Uhhhhh....Why Does My Chick Do This?


In the Brooder
8 Years
Apr 26, 2011
I have a number of fly tie chicks, this particular one is about maybe a month or two old. Whenever it drinks and eats it throws it's head back against it's back, sits there for a minute and then stands back up and does it all over again. Anyone?


6 Years
Apr 8, 2013
There's a genetic disorder in some chickens, quail, turkeys etc (poultry in general it seems) which causes a spasm in response to such things as contact with water, hearing water, seeing water splash, etc. It can also occur in response to stress, being tapped or pecked, etc. It's heritable and that chick should not be bred if indeed this is what is occurring here.

You may have heard the old 'joke' about turkeys 'being so stupid they drown in the rain'; this is the root of the reason people refer to stupid people, animals etc as being 'turkeys' --- this in fact references that inbred disorder, where their heads become locked into that position in response to rain and they can indeed drown in the rain, if the downpour is heavy enough and their trait strong enough to hold them in that position long enough.

Nothing to do with intelligence, well, unless you count the type of intelligence that lead people to think such a disorder is acceptable to breed on as long as it accompanies a few extra ounces of flesh. I shouldn't be too harsh there, but it really irritates me when people breed on a clearly detrimental trait because it accompanies something economically viable. One person I talked with was breeding the 7th generation of quail with such a disorder, they didn't see the trait accompany anything obviously fatal so thought it didn't matter. We're all stewards of the genetics we have control over, it behooves us to be responsible for what genes we are curating into the future generations.

They're called tetanic torticollar spasms. Duration of spasm varies in differing family lines, but turkeys are more susceptible to respiratory infections overall than chooks or quail, so even one inhalation of liquid could be sufficient to kill it; it's unlikely a turkey would survive long enough to pass on its genes in the wild with that trait, and the same is true of other species with it. They were bred into a meat breed of white turkeys first, but I had a Buff hen with it, she'd spasm even meters away from splashing water. Even the distant sound of a raindrop, unseen, was enough to set her off. Sometimes the spasm is expressed in the head tucking under the body or into the shoulders and the animal sometimes walks or runs backwards, sometimes until it runs into something that stops it, sometimes only a few inches before stopping. As with any genetic trait, it varies in severity and between individuals.

There are other disorders that cause spasming in response to whatever, but impossible to say which is which without more info. Any severe neurological damage can result in spasms in response to a multitude of stimuli. It could be anything from some sort of rabies to lead or other heavy metal toxicity. Either way that chick is almost certainly a write-off, but if it were mine I'd keep it and experiment on treating it for future reference... But that's just me. Sometimes you can save such animals, and learning how is largely dependent on people being willing to experiment. Sometimes they can even make a full recovery.

Best wishes.

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