Your Poul­try

If you have a limp­ing chicken, you need to turn de­tec­tive and work throug the clues.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Sue e Clarke

The very odd rea­sons why your chicken is lame

There’s no one symp­tom in poul­try that has more pos­si­ble causes than lame­ness. Often it may seem a mys­tery. The most com­mon rea­sons for a bird to go lame are: a sprain, strain or break­age ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion dis­eases, i.e. virus or bac­te­ria other in­fec­tive agents, e.g. a my­coplasma a de­fi­ciency in the diet some­thing toxic they might have eaten

Run­ning through a short check­list will often elim­i­nate some of the pos­si­ble causes im­me­di­ately.

1. How old is the bird?

When a chicken goes lame, a com­mon first re­sponse is to think ‘Marek’s dis­ease’, a dev­as­tat­ing virus that can cause limp­ing, then paral­y­sis, and often ends in death.

This can gen­er­ally be ruled out if the bird is younger than six weeks old or older than six months. Marek’s is most com­monly caught in the first 2-3 weeks of a chick’s life, but it has a long in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod so sym­toms won’t show un­til a bird is 10-24 weeks old.

If it is older than six months, it is un­likely to be Marek’s dis­ease. There are some ex­cep­tions, but these are rare.

2. Ex­am­ine the bird

The next step is to ex­am­ine the bird in more de­tail.

Feel the legs right from the thigh, high up un­der the feath­ers, down to the hock joint (the drum­stick), then down the scaly part to the toes and the sole of the foot. Gen­tly flex the leg out (if you can with­out caus­ing pain).

Com­pare the legs, in­clud­ing their tem­per­a­ture.

is the amount of move­ment the same for both?

is there any ‘crunch­ing’ noise of bone ends in a joint when you move the leg?

is there any swelling, eg is part of one leg hot­ter?

are the soles of the feet soft and clean with no scabs or black lumps?

are there mud balls ad­her­ing to the claws or the sole? can the bird walk at all? This will help you work out whether the bird has a phys­i­cal in­jury to a ten­don or joint, or an in­fec­tion in its skin, most com­monly on the un­der­side of the foot called bum­ble­foot.

If a bird seems healthy but is sud­denly un­able to move, it could also be a spinal in­jury or a sore on its keel/breast­bone.

3. Ex­tra checks

A cou­ple of symp­toms are go­ing to in­di­cate a sur­pris­ing cause:

does it also have a twisted neck, toes, or is com­pletely paral­ysed?

when you bend the leg at the hock, do the toes curl (as if perch­ing) or not?* *they should curl in a healthy bird

If you see one or more of these symp­toms, the cause is likely to be a nu­tri­tional is­sue. Con­fus­ingly, a short­age of es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins and min­er­als can af­fect some birds and not oth­ers in the same flock eat­ing the same diet.

De­fi­cien­cies in the diet of breed­ing birds can also re­sult in their chicks be­ing de­formed. These de­for­mi­ties may not al­ways be ap­par­ent in a new­ly­hatched chick, but may get worse as the bird grows. Curly toe paral­y­sis is an ex­am­ple of this, caused by a short­age of B2 (ri­boflavin).

Con­duct a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of your bird’s leg, from the top of the thigh down.

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