Leg Issues in Chickens

Big birds are more likely to suffer leg problems.
Big birds are more likely to suffer leg problems. (Image: tonivaver/iStock/Getty Images)

The larger the chicken, the more likely leg issues will occur. That's because modern chicken production stresses weight gain for meat breeds over bone development. You can avoid many poultry leg issues with proper feeding and management. Leg issues often result from overcrowding, slippery flooring and nutritional deficiencies in hens and chicks. In a small flock, remove young birds with leg issues and allow them to recuperate in separate pens or cages.

Nutritional Deficiencies

It's important to feed your flock a well-balanced diet designed for chickens. While some table scraps and treats are fine, the basic diet should consist of a commercial chicken feed formulated by age. Such feeds are designed with the nutritional needs of the chicken at that particular growth stage in mind. A homemade diet could lack sufficient calcium or vitamin D, resulting in leg issues. Signs of nutritional deficiencies in a flock include twisted legs or toe paralysis.

Viral Arthritis

Chickens are prone to viral arthritis, also known as tenosynovitis. Symptoms include leg swelling and ulceration, swelling of the footpad and bleeding. Vaccinating chicks against reovirus, the cause of viral arthritis, can eliminate the possibility of disease in your flock.

Scaly Leg Mite

If the mite Knemidocoptes mutans -- colloquially known as scaly leg mite -- infests your flock, the result is raised, itchy scaling on the chicken's leg. Since transmission is via affected birds, quarantine any new chickens for a few weeks before introducing them to the flock. If your birds exhibit the telltale scaling, use petroleum jelly on the legs for scale softening. Your veterinarian can provide you with medicated dips to kill the mites, along with a dewormer that kills mites and intestinal parasites. Don't pick off the scabs, but let nature take its course for healing. It can take months for a bird's legs to appear normal after a mite infestation.

An Ounce of Prevention

Preventing leg issues in your flock starts before the eggs are laid. Feed laying hens a good commercial feed for healthy egg development. Make sure there's good airflow in the coop and that temperatures are neither too hot or too cold. Good conditions for chicks in the brooder -- or if raised by the mother, in the henhouse -- cut down on bone growth deficiencies. Keeping bedding in the henhouse clean and dry can cut down on bacteria that could cause leg infections. Bed the floor sufficiently so chickens won't slip, potentially injuring their legs. Because rapid growth can cause leg issues, especially in large breed chickens, adjust lighting in the coop so that young birds spend more time in the dark, slowing the growth rate.

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