Premium Feather Member
13 Years
Dec 26, 2006
Both Coasts
Causes of Early Chick Mortality
from the World Veterinary Association

Causes of Early Chick Mortality
Posted by: agrilive on Oct 15, 2003 - 03:58 PM
Prof.Dr. Ahsan-ul-Haq
Tanveer Ahmad

There are many causes of early chick mortality, some important causes are as under;

1. Genetic causes.
2. Managemental causes.
3. Nutritional causes.
4. Disease causes.


Genetic cause is also important because there are 21 lethal mutations in the fowl. The lethal is more pronounced in homozygotes especially during 3rd week of incubation. The greater the abnormality caused by the lethal gene, the earlier the age at death. Most creepers die at 3rd or 4th day of incubation and most talpid embryos at 8th to 10th day.

Sticky embryos die during the last 4 days of incubation and about half of the Naked chicks die during 2 or 3 days before hatching time, congenital loco is lethal within a week after hatching and congenital tremor kills 90% of the affected chicks within a month. If the eggs from a control and a carrier flock are incubated under the same conditions, the maximum possible difference of hatching will be about 25%.


A) Effect of high brooding temperature
High brooding temperature causes the following problems,

The body of young chicks comprises of about 70 % water, when temperature remains continuously high, it causes loss of water from the body, when this water loss reaches about 10% the chick die due to dehydration. Pasting:
This is another problem of high brooding temperature in which feces become stacked around the vent area causing blockage of the vent which ultimately results in death.

B) Effect of low brooding temperature

Low brooding temperature causes the following problems,

Chilling or brooding pneumonia:
Temperature below normal causes pneumonia problem in young chicks, in which the colour of lungs become blue.

During low temperature chicks huddle together to maintain body temperature which results in smothering and death.

Prevention of temperature problems.
To prevent the problems of dehydration, pasting, chilling and smothering we should adjust the brooding room temperature 24 hours before putting the chicks in the brooding room and during the brooding period. Try to maintain the normal temperature throughout the brooding period and brooding areas.

C) Effect of poisoning

Mortality due to poisoning is also high in young chicks such as;

Feed poisoning:
Fungal contaminated feed and toxic material in feed causes feed poisoning .

Salt poisoning:
Salt poisoning also causes mortality which is due to excess salt in drinking water and feed.

Gas poisoning:
High concentration of different toxic gases also causes mortality which are;

It causes irritation of mucous membrane & eyes, low feed consumption, reduced growth rate, loss of cilia in the trachea , hemorrhages and death at level above 100 ppm, so its concentration should be less than 25 ppm.

Carbon monoxide (CO):
CO combines with hemoglobin to form carboxy-hemoglobin which is unable to transport oxygen. The lethal conc. of CO is 2000-3600 ppm .

Carbon dioxide:
If the conc. of CO2 goes beyond 30% ,it causes suffocation and death.

Tennin or Litter poisoning:
The ingestion of toxic material like tannin in saw dust causes mortality.

D) Effect of injuries

If chicks are not handled carefully during various operations it causes injuries and death which are; sexing, vaccination, dubbing, debeaking.

E) Starvation

Young chicks do not have fat storage to fulfill body needs during starvation, so it results in death .

F) Less floor, feeder and waterer spaces

Less floor space is another cause of mortality in chicks as over crowding causes dampness of the litter material which become a suitable site for the multiplication of micro organism, causing, coccidiosis etc. Less feeder and waterer space causes starvation and death specially in young chicks.

G) High relative humidity

High relative humidity in brooding house causes the dampness of litter material which facilitate the growth of micro organisms causing infections.

H) Predators

If brooding houses are not properly constructed against predators they also causes mortality, e.g. Rat, Dog, Cat etc.


Water play an important role in maintaining the health and performance of the birds. It acts as a transport medium for nutrients and metabolic end products. It helps in maintaining deep body temperature during hot weather.

Water play an important role in weight gain of broiler.
Water fulfill the minor deficiency of mineral like Na, Cl, K etc.
Imbalance and unhygienic water causes high mortality.

b) Effect of fat soluble vitamins deficiency

Severe deficiency of these vitamins (A, D, E & K) causes death, but minor deficiency causes cessation of growth, ruffled feather, lacrimation, rickets, encephalomalacia, exudative diathesis and anemia etc.

c) Effect of water soluble vitamins deficiency

Severe deficiency of these vitamins (B-Complex & C) causes death, but minor deficiency causes, loss of weight, poor feathering, poor growth, dermatitis, perosis, nervous signs and anemia etc.


If biosecurity measures are not maintained then there is a great chance of disease out-break, because the young chick lack immunity .

a) Omphalitis

This bacterial disease affects the chicks during and after hatching, spreads navel infection characterized by inflamed skin in the navel area, soft, flabby and distended abdomen, vent pasting, foul smelling on carcass opening, due to unabsorbed yolk.

b) Pullorum

It is an acute infectious and fatal bacterial disease of chicks characterized by ruffled feather, white diarrhea, labor breathing, chirping and death.

c) Salmonellosis

A group of acute rapidly spreading diseases affecting all ages characterized by rise in body temperature, septicemia, omphalitis, hepatitis, enlargement of spleen, arthritis and death.

d) Colibacillosis

It is an acute septicemia disease caused by E-coli affecting all ages characterized by involvement of all systems, poor feed conversion and death.



From Blackwell Publishing:

* D.J. Kingston11Inghams Enterprises, P.O. Box 4, Liverpool, New South Wales 2171

1Inghams Enterprises, P.O. Box 4, Liverpool, New South Wales 2171


Observations made in a commercial broiler hatchery revealed that chicks hatched over a period of 48 hours. Chick mortality to 10 days of age was 3.2% for those hatched at the commencement of the hatch, 1.2% for those hatched at peak of hatch and 52.9% for those hatched at the end of hatching. Chicks hatched early were more prone to dehydration while late hatching chicks had a higher incidence of leg weakness.

Chicks held for 48 hours in hatcher machines lost 12.5% to 21.7% of their hatching weight and 79.4% of the hatching weight of the yolk sac.

Normal 10-day mortality from this hatchery in winter months was observed to be 2.4% but was reduced to 1.2% when staggered setting times of donor flocks was employed by removing chicks from the machines 3 hours after 100% hatch, but was increased to 5.6% by holding chicks in the hatchery in chick boxes for 24 hours at 70±C.

From Pfizer Animal Management:

Early Chick Mortality


Early mortality of chicks and turkey poults is caused mainly by Escherichia coli and staphylococcal infections, primarily Staphylococcus aureus. Large numbers of E. coli are present in the general poultry house environment through fecal contamination. Initial exposure to pathogenic E. coli may occur in the hatchery from infected or contaminated eggs, but systemic infection usually requires predisposing environmental or infectious causes.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Signs are non-specific. Young birds dying of acute septicemia (infections in the blood) have few lesions, except for an enlarged liver and spleen. There are often increased fluids in the body cavities. Birds that survive septicemia develop subacute fibrinopurulent airsacculitis, pericarditis, perihepatitis and lymphocytic depletion of the bursa and thymus. Unusually pathogenic salmonellae produce similar lesions in chicks. Although airsacculitis is a classic lesion of colibacillosis, it is unclear if it results from primary respiratory exposure or from extension of serositis.

Isolation of a pure culture of E. coli from heart, blood, liver or typical visceral lesions in a fresh carcass indicates primary or secondary colibacillosis.


Control predisposing infections, sanitation and other environmental factors that spread disease. Use antibiotics in day-old chicks as indicated by susceptibility tests. Commercial bacterins, administered to breeder hens or chicks, have provided some protection.

They recommend treatment with one of their medication.


Mortality: Common Causes

Summer 2002 by Jeff Mattocks

Air Quality
I receive many calls per year about mild to severe respiratory problems. I start my diagnosis by asking a lot of questions regarding the symptoms and conditions of the poultry. Most of the cases that I try to diagnose throughout the year are related to air quality, and most of these occur in the brooder.

Many folk, particularly beginners in pastured poultry, treat their chicks like their infant children. Everyone is cautious about drafts and chills and these are things to be aware of. The downfall to being overcautious is the tendency to seal up the entire brooder so that NO fresh air can get in. Chicks require a minimum 100% air exchange 6 times in a 24 hour period. This doesn't include drafts that come in at floor level. It also does not include chilling the chicks with a rush of very cool air. It does include a subtle continuous movement of air in the brooder or any controlled environment.

The problem most often encountered with poor air movement is Sinusitis. Sinusitis is a direct result of excess humidity and ammonia release from manure. The ammonia will cause an irritated respiratory tract, which causes tissue scarring, which decreases oxygen absorption to the blood stream, which accentuates Ascites. (My grammar is really not that bad. I wanted you to see the domino affect of a bad condition.) Both sinusitis and ammonia scarring will retard growth weights, if they don't kill the birds first.

Both sinusitis and ammonia build up can be controlled with air quality management.
Temperature Control
We all know that temperature control is critical. I experienced this first hand this spring when brooding chicks in February when our day time and night time temperatures swing at least 20 degrees. I know that I don't deal well with 20 degree temperature swings, how well do we think a day old chick can deal with these types of temperature changes? I had to adjust my heat lamp distance a minimum of 4 times daily to try and maintain some sort of constant temperature.

Chicks need to regulate their own temperature. By this I mean that we provide enough area with supplied heat that the chick can find it when it needs it and get away from it when they don't. Amazingly the chicks are really smarter than I give them credit for. I only thought they were stupid because they didn't do what I thought they should.

I get a couple calls each year where the chicks are very irritable and even cannibalistic. Asking my twenty questions, I find the problem is almost always excessive heat.

Coccidiosis and Necrotic Enteritis
Coccidiosis and Necrotic Enteritis are often confused, as the symptoms are similar. The symptoms include pasty butts, diarrhea, lifelessness, excess water consumption, and eating shavings. The difference will be blood spots in the manure. Blood spots are a clear indication of Coccidiosis. The good news is that both problems can be treated the same way. MANAGE YOUR LITTER! That was simple. Whenever you see clumped litter (generally around the feeder or waterers) you have harmful bacteria and/or coccidiosis. Actually there are several precautionary steps that can be taken. First, keep the clumped litter removed. Second, raise the feeders and waterers so that the lip of the feeder and waterers are level with the average birds back. Third, periodically apply thin layers of new shavings on top of the old. Fourth, maintain a good AIR FLOW.

Most occurrences of Coccidiosis and Enteritis will occur in the brooder. Generally symptoms will become noticeable around day 10. The mortality will peak between day 14 - day 21. Then the deaths will slowly reduce because the remaining chicks have built their own immunity to coccidiosis. If either of these problems have gotten out of hand and you are in the middle of a crisis, feed whole / raw milk to the chicks for 7 days. This will coat the stomach and soothe the pain so they can continue to eat and drink normally while the immune system kicks in and protects the chick. This is the easiest method.​


In the Brooder
11 Years
Mar 20, 2008
As a new breeder I find your information to be quite helpful thank you


11 Years
Feb 1, 2008
St Louis MO (Jefferson County)
Wow. This was really helpful to me. I have been unable to get my chicks outside since I bought them so early and it is too cold outside! Brooder space was getting crowded, so I bought another 'brooder box' and divided them some more. Pecking order disruption, oh well.


Life is a Journey
12 Years
Jul 8, 2007
Woodville, MS
From article above:

"Many folk, particularly beginners in pastured poultry, treat their chicks like their infant children. Everyone is cautious about drafts and chills and these are things to be aware of. The downfall to being overcautious is the tendency to seal up the entire brooder so that NO fresh air can get in. Chicks require a minimum 100% air exchange 6 times in a 24 hour period. This doesn't include drafts that come in at floor level. It also does not include chilling the chicks with a rush of very cool air. It does include a subtle continuous movement of air in the brooder or any controlled environment."

Wow, I've been saying all along to get those baby chicks outside in fresh air and sunshine from day one but never saw it documented in any poultry book. Everything says keep them in heated box for weeks and weeks.

I've had 4 different batches that have gone outside from one week old, in a chick-n-hutch with night temps in 40s and 50s with only a heat lamp and some plastic or blanket thrown over the hutch at night. For day, they are let out to free range in sunshine with temps 60s and up. Never lost one - never had one get sick - definitely never kept one in a heated 95 degree brooder box for more than a day or two.

I also give them vitamin supplements the first week and feed them scrambled egg from day one - twice a day for first few weeks.

Good healthy foods and fresh air and sunshine and lots of exercise - that's the key.
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In the Brooder
12 Years
Nov 28, 2007
Oregon City, OR
?"Congenital loco"
Whatever that is, I want no part of it!

Even though I didn't understand a lot of the terms, the parts I understood contained very good information. Thanks!

Ruth: about getting chicks some exposure to the outdoors: I think that is good for them too, since obviously, a mother hen and her chicks run around outdoors from just a couple of days old. One crazy little hen of ours hatched her babies November 8, and all survived the elements!
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11 Years
Apr 14, 2008
Chardon Ohio
Thank You Ruth!!!! After I read the article I was ready to cancel my first chick order. The more I read the more I question if I can do this.


Life is a Journey
12 Years
Jul 8, 2007
Woodville, MS
You can do it - we'll all help. But it's like having your first child - you're better off not to read all the books on raising one. Just go with your instincts.

I truly do just toss them outside if it's warm and they run and play all day long. Take a look at some of my threads and you will see.

This one might help:

Good luck - and remember, it's supposed to be fun for both you and the chicks.


11 Years
Mar 16, 2008
Two of my hatchlings are not doing well. One cannot staighten his neck and the other keeps rolling ove and over!? What am I doing wrong and if there is no hope what do I do?

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