Newly acquired chicks - sour milk smell from mouth, slight nasal discharge, very occasional sneeze/s


8 Years
Dec 29, 2014
Hi everyone!

I'm infrequent poster but a frequent reader - this site is full of great information about all sorts of things. In that light, I would love some feedback about the health of my new chicks.

I obtained four chicks from a breeder in the next county over. Two of them are pet quality Silkies that are about 3 weeks old, one is a Silkie mix that's around 7 weeks old and one is a BLRW that is almost a 1 week old. I got them Saturday afternoon. In hindsight, I made several mistakes. I realize this completely and share the following information as background information only. Please don't tell what I did wrong here. I know, and I feel terrible.

I went to her farm in person to pick up the chicks. She had lots of chickens, various breeds, which for the most part were in large outdoor pens in groups of three or four. The pens were clean and there was no real smell to any of them. It had just stormed the night before with some tree damage so I doubt she went through and cleaned all the pens before I arrived. She showed me some of the breeding projects she is working on, so I walked around her farm for a quick tour. I did not see any visible/obvious signs of illness in any of the birds. The majority of them were sociable and came right up to us when we walked up so I was able to see the majority fairly closely. Clear eyes, no eye or nostril discharge, nice feathering, etc. I did notice that several of the pens had waterlogged food dishes and the chickens weren't shy about eating anyways so I assume it's a fairly regular occurrence there. I know the first time I tried to feed my chickens a wet mash they looked at it like it was poisonous.

The weather the prior week was unusually warm for this area so everyone was outside for awhile during the day. This includes the Silkie chicks. The Silkie mix chicks, from which I picked one, had been outside for a couple weeks now and were allowed to free range in the fenced space between all the pens. The Silkie chicks were brought in at night. The BLRW chick was with the broody hen until a couple hours before I picked them up. When I got there, she had the Silkie chicks inside in a wire pen. There were several other Silkie chicks in there as well, along with some frizzle cochin bantams and some game cross chicks. This group of chicks had been together for several weeks. All were around the same age except for the BLRW who was put in this pen that morning. None of the chicks in this pen seemed ill - clear eyes, good feathering, good posture/attitude, etc. None of them were hunched over, lethargic or anything like that. I did not think to sniff the Silkie chicks and didn't notice the odor until I opened their box after got home. There was no noticeable odor standing next to the pen. All four chicks were placed by the breeder in a small cardboard box with pine shavings and some holes in it for ventilation. It was pretty cold and wet that day so she told me putting all of them together would help keep them warmer.

When I got home, I put the four chicks in a large dog kennel outside in the backyard while I finished setting up the quarantine area. The backyard borders the pasture where the other chickens live.


They are in quarantine right now. The Silkies and Silkie mix are together in a bathtub downstairs and the BLRW is in a 20 gallon long aquarium since it's too small to be with the bigger ones right now.

I noticed an odd smell coming from one of the Silkie chicks, so I opened it's mouth and sniffed. The smell reminded me of spoiled milk or something. It does not smell like death or rotting flesh. The other Silkie chick and the Silkie mix also smell like this, but not as badly. The BLRW doesn't smell at all. I noticed some clear nasal discharge from the three older chick but none from the BLRW. The discharge is not dripping from their noses, just visible under the nostrils. One of the Silkie chicks had a blocked nostril so I swabbed it out with a q-tip. It appeared to be just dried clear discharge. I also swabbed the clear discharge from the other chicks' noses. I sniffed all the q-tips and there is no smell to the discharge. I have heard a handful of slight sneezes from the three older chicks, almost like they breathed in some dusty air or something. None of them are gasping for breath or showing signs of breathing difficulties. I can't hear any obvious chest/lung noises - just heartbeats. One Silkie had a watery eye when I took it out of the box, but that could have been from being in a small box with pine shavings and three other chicks for over an hour. Perhaps something irritated the eye. It hasn't happened again and there is no eye discharge from any of the others. There is no residue on their wing feathers like they've been wiping their faces off on themselves. There is no facial swelling.

All four chicks are eating and drinking normally. They all show normal chick behavior including scratching for feed and flapping around. They are a little on the thin side though.

I've done a bunch of research, and the only things I've read can be associated with a smell are crop issues and Coryza. Since I've never had a chicken with Coryza, I don't have anything to compare the smell to. Based on the research I've done on Coryza, the smell comes from the eye and nasal discharge rather than the mouth and the discharge would not be clear at that point. I have also read that Coryza progresses very quickly with an incubation period of 1-3 days and an entire flock can be infected within 10 days.

What are the chances these three chicks picked up a infection from the ground at the breeder's? I'm thinking maybe something fungal, candida, etc. Perhaps they eat some spoiled/moldy food before someone removed it. This would explain why the three older chicks who had been outside have the smell but not the BLRW who was with the broody hen up until the end. If its an infection in the crop, that would explain the smell from the mouth. However, I am not sure if that would explain the clear nasal discharge.

While all four chicks will be in quarantine for a while, I'm thinking I should significant deterioration in the older three in the next several days if they have Coryza - significant difficulty breathing, foul smelling discharge, facial swelling, etc. Is this thinking correct or will it take longer for Coryza to show itself?

If it's not Coryza, can I assume it's a crop issue? If so, what is the best course of action? Treat for fungal and yeast infections in hopes something works?

If it is Coryza, what are the chances it has already spread to my other chickens from me leaving them in the backyard after bringing them home? So far, none of my other chickens are showing any signs of illness but I'm watching them closely to be sure. I take care of them first and the quarantine birds last.

If it's not Coryza or a crop issue, are there any other things that could explain the smell and clear nasal discharge?

Any insight on these chicks, based on their previous environment and current symptoms, would be much appreciated.

If you need more detail about any of this, please let me know.

Thank you!!
I'm very new to all things chicken, but it sounds like you've done your homework. Since sour crop MIGHT be a cause (at least of the smell) have you checked their crops in the morning to see if they're empty or have some remnants still in them?
I have been leaving chick starter out for them 24/7, but tonight I will take it away and see what their crops look like in the morning tomorrow.

I checked on everyone this morning after I fed the other chickens. One of the Silkie chicks had a slight nostril blockage on one side. I swabbed it out with a wet q-tip. It had a little color to it, but not much. Still no smell. No eye discharge out of anyone and nasal discharge has not increase. The Silkie mix chick sneezed a little when I was walking out the door. It sound like one of my cats does in the spring when the pollen is bad. Not an 'I can't breathe' noise but more of a sniffle. Everyone was happy to get more food this morning. No signs of lethargy.

If it was Coryza, would I be seeing other signs by now? I've had them for three days.

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