Nutritional Deficiency in Breeders
The first sign of leg and foot problems are noticeable at hatching time. The adult breeding stock needs to be fed a well-balanced diet since the chick develops on the nutrients placed in the egg by the hen. If the breeder's diet is deficient in vitamins and minerals the chick's structure is off to a poor start. Nutritional deficiencies of Vitamin D3, causes soft bones and an increase in lameness in chicks. Riboflavin deficiency will cause a high incidence of curly-toe paralysis, straddle legs and chicks going down on their hocks.
Old Hatching Eggs
Eggs stored too long (10 days or more) before being set in the incubator can cause an increase in the number of crippled and weak chicks.
Eggs incubated with insufficient moisture tend to develop poorly, stick to the membranes and have a hard time hatching. "Dry sticks" or chicks hatching in these conditions are more prone to crippling and other leg problems.
Slippery Brooding Surfaces
Newspaper, wood, and other slippery surfaces cause excessive leg problems for all young fowl, especially waterfowl, turkeys, game birds and feathered-legged fowl. Provide a soft absorbent litter that gives the birds good footing and traction. A layer of textured paper towels, old cloth towels, or burlap work well for the first two weeks of brooding. After two weeks of age a 3-inch base of pine shaving are recommended. Don't use materials like corn cobs or sawdust which become packed down and mold if it gets wet. The biggest problem with slippery surfaces is straddled legs (legs are spread out one or both sides of the body and the chick cannot walk). Once the fowl gets to this point, the problem is nearly impossible to correct.
Lack of feed and water space
Crowding at feeders and waterers tends to put undue stress on the bird's legs. This can result in hock disorders.
Birds walking on damp litter tend to develop tender foot pads. They are prone to sit on the wet litter leading to breast blisters and swollen hocks. If the pads on their feet get badly cracked, they often get infections leading to bumble foot. Bumble foot is an infected core in the pad of the foot which swells and causes the bird to go lame. If you can remove the core and clear up the infection you can sometimes correct his problem. Bumble foot can also be a problem for birds raised on gravel, wire, concrete floors, or hard- packed ground. Waterfowl are especially prone to bumble foot if they are raised on packed ground or in an area with a lot of weed stubble (weeds cut off with lawn mower).
Starter diets that are adequate for laying chickens may be inadequate for meat chickens, turkeys, and waterfowl. Use a complete starter and grower diet balanced for the specific types of fowl whenever possible. People often feed whole grains to young fowl trying to save money. This often results in nutritional deficiencies that cause leg and foot issues.
Make sure any mesh wire brooders are small enough to prevent the young fowl from getting their hocks stuck in the wire. Be sure doorways are large enough for the birds to move through easily. Make sure ramps have good traction for the bird. Use slats spaced three inches apart or a textured surface like a roofing shingle on the surface of the ramps to provide traction. Use ramps and walkways so the birds do not crowd over a high sill or jump onto hard ground from elevated doorways.
Proper use of perches
Do not use perches for large meat-type birds. For other fowl use perches about 18" - 24" off the ground. Heavier breeds should not have perches to prevent leg joints damage when they jump off the perch. Not using perches with game and other perching fowl often causes damage to the bird because they fly at the ceiling looking for a place to roost.
Scaly leg mites in chickens can cause lameness.
Scaly leg mites bore under the scales on the legs of the chicken. The scales enlarge, get rough and become infected. If not treated early the bird may go lame. To treat, soak the bird's legs in an oil or cream to suffocate the mites. Treat every 3 to 4 days for 2 weeks. The old scales will then fall off over time and be replaced with new scales.
Keep children, pets and other fast-moving or noisy objects away from young fowl.
Forced exercise or sudden scares can result in pulled muscles, slipped joints & lameness. This is especially true with waterfowl.
Never catch fowl, especially waterfowl by the legs.
Never run waterfowl or chase them for long periods of time.
Waterfowl have especially tender legs and joints and can go lame very easily
Treatment of Lame Birds
If lameness occurs, remove the bird from the rest of the flock and raise in a small pen with easy access to fresh water and feed to limit the birds movement. Allow the lame birds to get rest for a week or so and most times they will recover. Do not put back with the rest of the flock until the lame bird can move easily and freely.
If the bird has badly straddled legs, you can tape the legs together with a harness so that the legs must stay in the normal position. If the bird does not show improvement after a week, it will most likely be best to have the bird humanely euthanized so it does not suffer.
Remember, any leg and foot disorders in young fowl may be genetic. This means if you save and breed from fowl with leg and foot disorders, your problems could continue to get worse over the years. So band or separate these birds so you can cull birds showing these disorders before setting up your future breeding pens.
By taking proper management precautions, you can prevent leg and foot disorders from ever occurring.
Reviewed by Dr. R. Michael Hulet.