How to Revive a Weak Chick and Keep it Healthy

revive a weak chickTwo days into a recent hatch and I had to revive a weak chick and then another! The hatch was sporadic. We had eight broody hens. There was no schedule to the hatch. The eggs were started sporadically and I was out of town. While I was away, new eggs were gathered! It was a bit out of control. One hen out of the eight allowed me to move her to the nursery. The other broody hens had a fit about being moved and so I put them back in the coop where they continued to brood. I continued to try to monitor and save any chicks that hatched, before they were harmed by other flock members. Who said it was easier letting a hen hatch out eggs?


Before I go any further in my methods of how to revive a weak chick, keep in mind that I am sharing what worked for me. I am not advocating or giving any guarantee that my methods will save your chick’s life. Also, I am a firm believer in thinking outside the box, and using what is available at that moment. My methods might be a little controversial to some who prefer to follow strict guidelines. 

What do Chicks Need After Hatching

If you have a broody hen, she will take care of all the chick’s needs. Broody hens can take care of quite a large brood. Tucked under her wings, the chicks are snug, warm and dry. She encourages them to eat and drink throughout the day, while looking out for their safety. Pasty butt is rare in broody raised chicks because the hen knows what to tell the chicks to eat. 

Chicks raised in a brooder have a bit of a harder road. No matter how closely we observe for problems, issues can arise. Pasty butt, chilled chicks, spilled water, and aggressive chicks can wreak havoc. Most of the time things go well, but there are times we need to intervene. Chicks need warmth, dry bedding, and food and water they can easily access. Chicks that are stressed by the environment cannot thrive.

My recently hatched chicks were a few days behind the other three. The broody hen wanted no part of adopting the last hatchlings. So into the brooder they went. I use the warming table style heaters. All the chicks had access to water and food, with clean bedding. But  the last two chicks that hatched, weren’t strong. They stopped eating and drinking within 24 hours of hatching. I needed to try something or they would die.

revive a weak chick

First step 

Always make sure the chick is warm before trying to give food or water. I held the chick in my one hand while completing chores with the other.  Next, I tried some Nutra-drench product for poultry because I had it available in the barn.  I mixed it in a bit of water and used a syringe to let drops fall on the tip of the beak. The chick was interested and started to open it’s beak for the water. If you do this, also make sure the chick isn’t getting wet from the drips. 

As I was feeding the barn cats I had an idea. By now the chick was looking really weak despite the water. The bits of canned cat food looked like something I could try to feed the chick. At first the chick wouldn’t open it’s beak for the food. Then it took a bite. And another! Then it took a big bite. I gave it a few minutes to settle. I continued to give bits of wet cat food and after a few minutes more, the chick was struggling to use it’s legs again. It was reviving!  The eyes reopened and it chirped. How about that!  

revive a weak chick

Other Options to Use When You Revive a Weak Chick

Now, as I said in the disclaimer, this is a last ditch effort. I don’t think chicks should routinely be fed cat food products. Cat food is high in protein, and the canned food is high in water. Both of these were good for the chick short term. If I hadn’t acted quickly, I am not sure that this chick would have lasted while I prepared something else or If I had driven to a store. A good reason to have some ideas on hand, in the barn or feed shed. 

More Ideas to Revive a Weak Chick

Warmed plain yogurt

Scrambled egg

Hard boiled egg chopped tiny

Molasses water – Molasses also contains other nutrients 

Make a mash or tea of fresh herbs that contain Vitamin E such as Parsley, Oregano, Sage, and Thyme

Sugar water *use very short term. Too much sugar can lead to pasty butt

Nutra-drench product

Poly-visol infant vitamin drops without iron –*This also helps with wry neck which is a result of Vitamin E deficiency. You can read more on Wry Neck syndrome here.

The important thing is to get some nutrition into them and get them over the hard part. After 24 to 48 hours your chicks should be back on chick feed and able to cope well. You may need to assess when to return them to the brooder with the other chicks. 

What Do Chicks Need to Thrive?

The best case scenario is a small number of chicks, transferred to a waiting brooder. They stay warm and within a short time, find food and water. The weaker ones learn from the bolder stronger chicks and all do quite well. But sometimes, chicks need some TLC to get past the initial days. They may have become chilled at some point and become too weak to get to the food. They may be not as strong and easily trampled by the other chicks. Once they are knocked down, it may be too much to struggle back up on their feet. 

If possible, raise the weak chick with another non-aggressive chick for company. Chicks all do better with at least one friend in the brooder. 

revive a weak chick

Of course, we all want a good outcome and it is often a matter of timing. Do what you can to observe the chicks and help with some TLC if you see a weak chick. When you revive a weak chick, it is a rewarding feeling. I hope these ideas will help you if you have a need to revive a weak chick. Please leave your own remedies and ideas in the comments.

revive a weak chick




How to Make a Hen Saddle or Apron

hen saddleWhy is your hen wearing a dress? This is a question I hear if I put the hen saddle on a chicken. The hen saddle protects the chickens back and feathers from the treading of a rooster. I have also heard these called hen aprons.  If you don’t keep a rooster, you may not ever need the protection of a hen saddle. Making the hen saddle is an easy DIY project. First lets look at why the hen saddle might be necessary.

Observing chickens mating can be disturbing if you haven’t seen it before. Roosters are not gentle when they mate. The hen submits by crouching down. The rooster jumps on her back and treads his feet into her feathers to gain his balance. The actual mating is quick and both hen and rooster shake their feathers, walking off to continue foraging. The rooster may go from one hen to the next in quick succession. And if you have more than one rooster, the boys may have their own idea of which hen belongs to each of them. Roosters must have a different idea of what courtship should look like! 

How Does Feather Damage Happen?

Rooster feet are large and the talons are sharp. In addition, the spur may be quite long. All of these structures are digging into the back of the hen while the rooster is mating. Feathers are meant to protect and fluff. They can not always withstand repeated abrasions. The mating behavior can cause the hen to loose her back feathers. After the feathers fall out, the hen is still a willing victim in the mating game. Now however, the skin on her back will take the wear and tear. Some hens seam to  have a lighter feathering and lose their feathers quickly. Some manage to keep a downy covering.

hen saddle

In addition, sunlight will burn the tender skin on the hen. This can’t be healthy!  

Use a Hen Saddle to Stop the Feather Loss Before it Happens

The first sign of feather loss starts near the tail of the hen. Look near  the tail feathers for a downy look instead of feathers. If it’s not molting season, you probably are seeing feather loss from mating. Molting usually starts in late summer and is over by the time cold weather hits. Nature intended it this way. The new feathers and downy undercoat are ready to insulate the chicken through the colder weather. Read more about molt here. 

hen saddle

Rooster caused feather loss is usually seen in the spring. Mating season begins as the days lengthen. Look for feather loss at this time and think about using a saddle to protect the hen.

Using a hen saddle will protect the feathers before they fall out.  If you don’t want to sew a hen saddle, there are many options for buying them. If you can sew a simple pattern together, you may enjoy stitching up a few to protect your hens. 

The hen doesn’t seem to notice she is wearing a saddle once it is on her. Depending on the temperament of the hen, she may object to being caught and held while you dress her. After the saddle is on correctly, the wings fold over most of it and they rarely seem to bother with it. 

Occasionally the saddle will roll up the hen’s back. Flip it back down and when she adjusts her wings it will cover it up again.

hen saddle

When to Use the Hen Saddle

The hen saddle does a great job at protecting the hen’s tender skin during mating season. As late summer approaches, the roosters should be less active, and the molting process will begin.  At some point during the molt, new feather growth will begin. At this point, remove the hen saddle so it does not interfere or abrade the new feathers. If there is still an over zealous rooster, that must stay with the flock, you may need to play around with the timing of taking the saddle off. In some cases, putting the hen saddle on during the day and removing it at night, might be the answer. 

Save for later!

hen saddle


How to Make a Hen Saddle

Using the pattern provided, or make your own, cut two from cotton fabric.

 Cut a piece of elastic 12 inches long. 

(I used two contrasting “fat quarters” which can be purchased where ever quilting supplies are found. Two fat quarters will make 4 hen saddles. Of course, you can use an leftover cotton fabric you have on hand,too.)

Place the two pieces of the hen saddle, right sides together.  

Stitch the two layers together, leaving the opening shown, unsewn for turning. Use a quarter inch seam allowance and clip the curves to make turning easier.

Turn the hen saddle to the right side by pulling the saddle through the opening. Smooth and press the saddle.

Turn the opening raw edges to the inside. Press. Fold over the top for the elastic casing. Sew to the body portion at the top, making a casing for the elastic band.

Insert the elastic band through the casing.  Attach to each side of the hen saddle, stitch in place. If you are having trouble threading the elastic, attach a safety pin to one end to push through the casing.

hen saddle

Show your creation to your hens! I am sure they will all want to wear the latest fashion statement!

hen saddle

Hen Saddle in Action

Are you wondering how in the world you will get your new hen saddle onto the chicken? Watch this video as I apply the hen saddle made in this post, to one of our buff Orpington hens. It seems my buff Orpingtons are especially prone to feather damage from the roosters. Maybe because they are a docile breed and don’t run away from him as quickly!  


Print the Pattern and Instructions

Print here

2017_05_13_14_41_43 hen saddle

Hatching Eggs and a Broody Duck

hatching eggs
How do you survive hatching eggs and a broody duck? I had no idea what I was getting into the first time one of our ducks decided to brood a clutch of eggs.  Here’s a recap of the events as they unfolded a few years ago. Since then, every year, at least one of our ducks has decided to set a clutch of eggs. We have had a few successful hatches and quite a few heartbreaks from predators stealing eggs. It is quite an experience.

Hatching Eggs and a Broody Duck

For the past month our buff duck hen has been broody. I went away at the beginning of August and when I returned she had made herself very comfortable on a nest of 10 duck eggs. And oh my, was she broody. She would sit there and quack at the top of her lungs, her duck bill wide open. I referred to it as shouting and asked her to please use her indoor voice.

Like clockwork, every day, twice a day, momma would leave the nest to relieve herself, grab a bite to eat, stretch her wings and take a short swim and grooming session. Then she would shout, all the way back to the nest, letting all the other ducks know how special her task was. This is not unusual behavior for a broody duck with hatching eggs. While she was off the nest, our Buff Drake would stand by the nest guarding it, while broody momma took her break. He wasn’t as protective as she was, nor as threatening, but he did guard the eggs from the other ducks. One of our Rouen Hens would join him, from time to time. I was never sure if she wanted to sit on the hatching eggs or if she just wanted to be part of the miracle of life.

Checking for Development 

I candled the eggs and sure enough, most of them were developing. The ones that didn’t seem to be developing, I left there because I had an idea of what would happen next.

Hatching Eggs and a Broody Duck

Time went on, and momma did her job admirably. Until last week. Momma started to kick eggs out of the nest. This was what I expected, and upon opening the rejected eggs, there was no developing duckling. Just rotten eggs.

As this week began, I was hopeful that the three remaining eggs would hatch. The expected blessed event was to happen over Labor Day weekend so I was getting excited.

And then…..

Then, the worst happened. Momma kicked one of the good eggs out of the nest yesterday. I noticed the nest was not being sat on. I can’t really explain how I knew but it just looked different. Then, I felt the two remaining eggs. Cold as ice. Not even remotely warm. But I was in denial, and left them in the nest. I waited for momma to return to setting but it got dark and I had to go home.

Today, Momma was out hanging out with the other ducks and not quacking up a storm any longer. In fact, she was acting like all the other ducks again! I hoped that meant that the ducklings had hatched and she had them somewhere inside. But when I entered the coop, there were just two very cold, abandoned eggs sitting in the nest. No one was guarding the eggs. They were definitely abandoned. I removed them from the nest.

I had to know.  Breaking open the eggs revealed two almost fully ready dead ducklings. Nature took over and for some reason, theses little ducks were not fit to hatch out. Maybe they had health problems, maybe momma was a bad momma. We will never know the answer.

Moving Forward 

I have had success in the past, hatching out our duck eggs using the incubator. We still have four that we hatched here, and they are healthy and active 15 month old ducks. So I know our duck’s eggs are fertile and capable of producing life.

Am I disappointed? Yes, absolutely. This was a tough year as far as bringing babies up here at Timber Creek Farm. Now the disappointment of no newly hatched ducklings.

The good news is, tomorrow is another day. The ducks will start to lay eggs again. The good news on the farm is that there is always beauty to be found. Some days you have to look a little harder for your encouragement.

(This story, with a much happier ending, was the basis for my latest book. Margarita and the Beautiful Gifts is available on Amazon and through the shop tab on this website.)


hatching eggs

Keep Your Chicken Coop Smelling Fresh

Keep Your chicken coop smelling freshHere are five quick tips to help you keep your chicken coop smelling fresh.  If your coop makes you hold your breath when you go in to collect eggs, think about how the chickens feel!  It’s not too hard to keep the coop clean and fresh, if you do a little bit of cleaning every few days.  I am listing a few important basics for you.

Keep Your Chicken Coop Smelling Fresh with These 5 Tips

1.  Water and moisture are not your friend.  If you slop or spill water when filling the water founts or bowls, the moisture will mix with the droppings and create a bad ammonia  odor.  The best way to keep this from piling up is to clean up any spills as they happen. We had to switch to a fount style waterer instead of a bowl  because we had one duck in with the chickens and she thought we were giving her a small swimming pool each evening.  Mrs. Duck could still get enough water to dip her bill in with the water fount.  And there was less mess to cleanup in the morning. Now that the ducks are housed separately, we have returned to using the flexible rubber feed pans for the water bowl in the chicken coop.

2.  Install a box fan to keep air circulating.  Stagnant air smells bad and the flies will accumulate more in a stuffy airless building.  Running a fan, even on low speed, will keep the flies, and the odor to a minimum.  Not to mention that it keeps the coop from becoming too hot, also.  We hang an inexpensive box unit over the coop doorway.  You can read more about that here, in my heat stress post. Installing a fan is one of the easiest ways to keep your chicken coop smelling fresh.

3.  Use fresh herbs and rose petals if you have them, in the nesting boxes and in the sleeping areas.  Not only will the herbs and petals smell great, the hens will appreciate the yummy treat. Mint is another great addition and it will help repel pests too.  Check out more about using herbs in your nesting boxes.  Another good source for chicken information is  here’s a link to a great post  about using herbs in your coop.

4.  Every few days or once a week, clean out any bedding  that is soiled or damp.  We use hay or straw  in the nesting boxes.  Straw is preferred because it is low in moisture, which is optimal for keeping odor at a minimum.  Occasionally we have to use hay because we are out of straw.  I try to use the driest hay bale I can find that is not dusty or moldy.  The chickens will track in some wet mud, or occasionally an egg breaks, in the nests.  The bedding is thrown out in the chicken yard for them to peck through before it is added to the compost pile.  Sprinkle some Diatomaceous  Earth powder under the fresh hay or straw to absorb moisture and odors.

5.  Two or three times a year, completely clean out the bedding on the coop floor.  Sometimes we use the deep litter method of coop bedding. This means that we continue to add fresh bedding or shavings as needed to the coop and only remove the damp/wet or soiled bedding on the floor as needed.  In the winter this adds to the warmth of the coop by keeping the decomposing litter and feces in the building.  Decomposing matter creates heat.  We keep less litter and shavings in the coop during the hot months of summer to keep it cooler.

Keeping chickens happy and smelling good is not a full time job and doesn’t need to be.  Maintain a dry environment and you will be able to keep your chicken coop will be smelling fresh. 


keep your chicken coop smelling fresh

**Updated 4/28/2017 from the original post written 6/25/2013

Keep Your coop smelling fresh


Why Neuter Livestock for the Homestead?

Neuter Livestock

The decision to neuter livestock is part of maintaining a safe environment on the homestead or small backyard farm. This choice is of primary importance. Most of us are not running a breeding operation. We are raising animals for weed control, meat for our table, eggs, and other things like fiber and fleeces. Often, people don’t have the space to keep a bull, boar, ram or buck separate from the rest of the animals. In addition to space and separate housing, there are some serious facts to consider. Controlling the population on our backyard farms and homesteads is of primary importance. All animals require care, feed, veterinary services and room to move around. Over population can occur before you know it.

Sparring at Timber Creek Farm

Boys will be Boys. Sparring is a natural activity for all goats and sheep and not necessarily just for Bucks and Rams

Not Breeding?  Then, Neuter Livestock.

If you are not planning to breed your livestock, the most responsible course of action is to castrate, or neuter you livestock. Animal behavior is one reason to go this route. Males tend to be more aggressive, which can be a problem if you are not prepared to deal with this trait. Food aggression can be annoying and dangerous. An eighty pound buck jumping on you to get the food bucket can result in you being injured. The food bucket can be enough to cause a curious friendly, intact, male animal, to charge you and ram into you.

I have learned that letting a ram lamb become too pushy can lead to having a 100 pound lap puppy who thinks he makes the rules. Our ram, Ranger, wouldn’t let me into the pen, once he was full grown. I have been knocked down and also had my ribs broken by overly friendly male goats and rams.


Buddy and Gary Goat

Neuter or Separate the Goats 

Unwanted babies is another reason to neuter livestock on your homestead. Males left in the same field with the females often become territorial. Do not think that you can wait until you see mating behavior before separating the animals. As we were told as teens, it only takes once! By the time you actually witness mating behavior, you are probably expecting baby animals.


Micah and Pongo, two of our whethered goats

When Should You Neuter ?

Timing is another factor to consider when making the decision to neuter livestock. Waiting longer gives the urethra time to mature and reach its full growth. This will go a long way towards avoiding a later urinary track blockage, which male small ruminants can be prone to.

Of course, waiting can also have consequences. I waited too long to neuter a goat kid one year. Then bad weather arrived and by the time I was able to move him to another pen, he had impregnated his mother, sister and all the other females. Oops! We had a bumper crop of baby goats the following spring. If I had at least separated the males when they were weaned, I could have avoided this result.


Charlie Pride of Timber Creek Farm

East end of a westward pig. Charlie as a young boar


Methods Used to Neuter Livestock

There are multiple methods to use to neuter  livestock. Surgical castration, Burdizzo method and Banding with an elastrator are all methods used by farmers. I have been taught to perform banding and use the burdizzo but for our farm, I have chosen to go with surgical castration.

My reasons are that we usually only have a few babies here at any one time. I feel more comfortable doing something if I do it often. Surgical castration is one hundred percent effective and we have a good farm vet that I trust to do the surgery. If we were in a more rural location and raised more babies each year, I would choose to go with banding. Banding cannot be used on male piglets as they do not have hanging down parts.

Banding can leave a descended testicle though, if you are not careful, which can result in an unwanted pregnancy at some point. Our Ram/whether, Ranger, was banded as a lamb by the previous owner. He did not realize that one testicle had slipped back up into the abdominal cavity during the procedure. It later descended into the scrotum and resulted in him being fertile. The common saying when doing a banding is “always count to two!” before considering the job complete.

Ranger at Timber Creek Farm

Ranger our Ram, that was supposed to have been neutered as a lamb

Another consideration is that the burdizzo and the elastrator for banding are both bloodless methods. Using a bloodless method results in less likelihood of attracting flies.

Are Roosters Neutered?

Roosters are not routinely castrated as it needs to be a surgical procedure and is not always successful. A neutered rooster is called a Capon. Neutering a rooster needs to be done before sexual maturity. In some countries this is accomplished by feeding or implanting estrogen but this is not widely practiced in the United States.



Cattle and Swine

A bull will test your patience and the patience of nearby neighbors. A bull will spend a lot of time trying to find the weak spot in your fence line. Not to mention the large size and strength of a bull. Castrating a male calf would be the right choice if you are not running a breeding program.


We chose to raise heifers for our feeder calves. The aggression is minimal as they mature but they are more content to stay on the farm.

Pigs – To Neuter or Leave Intact?

With swine, leaving the males intact in those pigs you plan to raise for meat, can result in an off tasting pork product, but only if they are left intact past the point of sexual maturity. This is a theory that is debatable, also. Some believe that if the males are separated from the female pigs, there is no tainted taste to the meat. Read more here. In our case, our weanlings are sold intact, to people who are planning an upcoming pig roast, to be held before the point of sexual maturity occurs. We are keeping one boar for breeding at this time. We are not having any issues with him as far as behavior, but he has two females to take care of and plenty to eat.


Charlie Pride at Timber Creek Farm

Hand raised pigs may be less dangerous, but it is always good to remember that the animal works on instinct.

As with any thing farm related, being informed goes a long way towards being successful. Make the decision before hand on how you will deal with male farm animals and make sure the task is taken care of in a timely manner.


neuter livestock