Spraddle Leg: Preventing and Treating Splayed Legs in Baby Chicks

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

What is Spraddle Leg? 

Spraddle Leg is 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. If you suspect a vitamin deficiency, i.e. if some of the chicks have curled toes and/or head-tilting issues, try adding some Nutri-Drench to their diet asap.

In the Incubator

The more common cause 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

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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