What Causes Broken Legs in 0lder Chicks?

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by The Monkey Mama, Jul 8, 2008.

  1. The Monkey Mama

    The Monkey Mama Songster

    Jun 12, 2008
    Kennesaw, GA
    I'm ready to scream!

    I just came in from my chick pen and one of my 11 week old Cuckoo Maran roosters has a broken leg now - his right leg sticks out to the side the wrong way and he can't put any weight on it. It looks like it is broken right at the joint where it comes out of his torso - no signs of outside trauma.

    He's hopping around and getting around but I just feel sick... he is one of the biggest, prettiest chickens I have and he has been SO healthy and strong and he is HUGE!

    I am ready to despair! What am I doing wrong that is making this happen? I had a problem with two of the chicks I hatched [from a different breeder than the Cuckoo Maran] getting "splay leg" at 3 days and 4 weeks respectively, and they have gone to live with the bird rescue lady that ironically lives right behind me...

    But what would cause a half grown roo who has been really strong and healthy to suddenly have leg problems?

    They have been on commercial medicated chick starter this whole time, supplemented with veggie and fruit scraps - but the starter is *always* available free choice.

    They are in a pen that is 6 foot by 12 foot and they have a covered dog crate to roost in at night - they like to get on top of that and jump off, but it is only about 3 feet off the ground....

    There are no predators that can get in and I have been with the children every single time they are near the chicks so nobody accidentally broke the roo's leg or anything...

    The roos aren't fighting yet, they are all really sweet and mild right now [there are about 7 roos in the pen], so it isn't damage from another roo.

    He is eating fine [like a pig] and I saw no strange poop anywhere in the coop.

    Any ideas? Am I just doing something really stupid to mess up my birds? I am so frustrated!!! This guy has been so regal and strong - it breaks my heart to see him limping around now!

    Last edited: Jul 8, 2008
  2. dlhunicorn

    dlhunicorn Human Encyclopedia

    Jan 11, 2007
    it might not be broken ... there are several issues affecting legs...here is a nice summary of the most common below. I would give ALL the birds a supplement such as Avia Charge 2000 (you can purchase from Mcmurray online) ... btw...this is written by a vet directed to a pigion group but the info equally aplicable to poultry:
    (Dave J. Rupiper DVM, Dipl. ABVP)
    "There have been a few articles and questions concerning splayed-legs and crooked toe abnormalities in pigeons in the APJ recently. We've accumulated some information from sources and compiled them together to hopefully stimulate thought on the etiology (cause) of these diseases. A brief description of the abnormality is given. Pathogenesis refers to the development of the disease process.

    Crooked Toes
    Description: Crooked toes is a condition best described in poultry as a developmental anomaly in which the toes are bent laterally and medially (outward and inward, respectively) in a horizontal plane. This is different than curled toes in pigeons and poultry which is due to a riboflavin deficiency in the diet.1,2
    Pathogenesis: Crooked toes occurs due to a twisting of the phalanges (toe bones).
    Etiology: The cause is unknown, however wire floors and low humidity may predispose birds to the anomaly. The greater incidence in different pigeon breeds suggests a genetic problem or management situation particular to that breed (e.g. crooked toes in Domestic Flights).

    Rotated Tarsometatarsus
    Description: This is a deformity of the lower leg, past the hock joint, in which the tarsometatarsal bone rotates laterally or medially.
    Pathogenesis: It is associated with twisting and bending of the lower tibiotarsal and upper tarsometatarsal bones (above and below the hock joint).3
    Etiology: The cause is unknown but may be secondary to perosis (slipped tendon) and not a primary disease.

    Description: Perosis is enlargement of the hock joint and rotation of the tarsometatarsus due to slipping of the Achilles' tendon.
    Pathogenesis: The tendon of the gastrocnemius muscle (Achilles' tendon) slips laterally (towards the outer side) of the hock and there is shortening of the bones of the affected leg due to changes in the growth plate.1,3
    Etiology: Manganese deficiency, choline deficiency, biotin and pantothenic acid deficiency, calcium/phosphorus/Vitamin D imbalance, niacin deficiency, Vitamin B6 and folic acid deficiency are all causes of perosis in poultry and waterfowl.

    Twisted Leg
    Description: An outward or inward twisting and bending of the leg; usually only one leg is affected.1
    Pathogenesis: Slipped tendon of gastrocnemius muscle.
    Etiology: The incidence of affected individuals is increased in some flocks; suggesting a genetic influence. The nutritional causes of perosis should also be considered. The use of improper or insufficient nesting material or nesting containers is mentioned by Levi (columbids) and by Voren and Jordan (psittacines)4,5 The cause is most likely multifactorial and not limited to just one etiology, but rather may be a combination of disease syndromes.

    Angular limb deformities in pigeons are always difficult to treat and cure in older youngsters, however, if caught early, squeakers can be treated with amazing results. John Hanson's "15 cent Solution" in July, 1992 APJ issue is an effective, innovative method to control splayed legs.6 Notice that the squabs he is treating by placing two leg bands with an interconnecting elastic band are young birds that can still be banded. This is the key to success, catch 'em early!

    Anne Ellis's April 1992 APJ article gives an excellent alternative. She utilizes a bread tin to keep the legs held beneath the body and prevent splaying. She too is still treating birds that are young and still growing, otherwise they would flap their wings and work their way out of the bread tin. Both these methods are a variation on another theme. The goal is to provide a substrate or apparatus to prevent the legs from splaying out. Many methods can accomplish this. Bowls and tins which restrict outward leg movement are readily available and inexpensive. Deep, coarse and heavy nest material such as alfalfa pellets covered with a more natural layer of nest material may also help.

    Another method is to use external fixation splints. An apparatus that extends from one limb to the other is often effective but can be fraught with frustration. The key is to keep it simple. Bulky tapes and appliances attached to the legs often hinder the bird, can lead to two deformed limbs, cause soiled plumage and may result in painful sores. John Hanson's method is effective as long as the leg bands do not ride up near the hock but remain near the feet.

    The last and least desirable method is reserved for special situations and involves surgery. A derotational osteotomy in which the bone is cut and the leg de-rotated is seldom effective and used as a salvage procedure to give the bird a better quality of life. The Achilles' tendon usually remains slipped and thus the lower leg is barely functional. Unless the bird is a pet or has an otherwise high inherent value, culling is recommended.

    A proverbial ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent what is not clearly understood. The only recommendations to make are the obvious: provide adequate nutrition, vitamins, nest material and nest bowls to your birds. Until the etiology of angular limb deformities can be elucidated, it is recommended these birds be eliminated from the breeding population.

    Vitamin D is necessary for metabolism of calcium and phosphorous and for absorption of calcium from the diet. Deficiency causes weak bones, enlargement of joints and soft-shelled eggs. Excess vitamin D may cause severe kidney damage and calcified tissues.

    Calcium is needed for bone and eggshell formation. Deficiency causes soft-shelled, weakness, paralysis, soft bones and egg binding. Excess dietary calcium without increasing dietary phosphorous causes kidney damage and mineralized tissues.

    Phosphorous is essential for proper calcium metabolism. Calcium and phosphorous should be balanced in the ration to a ratio of 1.5:1 for young birds and 2.5-1 for breeding birds.

    Niacin is necessary to prevent bowing of the legs and enlargement of the hocks. A deficiency does not usually cause perosis.

    Manganese prevents enlargement of the hock joint and prevents tendon slippage of the gastrocnemius muscle.

    Zinc deficiency may result in shortened and thickened long bones, enlarged hocks and weakness. An excess is usually caused by ingestion of zinc from cage/wire clippings and may cause gastrointestinal and neurologic signs.

    Choline deficiency also may result in perosis and cartilage deformities in joints.

    Biotin is necessary to prevent shortening of leg bones in embryos and perosis.


    1. Fraser CM (ed): Part VI, Diseases of Poultry. In Merck Veterinary Manual 6th ed. Rahway, NJ, Merck & Co., Inc., 1986, pp 1301-1302.

    2. Tudor DC: Pigeon Health and Disease. Ames, IA, IA St. Univ. Press, 1991, pp 117-134.

    3. Altman RB: Disorders of the Skeletal System. In Petrak ML (ed), Diseases of Cage and Aviary Birds 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1982, pp 382-394.

    4. Levi WM: The Pigeon. Sumter, SC, Levi Pub. Co., Inc., 1977, p 408.

    5. Voren H and Jordan R: Parrots, Hand Feeding and Nursery Management. Pickering, Ontario, Canada, Silvio Mattachione & Co., 1992, pp 150-151. "
  3. The Monkey Mama

    The Monkey Mama Songster

    Jun 12, 2008
    Kennesaw, GA
    Wow - that is extremely informative and helpful! Thank you so much!


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