Having baby chicks can be incredibly exciting. Our kids fell in love and really enjoyed holding them and just watching them peck around. However, there are a lot of situations that can be dangerous for chicks that you may not be aware of, so it is important to learn about how to keep these adorable little fluffballs safe, healthy, and happy while growing into adulthood.
Baby chicks cannot swim, making it incredibly dangerous for them to be in deep water where they could drown. If they get wet, chicks must be dried off quickly. They can’t produce enough body heat necessary to warm themselves up and won’t survive if not dried off and placed somewhere warm right away.
Water may seem like a fun activity for your chicks, but other than water for drinking, having any water around your chicks is a bad idea.
But there are still situations where chicks may get wet or be exposed to water unintentionally, so responsible caretakers need to know how to react under these circumstances to ensure the safety of their chicks.
Can Baby Chicks Swim?
If you’ve seen full-grown chickens you may know that they can float on water. This is due to their tight-feathering and their fully developed muscles and bodies. However, baby chicks differ largely from grown chickens in this respect.
Despite some common misconceptions, chicks cannot swim and should be kept away from water. Their muscles are not fully developed and their coordination is not yet at a level that it is safe for them to be left in water, even really shallow water.
Unlike chickens, baby chicks will not be able to keep themselves afloat or remove themselves from the water when in danger. This puts them at an incredibly high risk of freezing or drowning without the protection of feathers.
Also against common belief, it is not safe to leave even a cup or bowl of drinking water in an exposed location that is within the reach of your chicks. Seriously, it is possible for a small puddle of rainwater to pose a threat to the lives of baby chicks. This is why it is so vitally important for chicks to be kept safely away from wet or cold weather.
For drinking water, always use a chicken waterer like this one (affiliate link to Amazon). It will keep the water level constantly shallow so that the chicks will have little to no opportunity to get themselves very wet.
Also, keep the area where your chicks are dry, and if you ever have them outdoors, clear out any collected rainwater that may find its way into their space.
Is It Dangerous for Chicks to Get a Little Wet?
Chicks don’t yet have feathers like chickens do. They have down which is much softer and finer than feathers. Yes, it’s the same down that comes in pillows and comforters.
Because down is so much finer than feathers, it leaves chicks way more vulnerable to the temperature around them until their feathers are fully developed. They’re especially vulnerable when they’re wet because, unlike feathers, down doesn’t wick away the water, so they end up soaked, kind of like if you or I jumped into a pool with a shirt on.
So even if you get them right out of the water, saving them from drowning, they’re still in tremendous danger while they’re wet because the water will cool their body temperature as they dry (again, just like when you get out of a pool while wearing a soaking wet shirt.
Their down is can help them maintain body heat as long as they are in a temperate and dry environment. But even in a warm location, chicks whose down is wet will see a rapid drop in body temperature, and unless something is done to prevent it, the chicks will likely die of cold.
This happened to us when I was younger. My little brother thought the chicks would probably love to swim, so he put just one or two inches of water in the bottom of the container they were in. My parents noticed before any of the chicks drowned, but not soon enough. By the next day, none of them had survived.
Even if your chick survives, it could get hypothermia or other severe illnesses that can then lead to death later. Clearly, you don’t want that for any living creature, especially your cute little baby chicks. That’s why you need to be informed, aware, and proactive in keeping your chicks safe.
How to Help Save and Warm Up a Baby Chick Safely
As I’ve said, it’s not safe for a baby chick to be in water or to remain wet without receiving immediate care and attention. Just getting them out of the water and under a warm light might not be enough.
There are also times when you need to get a chick wet on purpose. One example we ran into with a couple of the chicks we most recently brooded was what we call pasty butt. That’s where your chick’s poop gets stuck on their behind and dries in place. Eventually, it builds up enough that the chick can’t poop and it dies.
Warm water is the best tool for removing it, but then you have a wet chick.
If one or more of your chicks does get wet, follow these steps to get it dry and keep it healthy.
- Remove the chick from the water and immediately wrap it in a soft towel. Don’t rub it hard, the goal is to absorb some of the water, but mostly to prevent the chick from cooling off quickly. It’s like wrapping yourself in a towel when you get out of a pool. It’s way warmer!
- If available, use a blow dryer (yes, what you use to dry hair) and blow it on the chick’s down using a warm, but not the hottest, setting. This will dry the chick off pretty quickly while also keeping it warm.
- Once the down starts to separate into individual little hairs, you know it’s pretty dry. When it’s wet, it sticks together, just like any long hair. At this point, put the chick in a warm place, preferably under the heat lamp you already should have for your chicks.
When it comes to baby chicks, it’s always best to use only safe water containers for drinking water, to keep them on an elevated surface, and to keep the water level low enough that a chick is unlikely to get its down wet, even if it were to get in.
In the case that a baby chick does get wet, it is important to get them out of the water and dry them off immediately and in a safe manner and then put them in a warm place to finish drying completely and warm back up.