Why you are losing chicken in large numbers

Can you raise all your one-day-old chicks to maturity without losing any?  Chicken farming has many challenges. One of the most frustrating for beginners or existing farmers is the high mortality rate for young chicks. Understanding the reasons why young chicks get sick and die can save you those losses as a poultry farmer.

The best way to cope with chicken losses is to copy nature. You will learn how these wild birds and fowls hatch, care and nurture chicks to maturity. The reasons why you are losing chicks as discussed in this article are:

Cold temperatures

Your baby chick will not develop warm feathers until they are over 8 weeks old. If you have hatched them, their brooding mother hen can keep them warm. If you are a commercial farmer with many chicks, you are to provide an alternative heat source.

Chick’s ageBrood Temperature
1st Week92 – 95°F
2-3 Weeks85 – 90°F
3-5 Weeks80 – 85°F
5-8 Weeks70 – 80°F
8 Weeks +Room temperature

The recommended brooder’s temperature is as shown below. You can achieve this temperature by using chicken heat lamps if you have access to reliable electricity supply. Some of the items you can use to keep chicken warm without heat lamps are cold brooders, hot water bottles, or heated chicks pads. The same is cheapest if you are in remote areas or in case of power outages and need to be more creative.

Disease and Infections

Poultry diseases like the Newcastle Disease can easily wipe your chicken population in day.  The improved and the original indigenous chicken varieties are cheaper to manage against those diseases. The hybrid layers and exotic broilers are highly susceptible. You will need to invest in costly vaccination from day one as shown in the chicken vaccination schedule above.

The major chicken diseases in Kenya are Marek, Newcastle and infectious bronchitis. Others are the Gumboro, fowl pox and fowl typhoid. Besides, you will need to deworm your chicken when they are 16 weeks old.


Your brooder or chicken coop may have pests that infest your chicks. The two that are most common in Kenya are lice and red mites

Chicken lice

You can diagnose lice by white marks under chicken wings, breasts, feathers and around the vent. Other signs are feather loss, pale wattles restlessness and anemia. You can control chicken lice by applying lice powder, provide dust baths and keep the coop clean by applying diatomaceous earth, mite spray and garlic juices.

Red mites

Red mites feed on your chicks at night. It will cause then skin irritation, stress and anaemia. During the day they hide in cracks. They range in colour from a very light grey, almost translucent to a light brown, black and blood-red colour after a feed.

To control poultry mites by applying paint paraffin in cracks and crevices, use pressure washers to wash out mites and provide dust baths to get rid of mites and lice in a natural way. Other control methods are using diatom, poultry shield and other organic pest control products like peppermint and neem oil.

Poor feeding

chicken  feeding program inforgraphic

Another reason your baby chicks are dying is hunger from poor feeding. You are either feeding them less than enough chicken feed requirements per day. Another reason is you may feeding them low-quality chicken mash from a counterfeit feed manufacturer.

The following table has the kilograms or bags of chicken feed needed for 100 layers and broiler chickens.  The recommended rate for layers chicken is as shown below. The broiler’s chicken feeding program is similar except that they are reared for 42 days. First three weeks feed them 100 g/chick of starter feed and 180g/chick of the finisher for the last three weeks.

Chicken feed can be costly. To reduce losses, make your own at home using corn, supplements, sunflower seeds etc. The other method to feed your chicks cheaply is to rear them on the free-range method. You will release them to scavenge on the compound. Free-range eggs and meat is more nutritious and sold at prime prices in the chicken markets.


chicken drinking water from automatic nipples

You may be losing your chicks in large numbers because of giving them low-quality water. Without clean water, they will dehydrate and die. If you do not raise the waterers up, they will poop into it or kick beddings and food into it.

There are two best methods for ensuring proper watering for chicks. The first which is also cheaper is ground waterers. Put water in a bowl and leave it to chicks. Because chicks may drown in it, buy some clean pebbles used in terrariums. Besides the watering bowls, you can buy baby chick waters with a heavy base made of glass or plastic.

The second method is a hanging water bottle. You can use normal bottles and cover them with brooder bottle caps. These nipple outlets allow water to drip out. They are cheap, easy to fit and besides, they keep the water clean.


Your chicken house can reduce or cause you losses. A proper chick cage will provide safety from weather elements like rain and extreme temperature. A good house will provide security from thieves and pests like stray pets that may attack your chicken.

While considering the best type of chicken housing, there are two major factors to check into spacing, ventilation and elevation.


the chicken house must be spacious enough. The larger is better that you chicken are never congested. In warmer areas, and as your chicks mature, allow them more space. Give a minimum of 2-3 square foot per bird inside the coop. Congested birds will suffer from overheating, cannibalism, stress and infections.


Chicken loves good ventilation. It keeps the houses cool and the flesh flow of air keeps the air clean. Every 10 square feet of chicken coop floor space requires 1 square foot of ventilation. For large commercial chicken houses, you can install box fans and coolers to ensure good ventilation and air circulation.


Good chicken coops are raised at least one foot off the ground. A raised house allows for air circulation and prevent flooding if you are in a flood prone region. The final benefit of a raised chicken house is keeping burrowing pests like rats and mice from nesting.


Finally poor hygiene is another challenge for chicken farmer. When left unclean, the chick poop may transmit bacteria and virus causing your chicken illnesses. The decomposing material may produce poisonous ammonia gas that can inflame the fragile baby chicks’ lungs.

Make sure you clean water dishes, waterers and bottle nipples daily using warm water and an approved poultry sanitiser. Observe the same for feeders. The brooder should be cleaned often to remove soiled and damp beddings in the chicken house.

In conclusion, you can reduce most losses by following the suggestions in this article. Another effective risk transfer method is applying for chicken insurance. If one is not available, look for livestock and pet insurance policies that may cover losses. The received compensation can help you to bounce back much faster than using your own savings

Do you have additional tips for raising happy and healthy chicken? Let us know in the comments below.


S.K is the founder and senior agribusiness development consultant at Agcenture. He can be reached at info@agcenture.com

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