful on baby chicks and some don't survive the trip, others might get chilled or jostled and succumb days later. And remember, even your feed store chicks likely were shipped from somewhere else, although some may come from a local farm. 

Choosing Baby Chicks

Pasty butt can occur in chicks that are stressed or chilled, so that's the first thing you want to check for. Look for dried or runny feces around the chick's vent.

But assuming that they all arrived safely, and came from a reputable hatchery, so they aren't carrying any diseases, now it's your job to pick out those most likely to thrive.

But what to look for when choosing baby chicks?

If the feed store will let you (some will, some won't), ask to pick up and hold the chick. She should feel hefty and solid and her weight should correlate with her size.

If you aren't able to actually handle the chicks, do your best to do a good visual inspection before choosing a particular chick.

Overall Observation

Don't choose the smallest chick (unless they're bantams!). Runts of any litter or hatch often never recover their poor start and end up with continual health problems.

Don't choose a chick that is off to one side standing alone or laying down sleeping. Although chicks do sleep a lot, they generally tend to all nap at the same time, so one sleeping by itself isn't usually a good sign.

The chick should struggle a bit when you first pick her up and might be peeping, but should settle down but continue to be alert as you continue to hold her.

Soft peeping is good. Loud chirping can indicate pain or that the chick is cold. Once they get chilled, often a chick can't recover and will die - even days later.

Head to Toe Chick Check Up

Head Area

Starting at the top, the chick's eyes should be bright and clear. They shouldn't be crusty or weepy.

The chick's nostrils shouldn't be dripping or crusty either.

Her beak should be in alignment with the top and bottom halves closing correctly, not at an angle or crooked in any way.

She should have two wings that are held close against her sides.

The chick's belly or abdomen should not be sticking out or show red, raw skin. There should be no evidence of any of the imbilical cord attached to her naval.

Her vent should be clear of poop or any feces and the down should be nice and fluffy.

Baby chicks can literally clog up and suffer "pasty butt" which will kill them if not treated. Pasty butt is easily treated, but can also be a sign the chick has other health issues, so best to steer clear (but do alert the feed store employee that the chick needs to be cleaned up).

Legs and Feet

Most chicken breeds have four toes on each foot (although there are several breeds that have five toes include faverolles, sultans and some silkies). Three facing forward and one in the back. Count toes to be sure they're all there.

Set the chick on the ground and be sure the toes are straight and all facing the right direction. Check the legs aren't abnormally bent nor set too far apart. This can indicate splayed or spraddle leg.

Check that the chick is steady on her feet and able to stand on her own. Swaying or standing with her eyes closed isn't a good sign.

Once you've visually checked out the chick you've chosen, you can feel confident that you've picked out a healthy baby chick.

Pop her into your box and pick out another one and give her the same once-over. 

And before you leave the feed store, be sure you have everything you need for your new babies. This Quick Chick Check List will come in handy!

Now go home and have fun with your new baby chicks!

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