When those fuzzy little chicks, ducklings, or goslings arrive in the mail, the first thing you want to do is pick them up and cuddle them. Young children, especially, can’t resist snuggling those cute little fluff balls. The more time you spend with your baby poultry, the friendlier they will become.
However, among the important tips for how to take care of baby chickens is to avoid handling them during the first days after their arrival. They need time to rest after their long trip, and time to get oriented to the brooder environment.
Once the babies are eating and drinking well, and become more active in the brooder, you can start holding them for a few minutes a day. Where young children are involved, make sure they know not to roughly handle baby birds, squeeze them, or drop them.
The best way for a small child to get acquainted with baby poultry is to have the child sit on the floor with a towel across his or her lap (to catch stray poops) and place a baby bird on the towel where the child can touch it with little danger of harming it.
Children, especially young ones who can’t remember to keep their hands out of their mouths, should be taught to wash their hands after handling the babies or helping tend the brooder. And please explain to children that they mustn’t kiss a chick, duckling, or gosling.
The no-kissing rule is important, because (as with all other animals, including humans) the intestines of poultry are home to salmonella bacteria. These bacteria are so common you would have a hard time finding any meat, eggs, or any other food that did not harbor one of the 2,500 known strains of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria of greatest concern here is S. Enteriditis, which is responsible for periodic outbreaks of food poisoning reported in the news.
Although most cases of salmonella in humans are not caused by live poultry, a person handling baby birds can easily get bits of poop dust on their hands from the hatchling’s feet or body. Children, with their immature immune systems, are especially vulnerable to getting sick if they then put their hands in their mouth, or touch their nose or eyes. Because kissing a chick, duckling, or gosling makes direct contact with the bird, it can transfer bacteria directly to the child’s mouth.
While handling poultry, children should learn to keep their fingers out of their mouths and off their faces, avoid kissing baby (or even mature) birds, and always wash hands with soap and warm water after visiting the family flock. Where soap and water are not readily available, keep a hand sanitizer handy.
With all brooded poultry, take care not to overdo the handling. Hatchlings are, after all, babies that tire easily. Let them spend most of their time like any babies — eating or sleeping. As they grow and feather out, continue handling them with care. Young poultry need to conserve most of their energy to grow muscle, bone, and feathers to become healthy mature chickens, ducks, and geese.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks (Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Guinea Fowl)