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For the first weeks of life, chicks require supplemental heat to keep them warm while their feathers grow in. Occasionally, brooder lamps can burn out, and mother hens sometimes abandon chicks for unknown reasons. Seemingly cold and lifeless, some chicks can be revived even when their body temperature plummets to nearly 73 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hypothermia vs. Death
From all outward appearances, a hypothermic chick may seem to be dead. The body can be cold and stiff and the legs splayed out behind, with no discernible respiration or heartbeat. If the air temperature is above 70 degrees, or the chick has been exposed to a lower temperature for a short time, there is a chance that warming the chick to its regular body temperature will result in normal body function being restored.
While most hatcheries require minimum orders of chicks that ensure body heat is sufficient to keep them warm during shipping, chicks may be sometimes exposed to abnormally cold temperatures in transit. Make sure your brooder has been preheated; lay any lifeless chicks closest to the heat lamp to bring them up to normal temperature. Chicks who were merely hypothermic should show signs of life in less than an hour.
Hypothermia First Aid
While normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, about 5 degrees lower than a chick's normal body temperature, you can begin to revive a chick by cupping a chick's body between your hands. Rub hands briskly together to warm them and enfold the chick, allowing the chick's beak to rest where your thumbs join so he can get air if he should begin breathing. Use this method to transport chicks to a more appropriate heat source.
Rescuing a Wet Chick
Occasionally, mama hen will take babies out for a morning foray only to be caught in a rainstorm or by rain sprinklers, causing babies to rapidly succumb to hypothermia. If chicks are wet, gently massage them with a dry towel to remove moisture, then blow-dry them on low settings, preferably with a diffuser. Cup your hand behind the chick to retain the warmth and ensure that the air is not hot enough to burn him.
Return the revived chick to a brooder temperature of 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure his core temperature remains normal.
Offer revived chicks water with 3 tablespoons of sugar added to each quart to help balance electrolytes crucial to maintaining body temperature.
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