Healing Splayed Leg in Older Chicks

Erin Halonen was born, raised and continues to live in rural northern Alberta, Canada. She is an Educator, Indigenous ally, and rural lifestyle advocate. She has a deep connection to the land and animals. Living off the land has become one of her many passions.

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I have been using my grandmother’s method of hatching chicks for several years. The old fashioned method is cost and labor effective, because the hen does almost all of the work. Many healthy chicks have been born and raised on my acreage.

Splayed Leg

Hen and chicks ~ Backyard chickens

This year marked the first time that I had a chick develop splayed leg, sometimes referred to as spraddle leg. Splayed leg is a development problem with the tendons in a chickens legs. The tendons are weak and unable to hold up the weight of the chicken. Often splay leg is evident in chicks that are newly hatched. Causation can be cramped space in the egg during development, genetics, and / or lack of nutrients.

In this case the chick was 7 weeks old when the splayed leg developed. I was giving myself h*ll for not noticing it earlier on, because earlier intervention proves better results. However, video footage I took of the chicks when they were a few days old, confirmed that the chicks were all healthy when they hatched.

The video shows the two day old chicks all healthy. No leg problems evident.

I noticed one chick had a problem with one leg. He was walking on it, but the leg was at an odd angle. Within days he couldn’t stand at all. His legs were pointing out from under his body in all kinds of directions, doing the full splits. He would roll and flap his wings to move around. I did some online research. The research indicated that chances of recovery from splay leg developing in an older chick would be slim. I decided to try to help him anyway.

Treatment

Following the online advice, I created a splint for him out of vet wrap. This would keep his legs together and under his body. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of his legs splayed or the splint. Within days I could tell that his leg was worsening. His little toes were starting to curl under his foot. I checked and double checked the splint to ensure that it wasn’t too tight and cutting off his circulation in anyway.

I removed the splint when the chick was about 9 weeks old, because it didn’t seem to be helping.

Nutrient Deficiency?

I really didn’t think that in this case the splay leg could be caused by a nutrient deficiency because I always feed prepared chick starter to new chicks. The feed is developed by animal nutritionists, a balanced diet specifically for developing chicks.

Normally, I feed medicated chick starter for the first 3 weeks and then switch to grower or fermented feed. Medicated starter feed is recommended for the first 3 weeks only. This year, I was only able to purchase un-medicated chick starter so I felt their was no harm in feeding out the whole bag.

The bag of chick starter emptied so I began feeding fermented feed. Basically, fermented feed is wheat chop mixed with water that is left to stand over night and up to 3 days. The natural fermentation process creates a feed that has a porridge like consistency, and is full of nutrients. Chickens love it and it reduces feed waste.

Electrolyte Plus powder chicken vitamins

Within a day of feeding fermented feed I noticed an improvement with the splayed leg chick. He seemed to be sitting straighter and holding his feet under him more; however he still couldn’t walk.

The improvement in his health from eating the fermented feed, got me thinking that maybe the splay leg issue was caused by a nutrient deficiency. I quickly mixed up a batch of vitamin water for the pen of chicks. I used Electrolytes Plus powder. I always keep a pouch of it on hand in my chicken vet kit. I purchase it at my local CO-OP hardware and feed store.

Results

The chick is almost 10 weeks old. He has had vitamin water for 6 days now. Here he is, on the left, standing by the feed dish, and waking around. He still has a bit of a limp, but I’m sure he will get stronger with some time

Chick eating fermented wheat chop
Chick healed and walking

Key Learning

“You are what you eat.”

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

In the event that I have a splayed leg chick again, I will definitely add the vitamins to the water at the beginning of the treatment. Adding the Electrolyte Plus powder to the chick water made the most improvement to the chick’s splayed leg condition in the shortest amount of time. I made the assumption that the prepared chick starter was nutritionally complete, but obviously the vitamin content wasn’t enough for the chick that developed the splay leg problem.

Some people are ax happy, they cull first and ask questions later. Seeing this chick today, I am happy that I persevered with helping him, even if he is destined for the soup pot. Haha!

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