Unsorted Wild Birds

Handfeeding Protocol for Chicks



Good hand-feeding methods, proper socialization and weaning are very important aspects in raising chicks. Breeders are using a variety of methods for feeding their chicks. Following are the steps that I follow when handfeeding:


  1. Feeding utensils: The syringe or feeding spoon should be sterile and available. If you decide on a syringe, they have really good ones in your local (better) drug stores (CVS, etc.) – in the BABY section. They also have syringes in the pet stores but they are actually more expensive and utterly inferior. Some options and valuable information is available via the above link. 
  2. Formula: Prepare the formula (I use Kaytee) following manufacturer’s directions.

    1. Temperature: make sure that it is between 100 and 105 degrees. The temperature of the formula should not go below 100 degrees F, or else it can result in slow crop and other problems. Anything over 105 degrees, on the other hand, may burn the chick’s crop. Microwaving formula may leave hot spots causing crop burn. The temperature needs to be consistent and needs to remain the right temperature while feeding. I place the formula dish into another larger dish filled with hot water to prevent the temperature from going down.Consistency: Too thin a formula will prevent the chick from getting the nutrition it needs. Too thick will cause crop impaction. Follow directions. Chicks love the taste of peanut butter and it will help them gain weight.
  3. Feeding: Place the feeding utensil of your choice against the chick’s beak. This should start the feeding response. If you do not see the throat moving in a swallowing motion, do not attempt to feed as the chick could very easily choke or inhale the formula. If you don’t see a feeding response, tap against the beak with the syringe or spoon, and/or put a drop of the formula inside the mouth. Once you see a feeding response administer the formula slowly, making sure you don’t overfeed.
  4. Sanitation: After feeding the chick, I wipe it down with a wet paper towel using warm water to prevent the chick from getting chilled. I add a couple of drops of GSE to the water for disinfecting purposes. I clean out the inside of the chick’s mouth with a Q-Tip and warm water to reduce the possibility of a crop infection. I change the paper towel in the brooder and place the chick back into the clean brooder.
  5. Frequency of Feeding: Feeding frequency varies, depending on the size and age of the chick. The rule of thumb is:
    • The crop needs to empty once a day. If it doesn’t empty, give the chick some Pedialyte to stop the food becoming dry and impacting the crop. Wait until the crop is down before feeding to avoid the food inside the crop from being sour resulting in slow crop.For the rest of the day, I observe the chicks and feed them when their crops are nearly empty. I don’t allow the crop to empty several times a day — or for them to be with an empty crop for long, as they need nutrition. I may feed a very young / small chick every 1 – 1 1/2 hours (finches even every 30 minutes) day AND night; the older ones every 3 to 4 hours. Once they are a few days old, you can make the formula a little thicker, which will sustain them through the night (not longer than six hours though).My vet recommended adding peanut butter to the chick’s formula. First of all, my chicks LOVE the taste of it and it causes them to gain weight. Adding peanut butter to the formula, you will find that they don’t get as hungry (less begging).Weaning your birds
  • Weighing / Monitoring the Chick’s Weight: You will need a scale to monitor the chick’s weight. I use a good food scale. Most kitchen supply stores will have several choices that are not very expensive.


Research by Sibylle Johnson


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Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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