An inexpensive, home made electrolyte drink for your chickens.

Electrolyte drinks can be useful in so many ways for your flock. 

In this article I look at what they are, when to use them and how to make them easily and inexpensively.

Firstly, what exactly is an electrolyte drink?

Salts balance text with stones

For humans, you may have heard of electrolyte drinks in the context of sports or illness.  It's a drink which replaces the 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, for example.  But commercially produced sports drinks tend to have added ingredients such as 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 chickens need electrolytes : baby chicks.

  • Weak chicks : Sometimes newly-hatched chicks require a bit of extra help, whether that's in the shape of assistance to hatch from the shell, or sometimes 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 quickly - and a young chick doesn't have many reserves to call on.  Find out more about pasty butt 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.

Thumbnail chickens and heat stress
  • Heat stress : This is the primary 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 them 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 on the image to your right.
  • Frostbite : Conversely, chickens who are 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 it?

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, cowering, not eating or drinking, poor egg production, lethargy, for example - it may be time to bring out the electrolytes.

An inexpensive homemade electrolyte drink recipe.

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

Using ordinary tap water is fine, but coconut water contains a good level of potassium so I use that if I have some in stock - I just make half this amount.

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

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon potassium chloride (see below)

1 tablespoon sugar (I use brown sugar, but any will do).


Five cute chickens

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 chicken 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 feed it.

  • For newly-hatched chicks who need some help, I use a dropper.  I keep a few of these in my 'chicken first aid kit', particularly when I'm hatching.  
  • Just squeeze a couple of drops onto the beak.  The chick will automatically open and drink.
  • 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.
  • And please remember : it's important that you don't give this to your chickens unless there is a good reason to.  Too much salt can be damaging to their system.  
Four baby chicks

Alternatives.

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 first aid kit (which I know you have ...).  It's a much 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.

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7 chicks in a row


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