Baby Chick Identification Options

Spring is here and to many of us that means BABY CHICKS!! There can be one problem: how do you tell which is which? This article and video will help you solve this problem and make decisions when identifying and banding you baby chicks.

In this article we discuss both temporary and permanent solutions. The temporary solution is leg banding and the permanent solutions are the wing bands and toe punch. By permanent we mean that these marking methods will allow the bird to grow with no further inspection or assistance from you.

Why would you want to keep track of you baby chicks? Well, the answer varies from poultry fancier to poultry fancier but here are a few reasons.

Breeding Program - One of the main reasons you would want to track your baby chicks is so that you know their lineage. So this would be done by using one of the methods that allows you to track the individual birds. Which means it needs to have numbers on them.

Tracking a Breed - Sometimes a breed can be easily identified by the type of eggs or the chick marking so you want to tag them and id them right away so you can keep track of that bird.

Age/Year of the birds - You may want to band your birds so you know how old they are. Layers are usually only laying a lot of eggs for about two years so if you have flock of mixed age birds you should band them so you know which birds belong in which age group.

***Stromberg's Tip***The method for marking individual birds from chick to adult that we recommend at Stromberg's is the Jiffy wing band. Although it may seem like it is a more difficult approach than using leg bands it is actual much easier than it sounds. You will also not need to look after them as much as you would if you were trying to use leg bands. A leg band left unattended will grow into a bird's leg and will cause severe harm. See this video for how to apply Jiffy wing bands (if you want to skip right to the application of a Jiffy wing band it starts at 10:15, not thinking, I put my favorite method at the end of the video).

Temporary Methods of Identification

Spiral Bands

The spiral band is a very popular method of identification for birds of all ages. They are essentially a colored plastic key ring that you can slip over the bird's leg. The biggest strengths of them is that they are cheap and they are easy to apply. This makes them an ideal candidate to use in many applications. Their weakness is that they do not allow for marking of individual birds unless you have a very small flock or a very complex color coding system.

So why would you use spiral bands for your flock? As previously stated they are easy to apply. If you are marking year classes in your birds for instance 2017 is green birds and then year 2018 is red. Then if you find in 2019 your egg production starts dipping you know that it is most likely your 2017 birds. Then you would know which birds they are… they are the birds with the green bands on.

Spiral Band Sizing for Baby Chicks to Adult Birds

How do you mark your baby birds with spiral bands? This is very simple you would simply start with a size four our smallest spiral band size. Then we recommend that you would use every other size until they reach their adult size. So for most female chickens that take a size 11 when adults you would start with a four and work your way up to a size 11. Be certain to check frequently to make sure the baby birds are not growing into their leg bands. The leg bands should always be loose enough to move on the leg but not so loose as to slip over the foot.

Bandettes -

Bandettes are also a great way to mark your birds for identification. They are very similar to spiral bands in that they are affordable and made out of colored plastic. However, there is one huge difference; they are marked with large easy to read numbers. This numbering is critical to identify individual birds.

This is useful to mark individual birds. Many fairs use bandettes to keep track of birds that are coming in the door so the judges and keep track of which bird is which. Remember to order your leg bands early for your fair sometimes you have to turn in your numbering earlier than the fair so you would want to have them on hand when you are submitting your paperwork.

Another use for numbering your birds is if you have a breeding program and you need to identify which two birds were bred together for a specific bird you would just keep record that blue 33 and red 40 mated and that you banded their offspring with yellow 12. From that point forward you would know which pairing you did and what the lineage that your bird came from. Now if your records are complete you can build a very accurate picture of your birds genetic traits and how your breeding program is going. A breeding program is only as strong as its records so numbering your birds is key!

So know for the weaknesses of the bandette. Although they are great for marking birds temporarily they can fall off a birds leg. I have heard of some breeders using two bands that are the same number and color one for each leg. That way if one falls off they still know which bird it is. However, if your knowing your bird's unique id is critical you should probably use a more permanent form of identification.

How do you mark your baby birds with bandettes? This is the same concept as used with the spiral bands. For a bandette you would start with a size five our smallest bandette size. Then we recommend that you would use every other size until they reach their adult size. So for most female chickens that take a size 11 when adults you would start with a five and work your way up to a size 11. The difference here is that you would want to get the same number and color sequence so you can trace the bird color and number as it grows. Be certain to check frequently to make sure the baby birds are not growing into their leg bands. The leg bands should always be loose enough to move on the leg but not so loose as to slip over the foot.

Numbered Bandette Sizing for Baby Chicks to Adult Birds

Numbered Zip Ties

The number zip tie is used very similarly for marking as the numbered bandette. The nice thing about the numbered zip tie is that you do not need to know the size of the band. The down side is that they are harder to remove than the bandettes and once removed they are not reusable. We suggest using a wire snip and clipping the band off as the bird grows. And then reapplying the same number and color of band to the bird.

Permanent Marking Methods

These methods are permanent and will grow with the baby birds. The two methods that we discuss are going to be toe punching and wing bands. The toe punch works great for identifying a group of birds quickly and easily for instance if you punch all of your 2017 birds right leg right toe web. You will always know that those birds were your 2017 birds. The wing bands have numbers and colors and will work great for identifying groups of birds or specific birds.

Toe Punches

The toe punches are a great tool and is very easy to use. You can mark the birds at a very young age and it will stay with the bird for it's life time. How you use this is to just punch between the webbing of the birds toes and it will "punch" a hole. Make sure you check the hole a week after you have done it and remove any scabbing. This hole does not go away and allows you to distinguish between birds. For a specific example of how to do this see the video at the time 8:40.

There are 16 different variations of toe punching and here is the link to the printable file. Use this so you can make sure you know which group is which.

Toe Punch Marking Variation Sheet Toe Punch Variations to Mark Baby Chicks

Jiffy Wing Bands

We feel this is the easiest way to mark your baby chicks. This allows for permanent marking of your birds. Just like us getting our ears pierced the band is placed in an area where there are no major blood vessels and there isn't structure. All you do is crimp the band through the wing back onto itself. See time 10:15 for instructions on how to do this. These are also numbered and colored so keeping track of specific birds is very easy to do. These work great for breeding programs and are a must to keep track of your birds!

Here is a picture of the band applicator plier with an open band and a closed band.

How to Properly Load a Jiffy Wing Band Plier to mark Birds

Here is a picture of the wing structure and your target.

Diagram of where to apply a wing band on a baby chick

Finally here is a picture of an actual bird wing and the target you are aiming for.

Image of the structure of wing to properly apply a wing band

So this should be all you need to know to successfully band a bird from baby to adult. If you have any questions feel free to call us here at Stromberg's. Good luck and enjoy your birds!!

Baby Bird Banding and Identification Video and Article