What To Do When A New Chick Dies

Not all Chick Days purchases have happy endings. Here’s why a new chick might fall ill and what you should do if your baby peep dies.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Lost_in_the_Midwest

Kara was absolutely thrilled that Chick Days had arrived at her local farm-supply store. She’d been eagerly anticipating the addition of three new baby chicks to her backyard flock, and her brooder was clean, properly heated and ready to receive its new residents. She’d reviewed how to feather-sex straight runs to avoid bringing home cockerels and, when the store opened the next morning, Kara was there, ready to search for her perfect newborn trio.

The farm supply store offered stock tanks of mixed bantams and straight-run Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and Easter Eggers. Kara carefully selected a few fluffs, inspected their wing feathers, and even messaged a couple of images to me for my confirmation of the chick’s gender (note: I’m AWFUL at feather sexing).

Content with her selection, Kara paid and hurried the chick trio to their new home, where warmth, good water and lots of life awaited.  

The next day, Kara messaged me, distraught. Despite her best efforts, one of the baby chicks had just passed away in her hands. Her heart was broken for the poor baby.

What had she done wrong? Had she done anything right? Would she be able to buy another chick to join the two survivors, or was it already too late? 


A crucial fact to keep in mind is that newborn hatchery chicks go through a veritable gauntlet in the first few hours of their lives. They hatch on incubator shelves, are sent to dry out and fluff up, then are sorted into bins teeming with other chicks to await packing into ventilated cardboard containers.

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The chicks are then at the mercy of the US Postal Service as they travel—typically in unheated transport vehicles—until they arrive at their destination, where they are unpacked and plunked into stock tanks on sales floors. All this in the first 24 hours of a chick’s life.

These conditions would stress out the most stable of adults, let alone an infant bird. For some, sadly, the stress endured during this time frame—from carton crowding and improper handling to exposure to cold and accidental injury while in transit—can cause a downward spiral that a baby bird’s newly hatched systems simply cannot handle and the baby chick dies.

It spends its last few hours quietly under the heat lamp, where unsuspecting buyers assume its quiet gentleness indicate its temperament rather than its approaching death.   

Immature Digestive Tract 

Baby chicks hatch with the last drops of their egg sacs swelling their little tummies. This last pre-hatching meal usually sustains them for 24 hours, after which they will need to find their way to their new food source: a chick feeder filled with chick-starter crumbles. Peepers’ digestive tracts continue to mature in the first few days outside of the shell, gaining the ability to digest and absorb nutrients and secrete waste.

In some baby chicks, unfortunately, the gastrointestinal tract does not mature swiftly enough to assist with the proper digestion of chick feed. These chicks either fail to thrive, due to an inability to absorb nutrients, or they may develop pasty butt. Pasty butt occurs when the first feces these infant poultry produce effectively cement their vents shut, preventing them from eliminating waste.

Left untreated, pasty butt is a swift killer.

Also Read: How to Start Hatching Chicks With An Egg Incubator

Shipping and Handling Injuries 

As noted earlier, hatchery baby chicks rarely experience a calm or peaceful first day of life. They get unceremoniously dumped from one tray to another, tumble from conveyor belts into holding bins, get plunked into shipping cartons, and experience all the jolts, bumps and temperature changes of transit.

And that’s assuming postal workers observe the “Fragile: Live Animals” stickers on the cartons’ exterior and don’t just toss the carton around (or toss other items on top).

I’ve been called in by my local post office on multiple occasions to assist in saving chicks that arrived in crushed shipping cartons or in cartons whose ventilation holes were covered by packing tape. I’ve also assisted with shipments arriving in the swelter of summer and the freeze of winter.

Despite my best efforts, the few chicks that survived any of these shipping and handling-related injuries quietly perished within a couple of days. They looked fine from the outside, but their little bodies had suffered too much. 

Also Read: Keep an eye on farm-store chicks by watching for these 6 common Chick Days issues.

Improper On-Site Handling 

In a recent column, I discussed several store-based issues that could adversely affect a baby chick’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, not all farm-supply store associates have a background in poultry rearing and may have no idea whatsoever how to care for baby chicks, much to the chicks’ detriment.

My friend Kara was absolutely outraged to find tubs of baby chicks with no food, water or heat source at one of her local farm-supply stores. The teen employees were bewildered by her anger and informed her that they didn’t see the point of feeding or watering the chicks or keeping them warm since they expected the chicks to sell out in a few hours.

Not all store employees will be this openly clueless. But take into account that bungling like this can push an already stressed baby over the edge.  

If Your New Baby Dies 

If your baby chick dies within 24 hours of purchase, contact your store immediately and ask to speak with the manager. Inform them that a baby chick you’d purchased just that morning or just yesterday had not survived the day. Make it clear that you purchased your chicks from them based on their store’s reputation for quality and that you are truly disappointed that they sold you such a sickly baby.

More than likely, the store manager will take down your name and contact information, then have you come in to select a replacement chick at no cost. Occasionally, however, you may encounter a manager who fully understands what shipped chicks undergo and will firmly maintain a “let the buyer beware” attitude with no replacement or refund.

Refunded or not, if you plan to replace your deceased chick, do so swiftly to allow the newcomer to join your other babies while they are still young enough not to notice there’s a new kid in the flock.  

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