Question about birth defects: blindness and extra toes


8 Years
Aug 25, 2011
Eastern NC
Approximately 5 months ago I agreed to take five chicks that had been hatched for a local Extension supported school project through the elementary schools. Two out of the five chicks had some issues to which I'm unsure of the cause(s). Both had varying levels of blindness but not to the extent that they couldn't find the food and water. One turned out to be a rooster and one a little hen I named Scarlet.

I discovered the little rooster's blindness about a week or two after obtaining him. As he developed, both eyes appeared to be "bulgy" and cloudy but one more so than the other. He seemed to rely on the less bulgy eye to see but I could tell that it didn't have perfect vision either. Aside from the blindness he appeared to be whole.

Scarlet has blindness as well but wasn't discovered till much later because hers wasn't as severe. If offer her food from my hand, she will peck 5 or six times in the air before she hits her target, it's almost as if her depth perception is off. She too has what appears to be a cloud over both pupils but without the bulginess. What I did notice rather immediately was the fact that she has five toes which I understand isn't unusual for some breeds but was for her because she didn't come from a flock that had any five toed hens or roosters. The REALLY unusual find was when I discovered she has a small pair of extra toes on both wings at what I would call the outward elbow of the wing. Her walk too seems to be awkward, she doesn't stumble or fall but it isn't as it should be and I suspect that it's the effect of the extra toes that shouldn't be there.

Three days after introduction into the main flock the little rooster was killed by an adult RIR cross I had at the time. Two days after that I gave away all my roosters because I was sick of the nasty RIR disposition I was seeing which included aggression towards people, roughness with the hens and with each other. I still have Scarlet but I've had to keep her in a large dog kennel in the coop where she can see but not be attacked by the other hens. They seem to have mostly accepted her as a member of the flock but she's still at the bottom of the pecking order during the times I let her out and doesn't seem to know how to deal with even the slightest aggression from the others. Her response is to run and hide and won't move until I either call her name or pick her up to reassure her that she's safe. The dog kennel has allowed her close access food and water without competition and she seems to do better in the smaller space where she cannot get lost (their pen is rather large).

Questions I have:

1) What would cause these kinds of birth defects?
2) Is there anything that can be done about Scarlet's blindness?

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