In this article I look at what they are, when to use them and how to make them easily and inexpensively.
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.
Chickens are creatures of habit, and very easily stressed if their routine changes. They're also easily stressed by things like :
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.
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).
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%.
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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