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Spraddle Leg and Curled Toes in Baby Chicks | Prevention and Treatment

Brooding baby chicks on a slippery surface like newspaper can result in curled toes or spraddle leg, as can an incomplete or insufficient diet early on.

Hopefully you will never have to worry about a chick with spraddle leg or curled toes, but as is the case with everything else chicken-related, it's always best to be prepared ... just in case.

Spraddle Leg and Curled Toes in Baby Chicks | Prevention and Treatment

Both spraddle leg and curled toes are fairly uncommon in baby chicks and also both pretty easily treated as long as they're caught early on, but left untreated can ultimately lead to the chick's death, so it's important to recognize these two conditions and know how to treat them. 

Baby chicks bones are soft and pliable, so once the condition is detected, it should be fairly simple to realign the bones and get the chick back into good as new shape in just a few days.

What is Spraddle or Splay Leg? 

Spraddle Leg  (also called splayed or splay leg) a condition that a chick is either born with or develops within the first few hours of life whereby one or both legs slip out to the sides making them unable to stand or walk.

What Causes Spraddle Leg?

Spraddle leg can occur during incubation or the hatching process if the temperature is too high or varies too much during the incubation period or if the hatch is difficult for the chick. 

A less common cause can be a vitamin deficiency, specifically riboflavin. If you suspect a vitamin deficiency, i.e. if several of the chicks also have curled toes and/or head-tilting issues, try adding some Nutri-Drench to their diet asap.

Good sources of riboflavin are also eggs (yes, baby chicks LOVE to eat scrambled or hardboiled eggs!) and leafy greens as well as broccoli.  

In the Incubator

The more common cause of spraddle leg is an incubator or brooder floor that is too slippery for the chick to grip, which causes the legs to slide to one side. As a result the chick's legs muscles don't develop properly because of the lack of traction.

To try and prevent this condition in your newly hatched chicks, a sheet of paper towel or rubber shelf liner should always be put in the incubator just before the lockdown. This gives the baby chicks more stability for their still-weak legs.

In the Brooder

Newspaper should never be used in the brooder as the only floor covering - opt for rubber shelf liner instead to give your chickens a better, textured surface to grip.

Especially when it gets wet, newspaper is too slippery and the primary cause of spraddle leg in baby chicks. They just can't get their legs to stay under them on such a slick surface.

So instead of using just newspaper,  I cover a few layers of newspaper with a sheet of shelf liner. The rubber surface, just as in the incubator, provides a nice textured surface for little feet. 

I change the newspapers and shelf liner out as needed, rinsing the shelf liner off and reusing it, replacing the newspaper with fresh paper, and after a few days, adding a layer of pine shavings on top of the shelf liner.

How is Spraddle Leg Treated?

Spraddle leg can be fairly easily corrected if treated as soon as it's detected. It's important to fix the condition as soon as possible while the leg and foot muscles are still growing and strengthening.

If not addressed quickly, the chick will not be able to get to feed and water and can actually die from the condition.  

But, identified and treated quickly, it's generally an easy fix.

What you Do to Treat Spraddle Leg

What you need to do is hobble the chick's legs.  The easiest way is to cut a thin piece of Vetrap (approximately 1/4" wide and 5" long) and loosely wrap it around each leg, connecting the ends in the middle, about an inch apart, in sort of a figure eight.

Vetrap sticks to itself so it should stay put without any tape or other adhesive. You can also use a Bandaid, centering the padded section between the chick's legs, but be sure not to stick the adhesive to the chicks legs because it can be hard to get off.

The chick's legs should be about normal width apart when extended once you wrap the legs with the Vetrap. If the chick can't stand up, you can make them a bit wider apart for better balance, but then bring them in a bit closer together each day. 

You can wrap some First Aid Tape around the middle to keep the Vetrap secured, if necessary.

More Spraddle Leg Tips

Be sure the chick has something it can easily walk on like paper towel, a bath towel or shelf liner. At first the chick will  likely have trouble standing up, but soon should get used to the hobble and be able to get around pretty well. 

Ensure the chick has easy access to feed and water, but a shallow water dish with marbles or small stones in it is required so the chick doesn't fall in and accidentally drown.

Also it's best to keep the chick separate from other chicks at least until she learns to stand, so she won't be trampled.

At first it will be helpful to support the chick and just let her try to stand and get used to having her legs underneath her.  Helping her get her balance will be beneficial and hasten her recovery.

How Long Does it Take to Treat Spraddle Leg?

The chick should be "cured" pretty quickly, all things considered. Unwrap the legs and check the chick's progress once or twice a day.

Leave the hobble on until the chick can comfortably stand and walk on its own. This could take from a few days to up to a week.  You should see results fairly quickly and soon your chick will be up and about.

Then make a solemn vow: no more chicks on newspaper ! 

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Curled Toes in Baby Chicks | Prevention and Treatment

Curled or crooked toes in baby chicks often occur in baby chicks for similar reasons that spradde leg occurs. Instead of laying flat, the chick's toes will be curled into a "fist". 

If the toe deformity shows up immediately in a newly hatched chick, it's likely due to:

  •  genetics
  • improper incubator temperature 
  • incorrect incubator humidity
  • the position of the embryo in the egg prior to hatching 
  • sciatic nerve damage

If the toes start to curl under a few days after the chick hatches, then environment or nutrition is likely the culprit. Or it could be an injury that occurred in the brooder.

If the chicks' diet is deficient, it can take a week or more for the issue to become apparent. If more than one chick seems to have curled toes, then diet is the likely the cause.  

The curled toes cause the chicks to sit more instead of walking, and can lead to being trampled by the others or becoming dehydrated or malnourished due to their inability to easily access the feed and water.

Preventing Curled Toes

To prevent curled toes in chicks, be sure that your layer hens (if you're hatching your own eggs) are fed a good-quality balanced diet. If you purchase chicks, use a reputable hatchery or breeder. 

Be sure the surface of your incubator and brooder are rough so the chicks can get a good grip. Paper towel or rubber shelf liner both work well. Avoid newspaper or plastic. 

Treatment of Curled Toes

To treat curled toes, wrap the afflicted foot with Vetrap or a Band-aid, straightening the toes out. If the entire foot is curled, try cutting a piece of cardboard the size of the foot, straightening the toes on the cardboard base, then wrapping the entire thing in Vetrap or a Band-aid. 

Since curled toes can be the result of a nutritional imbalance, specifically riboflavin (Vitamin B2), be sure your chicks are eating fresh (not old or outdated), good-quality chick feed and limit the treats. Eggs and leafy greens are good sources of riboflavin, so if you do give your chicks limited treats, these are good choices.

Fermenting your chick's feed will also increase the riboflavin available in the feed, so feeding afflicted chicks fermented feed can also help treat the malady.

The toes should flatten out fairly quickly, because again, the bones are still soft and growing. Two or three days with the cardboard splint in place should do it.

If the toe is crooked, or pointing in the wrong direction, it can be the result of a break. Again, splinting the toe with cardboard and Vetrap can help it grow correctly.

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