Have you ever seen a chicken consistently looking upwards or with a twisted neck? That condition is called torticollis, but most of us know it as wry neck or stargazing. It’s a common issue with chicks; not an illness, but a symptom describing an abnormal neck position in which a bird’s head and neck to appear twisted and tilted. Depending on the cause, affected birds may initially be unable to hold their head up on their own then get progressively worse.
- vitamin deficiencies
- head trauma
- Newcastle disease
- fowl cholera (FC)
- avian encephalomyelitis (AE)
- Marek’s disease (MD)
- ear infection
Newly hatched chicks may develop wry neck due to:
- vitamin deficiencies (from parent stock or in their own feed)
- genetics (inbred birds)
- incubation problems: chicks can be malpositioned in the egg resulting in a greater muscle pull on one side of the neck so they appear to have a skeletal deformity
Most often wry neck, especially in chicks, is caused by vitamin deficiencies and relatively easy to remedy. If you’re breeding your own chicks make sure your parent stock are fed a well balanced diet and are not lacking vitamin E and the essential mineral selenium.
- Buy your birds from reputable breeders.
- Feed your flock age appropriate feeds: chick, grower and layer, which contain all the vitamins and minerals they need.
- Supplement with vitamin E rich foods: sunflower and pumpkin seeds, spinach, broccoli, olive oil, oily fish, butternut squash, mango, cranberries, raspberries, beet greens, chard, collards, alfalfa, dandelion, nettle, herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley and coriander), and vegetable oils.
- For selenium, try giving your flock some tuna (tinned, unsalted), bananas, brown rice, oatmeal, yoghurt, lentils, cottage cheese and eggs.
- Spices that contain both vitamin E and selenium include: cayenne, cumin, cloves, turmeric and cinnamon.
If a bird’s wry neck is a symptom of another condition then it is more difficult to diagnose and may not be the most critical health issue they are facing.
- Monitor the health of your flock on a regular basis in order to identify any issues they are experiencing.
- Practice biosecurity so you don’t introduce pathogens into, or take them out of, your flock.
- Chicks with wry neck may need assistance to hatch.
- Wry neck is not contagious, but you’ll want to separate affected birds from the flock for their own safety (i.e. trampling, pecking).
- Keep in a warm, quiet and stress-free place.
- Give Polyvisol (without iron): one drop, twice daily
- Add brewer’s yeast, wheat germ or bran to their food.
- Administer vitamins B12 and E orally or in food supplements (see list above)
- Make sure they stay hydrated and are eating. Many affected birds will need assistance to eat and drink, depending on the severity of their symptoms. Without help they may die from starvation or dehydration. Don’t leave water dishes unattended where chicks might drown.
You may notice some improvement within 24 hours. Don’t despair if it takes a bit longer. Once on the road to recovery it can take up to a month to get back to normal. Continue to ensure that your birds have enough vitamin E and selenium to avoid future issues with wry neck.