An inexpensive, home made electrolyte drink for your chickens.

Heard about electrolytes for chickens but not sure what they are or when to use them?

Electrolyte drinks for chickens: how to make them.

No problem! In this article, you'll discover why it's sometimes necessary to give your flock electrolytes and how you can make them easily and inexpensively, from items you're likely to have in your kitchen store cupboard.

Firstly, what exactly is an electrolyte drink?

For humans, you'll probably have heard of electrolytes in the context of sports or illness.  

It's taken as a drink which replaces salts the body loses when we exercise hard, or when we've been ill and sweated a lot, or lost liquid through vomiting, for example.  

Electrolytes help the body rehydrate by replacing in particular the sodium, potassium and bicarbonate which cells and organs need to function healthily.

These drinks are sold commercially : Gatorade is one you've probably heard of.  

But commercially produced sports drinks tend to have added ingredients like flavouring and colouring, which if possible are best avoided.

Electrolyte drinks do basically the same for poultry as for humans.  They help to rehydrate and re-balance the cells and organs whenever chickens need it. 

And sometimes, they can literally be a life-saver.

Nine baby chickens

When do chickens need electrolytes? First, let's talk about baby chicks.

  • Weak chicks : Sometimes newly-hatched chicks require a bit of extra help. Maybe they've had a long, hard struggle to hatch, or perhaps you've noticed that there's a baby who's not quite as strong as the rest.
  • Pasty butt : Chicks who suffer from pasty butt are in danger of losing liquid very quickly - and a young chick doesn't have many reserves to call on.  If you're not sure what "pasty butt" is, find out more by following this link
  • Wry neck : Chicks (or adults) who develop problems such as wry neck require a mixture of electrolytes and vitamins.  Find out more here).
  • Overheating : It's easy for chicks to overheat in a brooder, particularly if you have a lot of them or if you're using a standard heat lamp.  
  • There's an article here about heat in the brooder which will help you keep the temperature right, but if something goes wrong, it's electrolytes you'll need.
7 baby chickens

When might adult chickens need it?  Heat and cold.

  • Heat stress : This is the most common reason for needing to rehydrate poultry.  They can deal with cold far better than they deal with heat - they have feathers to protect them.
  • In hot weather, unless precautions are taken, it's very easy for chickens to overheat. And heat exhaustion can kill very quickly.
  • To find out more about how to spot, treat and prevent heat stress in your flock, click this link.
  • Frostbite : Conversely, poultry suffering from extreme cold and potentially frostbite also need electrolytes replacing.  For more information about dealing with extreme cold in your flock, follow this link.
Chickens in a row

When might the flock in general need an electrolyte drink?

Chickens are creatures of habit, and very easily stressed if their routine changes.  They're also easily stressed by things like :

  • Overcrowding in the coop
  • Too much handling - particularly by inexperienced people and children, who can be quite rough
  • Travelling, no matter how short the journey
  • Moulting
  • Infestations, such as mites
  • Awareness of predators around the coop
  • Illness in the flock
  • The death of others in the flock.

If you notice changes in your flock's behaviour - panting, spreading their wings, cowering, not eating or drinking, poor egg production, lethargy, for example - it's time to bring out the electrolytes.

Red Star chicken panting.One of my young Red Stars trying to cool down by dust-bathing. Notice the open beak - a sure sign of over-heating in a chicken.


Next, how to make an inexpensive, homemade electrolyte drink.

There are various recipes around the internet.  This one has all the necessary ingredients, no matter the reason your flock needs it.

Using ordinary tap water is fine, but coconut water contains some potassium so I use that if I have it in stock. I never have a gallon of it, though, so if I'm using coconut water I just make half or one quarter of this amount.

To 4.5 litres (one gallon) of water, add :

  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I use granulated white sugar, but any will work).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon potassium chloride (optional - see below)


Five cute chicks in a row.

A word about potassium chloride.

Potassium chloride is commonly added to electrolyte drinks, and is available in health food shops. But it can be expensive.

Salt substitutes like Lo-Salt (which is inexpensive, and readily available in supermarkets worldwide) contain around 66% potassium chloride, so you can use this instead.  Put it on your shopping list next time you head out to the supermarket, so it's always available in your store cupboard.

If you can't find it, try a health food shop for pure potassium chloride, and keep it in your flock's first aid kit (you do have one, don't you?).  If all else fails you can buy it from Amazon (you can buy anything from Amazon, these days!).

Coconut water (as I mentioned above) also contains potassium, although at a much lower level - around 5%.


How to make sure your flock get enough electrolytes.

  • For newly-hatched chicks who need some help, I use an eye dropper.  I keep a few of these in my 'chicken first aid kit', particularly when I'm hatching.  
  • Just squeeze a couple of drops of liquid onto the beak.  The chick will automatically open and drink.
  • If you don't have a dropper, use a teaspoon.  
A young chick taking water from a teaspoon.If you don't have a dropper to hand, use a teaspoon to give sick or weak chicks some electrolyte mixture.
  • For adults, it can be given in an ordinary waterer.  
  • Offer it for no longer than four to six hours per day, for a week.  
  • Offer it only to the birds who need it. If your whole flock is showing signs of heat stress that's fine - leave it in the general waterer for half a day. If it's only one or two hens then isolate them first.
  • Please remember : it's important that you don't give this to poultry unless there is a good reason to.  Too much salt can be damaging to their system.  
Four baby chicks

What if you need an electrolyte drink and you don't have the ingredients?

If you don't have the ingredients in stock and need an electrolyte drink quickly, you can use a commercial sports drink like Gatorade.  Don't do this for longer than absolutely necessary, though - the salt and sugar levels are higher than chickens need.

You can also keep a stash of electrolyte powder in your flock's first aid kit.  It's a more expensive option, but perhaps more convenient.

If you're going to go down this route, keep a brand which contains vitamin powders as well, so that if something like wry neck hits your flock you're ready. These two brands (in the USA and UK respectively - search for something similar in other parts of the world) are very reliable.

Buy USA

Buy UK


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Sources.

I don't just offer advice from something I happen to have read on the internet - there's too much incorrect information out there. So where I suggest remedies for your flock, I do my research thoroughly.

Here are a couple of the resources I've used when looking at the issue of using electrolyte drinks for chickens. Click on the links to go to the articles, which will open in a new page.

Deyhim et al: The effect of heat stress and drinking water sale supplements on plasma electrolytes and aldosterone concentration in broiler chickens. Pub. US National Library of Medicine, 1995. 

Smith, M.O. and Teeter, R.G.: Potassium balance of the 5 to 8 week old broiler exposed to constant heat.  Pub. National Center for Biotechnology Information.  


7 chicks in a row

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