Why are my chicks dying?

As hens and chicks grow, their bottom leaves will shrivel up and die. Sometimes this is caused by overwatering, underwatering, not enough light or other stresses to the plant. Other times though, it is just the variety. Some varieties have lots of leaves die back during the winter while others lose hardly any.

It isn’t necessary to remove the dead leaves, but it does a lot to help make the plants look pretty again.

Removing the dead leaves from hens and chicks is fairly easy. The time required will depend on how many plants you have. If you are going to clean up your plants it is best to do it in February or March, before the spring growth starts. If the rosette is already sending out runners for chicks then you run the risk of pulling those off with the dead foliage.

Just grab as many of the dead leaves as you can and pull to the side. The should pop off easily. This can be done with the rosette still planted.

You’ll end up with a pile of dead leaves and a plant with a bare trunk. If there is a lot of dead growth then you may want to replant your sempervivum so that it isn’t growing up on top of a stalk. If this is the case, just work the plant down deeper into the soil so that the stalk is covered.

It’s really simple and it will leave you with a hen and chick plant that looks fresh and brand new… ready to produce offsets in the spring!

Hen-and-chicks is a commonly used name for a group of succulents, mostly belonging to the Sempervivum genus and the Crassulaceae family.

Hen-and-chick plants produce numerous offsets appearing around the base of the mother hen.

The mother plant is the “hen,” and the offsets are her “chicks.”

Many of these species come from northern Africa and southern Europe, but they’re also grown throughout the world for their interesting appearances.

The most popular of these species is the Sempervivum tectorum, known as common houseleeks.

Pronounced , Sempervivum tectorum produces clusters of reddish-purple flowers.

While Sempervivums are unique and fun to grow, many people worry whether they’re toxic to people or animals.

Is The Hens and Chicks Poisonous or Toxic?

The hen and chicks Sempervivum isn’t known to contain any toxic compounds.

It’s considered a safe plant to grow around pets and children.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states hen and chicken Sempervivums aren’t toxic to dogs, cats, or horses.

Some people even include common houseleek in their raw food diets.

It features a slightly sour taste and the texture and consistency of cucumbers.

The edible parts include the thick leaves and young shoots.

The water stored in the plant may also help relieve skin irritation, providing a non-toxic substitute for aloe vera.

In fact, hens and chickens is a commonly recommended indoor plant for pet owners looking for safe, non-toxic plant growing options.

It is low-maintenance hens doesn’t require a lot of space.

Why Do People Assume Hens and Chickens Are Poisonous?

While most succulents won’t harm people or pets if ingested, people tend to assume hens and chicks contain toxins.

This toxicity fear may come from the appearance of the plants.

Succulents, including hens and chicks, feature thick parts which store nutrients.

People may assume the juicy, fleshy inside of the leaves and stems may hold potentially harmful compounds.

Additionally, several popular species of succulents are known to contain toxins:

  • Aloe vera
  • Pencil cactus (Euphorbias)
  • Jade Plants – Crassula ovata (more on poison Jade)
  • Mother-of-Millions (Kalanchoes)

These common garden plants are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. They may also cause distress to humans when ingested.

Another potential cause of concern is the similarities between mother hens and chicks and other succulents.

Some individuals may have read or mistaken a species of Sempervivum for another plant.

For example, several other species within the Crassulaceae family are known for their toxicity.

Cotyledon and tylecodon are succulents known to contain active ingredients which can cause various cardiac symptoms, including an increased risk of a heart attack.

What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?

If you, a child, or a pet eats a potentially harmful plant, mistaking it for a non-toxic hens and chicks plant, look for the following symptoms or sign of poisoning:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing
  • Stomach pain
  • Sneezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Lack of coordination

Pets may also experience blood in the stool, rapid breathing, excessive salivation, and lethargy.

Some plants also cause skin irritation.

After touching the sap on Euphorbias, the skin may develop a rash for example.

When dealing with suspected poisoning, don’t induce vomiting.

With many toxins, inducing vomiting may harm the esophagus or increase the severity of the reaction, leading to excess vomiting and stomach pain.

If a pet ingests an unknown garden or indoor plant and shows symptoms of poisoning, contact the vet as soon as possible.

If a child ingests a potentially harmful plant, visit an emergency room or local emergency clinic.

Bring a sample of the ingested plant or flowers with you, whether visiting a hospital, veterinarian, or clinic.

Try to estimate how much of the plant was ingested and keep track of the symptoms.

Are Other Succulents Safe for Pets and Kids?

Most species of hens and chicks plants remain safe for growing around pets and kids.

However, many additional species of succulents grown are also considered non-toxic, including:

  • Burro’s tail
  • Graptopetalum paraguayense
  • Haworthia
  • Mexican rosettes
  • Tree cactus
  • Wax rosette
  • Blue echeveria

Even if a succulent doesn’t contain toxins, ingesting large quantities of the fleshy succulent growth may still cause mild digestive distress.

Parts of the plant may also pose a choking hazard.

Many plants are perfectly safe and non-toxic, but it’s always a good idea to use caution.

Avoid ingesting any plants not intended as food items and monitor children and pets near houseplants.

How to Protect Yourself While Handling the Hens and Chicks Sempervivum

While the chicks and hens isn’t toxic, there are thousands of succulents, and some may resemble one of the sempervivum species.

When handling an unknown plant you suspect to be succulent hen-and-chick use care and caution.

Wear gardening gloves before touching any greenery when grooming or transplanting.

Wearing long-sleeved shirts and avoiding loose-fitting clothing also helps prevent skin contact.

Avoid burning any unknown vegetation as this may release toxic fumes into the air.

With these precautions, you reduce the risk of exposure to toxic substances just in case the plant isn’t a non-toxic hen-and-chick plant.

Raising Chickens – Baby Chicks in 3 Easy Steps

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I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but around here it’s baby chick time. They are at all the Farm Stores. They are at the Feed Mill. They are at the Horse Supply. Here a chick, there a chick, everywhere a chick-chick.

Baby Chicks, baby ducks, baby guineas, baby poultry are everywhere!The easiest way to care for baby chicks is to let the hen do it for you. The hen keeps the baby chicks warm. She teaches them how to drink. She even teaches them how to scratch and peck for food. If you don’t have a broody hen to take care of the baby chicks you will need to do these things for them.

Raising baby chicks is easy. Raising baby chicks is inexpensive. Raising baby chicks is rewarding and fun. You can do this.

There are entire books written about raising chickens. Today, I am going to boil all those books down into 3 easy steps. Here’s all you need to know in order to get started with baby chicks.

Baby Chicks Need 3 Things:

  1. Heat
  2. Food & Water
  3. Something to live in

Baby chicks are usually sent home in a small box. Our local farm supply stores have a minimum of 6 chicks per order. The baby chicks will keep each other warm with body heat during the trip home.

Once they get to their new home they will need some special chick care.

#1: Heat

The most important thing is to keep them warm. Really warm. Most baby chicks don’t die from illness, lack of food, or dehydration. They are far more likely to die from being cold. A 70 degree barn, garage or home is too cold for them. They need mama-hen temperature which is much warmer.

Since you are not a mama-hen, you will need a brooder. A brooder is a heated enclosure in which young chicks (or any fowl) are raised. A brooder need not be fancy or expensive. It can be a metal tub with a heat lamp above the chicks to keep them toasty.

After the heat lamp is installed, observe the chicks. If the chicks are all huddled together directly under the heat lamp – they’re too cold. Move the lamp closer to the ground. If they are on the other side of the cage trying to get away from the heat lamp – they’re too hot. Raise the lamp up away from the ground. If they are freely moving about the cage, coop, or container – they are comfortable. The heat lamp is in the right spot.

As the chicks grow they won’t need as much heat. Keep an eye on them. Continue to adjust the heat lamp as the chicks grow and become less dependent on it for warmth.

#2: Food
This is easy – give them food. There are several feeders available that work great. I like to use a feeder that uses a mason jar, because I have hundreds of mason jars. Check out Harris Farm Free Range 1 Quart Screw-On Fount Base (Item #1223).

To use a mason jar feeder, fill the jar with baby chick starter, screw on the bottom & turn it upside down. The food will be gravity fed into the bottom as the chicks eat it.


I use a chicken waterer that also uses a mason jar (since I am long on them). It works the same as the mason jar style feeder. Fill the mason jar with water, screw the bottom on, turn upside down & place in the brooder. Check out Harris Farm Free Range Baby Chick Feeder for Quart Jar (Item #1228).

If you haven’t yet heard, chickens are not that bright. You’ll learn this soon enough once you get yours. You could provide 3 gallons of water in the middle of their brooder, and they could still die from dehydration unless someone shows them where the water is.

To ensure the chicks know where the wet stuff is, dip their beaks in the water.

#3: Housing

Our babies usually begin their lives on our farm residing in an upstairs bathroom in a large storage tub. This is convenient since we enjoy visiting our little, yellow, balls regularly. Once they learn how to fly out of the container, hop around the room and poop on things I don’t want poop on, they get to relocate to the barn where we have a larger brooder.

You can use a bunny hutch, a metal bin, a stock tank, a home built coop or many other creative systems for the brooder. Make sure there is plenty of air circulation and they can’t fly out.

That’s it: Food, water, & a heated home (brooder).

We check on the babies at least twice a day. We give them food, water, fresh bedding, adjust the heat lamp or take care of anything else they need.

Candice Johns

Candi has spent many years growing and striving toward a more self-sufficient life. She grows vegetables, kills chickens, swims with pigs, milks a cow, and loves anything homesteading. She lives out in the country with her husband and 4 awesome children. She likes doing things the old fashioned way.

Why are my chicks dying?

I will make some assumptions that may or may not be correct. Let me know if I am wrong. I assume these were day-old chicks when you got them (now 3 or 4 days old), and I’ll guess that they came in the mail (?).
Since the weather has been pretty cold, they may have been stressed during shipping. I’m not surprised that a few might be weak and wouldn’t do well. With the heat lamp going out, they may have gotten cold again, which would be an added stress. They might also have piled up when they got cold, which can suffocate the chicks at the bottom of the pile. Added together, these stresses could certainly explain the dead chicks.
I think the most important thing to do is to monitor them and make sure the surviving chicks are eating and drinking. If they are not, you might try to dip their beaks in water again. You could try to put sugar or electrolytes in their water, too. The benefit of adding sugar is debatable, but in this case, I think the extra boost of energy might be helpful. Make sure they stay warm. It’s usually good to have the heat source offset to one side of their enclosure, so they can get closer or farther away from the heat, as they desire. A temperature of about 95 degrees F at chick level is suggested for the first week.
If they continue to die, there may be a disease problem. To get a firm diagnosis, you’d need to contact your state veterinary diagnostic lab, or an avian veterinarian.
I don’t think the straw should be a problem. Straw can sometimes have problems with mold, but I don’t think that is causing the deaths at this point.
Good luck with them!

Spring is just around the corner and with many chicken-keepers waiting for delivery of day-old chicks, this a good time to take a look at some of the most common problems that occur in baby chicks. Some of these problems can arise in chicks that are hatched at home too. In either case, it is a good idea to have your Chicken First Aid Kit stocked and ready for action before baby chicks arrive. The five most common problems in baby chicks are all easily treated.

Problem #1: Dehydration

One of the last things a chick does prior to hatch is absorb the egg yolk into its body through its belly button. The yolk is Mother Nature’s protein drink- it nourishes a chick for 2-3 days after absorption. The reason this is important in nature is because a clutch of eggs can take several days to hatch and the first chicks to hatch must sustain themselves until the hen is ready to venture out with them to find food. It is possible to ship baby chicks through the mail due to the nutrition provided by the yolk, however, chicks can still arrive at their destination dehydrated for various reasons.

(These were my first chicks moments after I picked them up at the post office.)

Dehydration Solution
Upon arrival, it’s helpful to quickly, gently dip each chick’s beak into the water to encourage them to drink. If chicks had a rough trip and look wilted, a vitamin/electrolytesolution can give them an energy boost and help re-hydrate them. A sports drink such as Gatorade will suffice in a pinch, but it’s better to use the vitamins & electrolytes in the water.

Problem #2: Pasty Butt

Pasty butt, aka:pasted vent or pasting-up is a condition where loose droppings stick to the down surrounding a chick’s vent. Pasty butt can be caused by stress from shipping, being overheated, too cold or from something they have eaten. The vent should not be confused with the chick’s belly button. The vent is the area on a chick where droppings and eggs exit the body. The belly button is not the same as the vent. Day old chicks may have their belly button area crusted over a bit and this scab should NOT be removed as it is a remnant of hatching, which will dry up and fall off on its own. Pulling it off can harm the chick, risk infection and even cause disembowelment. When droppings build up and form a blockage around a chick’s vent, chicks can die if it is not removed.

Pasty Butt Solution
All chicks should be checked for pasty butt upon arrival. If droppings are caked onto the vent area, they can be loosened with warm water on a damp washcloth or paper towel and gently removed. Extra care not to pull the droppings or down because the skin around the vent can tear. After cleaning and drying the vent area, the application of petroleum jelly or triple antibiotic ointment can prevent the droppings from sticking to the down. Olive oil is not recommended as it can become rancid.

If several chicks develop pasty butt after a few days in the brooder, the brooder may be too hot and the temperature should be adjusted. According to Gail Damerow’s book, The Chicken Health Handbook, sometimes the brand of feed poses a digestive problem for chicks. Pasty butt can be remedied by mixing scrambled eggs in with their starter feed and if that clears things up, change brands of feed.

Problem #3: Spraddle Leg

Spraddle leg, also known as splay leg or splayed leg is a deformity of the legs, characterized by feet pointing to the side, instead of forward. Spraddle leg makes walking difficult, if not impossible and can be permanent if left uncorrected. One cause of spraddle leg is slick floors that result in chicks losing their footing. The legs twist out from the hip and remain in that position unless corrected.

Other causes are: temperature fluctuations during incubation; a difficult hatch that makes legs weak; a leg or foot injury; brooder overcrowding; or a vitamin deficiency.

Chicks arriving with spraddle leg will be obvious and should be treated immediately. The sooner it’s addressed, the sooner the bones can heal in the proper position.

Spraddle Leg Solution
Some causes of spraddle leg cannot be avoided, but some can. One way to prevent spraddle leg is to avoid using newspaper or other slick surfaces for brooder bedding. Upon discovery, the legs should be hobbled (bound together in a particular way) and physical therapy provided until the chick can stand on its own. Much more about hobbling and therapy on my blog here.

(Esther at over 3 years old.)

Problem #4: Scissor Beak

Scissor beak, aka: crossed beak or crooked beak, is a condition characterized by the top and bottom beak halves failing to align properly. It can be caused by genetics or the inability to maintain the beak’s length and shape by normal honing on rocks or other hard surfaces. Scissor beak is not an automatic bid for euthanasia; most chickens with scissor beak can live normal, happy lives with a few minor accommodations. Scissor beak in new chicks can be very subtle as with my Easter Egger, Ethel. It ordinarily worsens over time.

(Esther at 6 weeks old.)

Scissor Beak Solution
There is no at-home fix for scissor beak, the only treatment is surgical and I have only heard of one instance in which it was performed. Baby chicks with scissor beak may have difficulty eating or sometimes other flock members will prevent them from accessing the feed. If that is the case, the chicken will need to be put in a safe place where only she can access the feed.

Crossed beaked chickens cannot pick up pieces of food using both halves of their beaks as a utensil, they adapt by scooping food into the bottom half of their beaks. I find that it helped to put Esther’s feed in a deep dish, raised up closer to chest level so it had less distance to travel to reach her tongue. This small adaptation is sometimes all it takes to help crossed-beaked chickens eat. Some chicks find it easier to eat wet feed that is the consistency of oatmeal. Grinding up feed in a coffee grinder and adding water to make a wet mash may help severely scissor-beaked chickens. More on this subject and trimming scissor beak on my blog here.

Problem #5:Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is the most common cause of death in baby chicks. Coccidiosis (aka: cocci) is acommon intestinal disease, caused by several species of parasites that thrive in warm, wet conditions such as a brooder and is transmitted in droppings. The most common symptoms of cocci in chicks are: diarrhea, blood and/or mucous in droppings, lethargy, listlessness, pale skin color, loss of appetite and failure thrive/grow. Cocci can very quickly wipe out many chicks in the same brooder.
(Visit my blog post here to see a photo of abnormal droppings caused by coccidiosis.)

Coccidiosis Solution
Prevention is the key to controlling coccidiosis. Keep brooders reasonably clean and as dry as possible. Keep waterers free from droppings and bedding. Using a riser or platform for traditional waterers can help keep droppings out of the water. A better choice would be to use poultry nipple waterers, which can be made or purchased. Learn about acquired immunity, innoculation and why you shouldn’t need medicated starter feed for chicks on my blog here. Treatment for an outbreak of coccidiosis can be found here.

Most other ailments and afflictions that can befall baby chicks such as respiratory illnesses and Marek’s disease usually don’t, so don’t worry unnecessarily about them. Keeping a clean brooder and clean water both go a long way towards keeping baby chicks healthy and happy. Much more information about raising baby chicks can be found on my article here.

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