There are many chicken maladies that are difficult for the layperson to diagnose or treat. In our efforts to help we often throw the kitchen sink at the patient in a process of elimination to determine what’s going on. Fortunately splayed (or spraddle) leg in chicks is easy to identify, and to remedy, if caught early.
Unfortunately it’s common in young chicks, affecting both those hatched with a broody hen or an incubator. The condition is caused by weakness or damage to the tendons in the legs and can affect just one leg, but usually involves both legs extending outward to the sides of the body as though the chicks were doing the splits.
When the foot slides outward pressure is applied to the rapidly growing hip joint deforming it, as well as the knee and hock. As long as the chick is growing those bones can be guided back into normal alignment.
The severity ranges from mild to severe, and often may take a week or two until it becomes obvious.
It’s important to treat it immediately – the earlier the better to ensure the chick’s prognosis of a full recovery and so that further damage isn’t incurred. A chick with mobility issues also makes them vulnerable to being trampled or pecked by flock mates, and unable to get enough nutrition or hydration.
Splayed leg can appear shortly after hatch as a result of incubation issues or when a chick is slightly older due to damage caused by floor surfaces.
- Incubator temperatures that were either too low or too high or fluctuated
- High humidity during incubation
- Poor health of the hen so that the developing embryo lacked proper nutrition
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency
- Slippery floor surfaces that don’t provide traction and prevent the leg muscles from developing normally
Bones in young birds need a weight load in order to grow straight so the goal of treatment is to provide them with proper leg stabilization as soon as the condition is detected. There are a number of different options using a variety of restraints.
Hobbles can be made using a small elastic band or hair tie fished through a short piece of plastic drinking straw; thin strips of vetrap self-adhesive bandage or you can purchase pre-made hobbles online. They should be that should be monitored and adjusted daily to ensure the legs return to their normal position. Progress should be seen with three or four days. Do not remove them until the chick has proper leg alignment and normal gait.
Here are several treatments, which have been used with success:
You can hobble the legs which keeps them properly aligned but doesn’t stop the chick from walking, which might help the healing process by putting some weight on the legs.
This method might be used in more severe cases or when chicks are required to be removed from their brooder for their safety. It brings their legs into proper alignment while also temporarily limiting weight bearing. The legs are hobbled and the chick is suspended within a cup to restrict movement but allows it some freedom to eat and drink.
I saw this set up which was reported to work but I think puts too much pressure on the feet; doesn’t allow the legs to straighten; makes it difficult for the chick to eat and drink and seems so constrained that it would cause the chick some distress.
- Provide proper nutrition to hens ensuring healthy chicks.
- Ensure incubator chicks havea non-slip surface to walk on, such as a shelf liner or towel, and hen raised chicks with bedding such as shavings. The surface needs to provide traction and be easy to clean.
- Provide replacement bedding while cleaning.
- If using an incubator ensure an alternative power source in the event of an outage.
- Incubators should be located in a room that maintains a steady temperature and is out of direct sunlight.
Splayed leg is sometimes confused with slipped tendon because one leg turns outward, but for a different reason, and therefore the treatment is different (and more difficult to fix). Curled toes, another condition caused by incubation or nutritional issues, often accompany splayed leg and should be treated at the same time.
Featured photo credit: Meyer Hatchery
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