Broken toe?


In the Brooder
Apr 14, 2015
Cincinnati, OH
My daughter was moving a pen around in the backyard with the chickens in it. One of the chickens got its foot stuck under it and may have injured its toes. We have tried to take pictures, but couldn't get a good one flat on the ground. It is the inside toe on both feet. It doesn't appear to be in any pain, but the toes bend back/twists at the joint. Our chicks are only 6 weeks old, but we haven't noticed it before. These are our first chickens, is this normal or did something break? If broken, is there anything we can do?



6 Years
Apr 8, 2013
The good news is nothing broke. :) The bad news is that it's a genetic fault. Being inherited, your breeding stock and all this chick's siblings are probably also carriers. With time and care you can breed this to basically not be a problem; many standardized breeds have horrible, deformed leg scaling, completely unnatural to the species --- but normal enough bone structure, as in their deformity does not pain them or cripple them. It's doable. But if you persist with these lines, some suffering will probably be involved while you attempt this, if you choose to.

Can you see the different lines of scales on its leg? How it has a sort of marching repeating pattern along the top of each toe, going from each toe up onto the shin in separate tracts? There's three lines (usually): outside toe line, middle or main toe line, and inner toe line.

Can you see how the outside toe's scale line/pattern goes onto the top or front of the shin, whereas the middle toe's scale line/pattern goes onto the inside of the leg?

That's the fault right there. The scale line from the middle toe is meant to go straight up the leg, not to the inside of it. Instead, it's twisted inwards and replaced by the outside toe's line.

It would have hatched that way, and will not change. The scales are linked to the underlying bone, muscle and tendon structure. They're not meaningless; they indicate how normal or otherwise its leg structure controlling genetics are.

Normally, the main toe has the 'dominant' scaling: the scale line from the main toe continues straight up the front of the shin. The inside toe's scale line runs up the inside of the leg, and the outside toe's scale line goes up the outside of the leg. Instead, your outer toes are dominant over your middle toes, as indicated by the scaling.

This 'causes' the foot and leg bones/structures to curve inwards to greater or lesser extents, resulting in physical abnormalities that can make walking difficult and even damaging and painful, depending on how severe the deformity is.

If the inside toe's scaling moved onto the top/front of the shin instead, their legs would shift outwards. They would end up with a spraddled, 'John Wayne' style of walking, unable to hold their legs in the right position for long due to the abnormal structure. It strains their joints and muscles. But that's only in more severe cases. In milder cases they can walk normally. But there's a good chance they will produce more severe cases if you do breed them.

In short your chick has what I call 'inwards' genetic spraddling genes... It may not be spraddled itself, but there's a good chance its offspring will be as it carries the genes that cause it. Even breeding them with a straight-scaled mate won't save all the chicks from it. The other form I call 'outwards' genetic spraddling. These are the reasons why many old books say to cull all chicks without straight scaling going from the middle toe up the front of the shin. Too bad they didn't elaborate on WHY, so I had to learn the hard way, at the expense of chickens' wellbeing and lives.

There are dozens of variations, some very mild and harmless in essence, others crippling. Because they are exacerbated when you breed carrier parents of this gene, particularly with one another or with chooks with extra toes, it's not advisable to breed this bird or any like it. It tends to be very dominant. Even after trying to remove it for generations it still crops up in my flock.

Badly affected chicks will struggle to walk, cry out in pain, be unable to stop their legs from moving inwards (if the deformity is like yours but a bit more pronounced), or outwards (if the inside toes' scaling is the dominant side)...

They suffer as they learn to walk and it can take them over a week to compensate for the conformational fault, which can stunt them for life even with good care, because instead of thriving in their first week they were in such pain they just wanted to spend most of their time sleeping.

Can't tell if it's just the pic and angle, but the hind toe looks like it might be a little abnormally long, too; if so, this is linked to more leg deformities. The seemingly harmless extra toe/polydactyly gene can actually rearrange every toe on the foot, and the leg structure itself, if it's uncontrolled and non-standardized.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. How bad it is, time will tell. Badly shaped feet are usually sufficient to merit culling from any breeding program, even the 'backyard pet only' type, due to ethical concerns even if you're not concerned about productivity or other traits to cull for.

Best wishes.

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