Preventing and Treating Wry Neck in Chicks and Ducklings

Wry Neck (sometimes called Crook Neck or Stargazing) is a condition that causes a chick or duckling (or sometimes a grown hen whose diet is nutritionally insufficient) to be unable to hold its head up on its own.

The affliction can progress to the point that the little one walks backwards or tumbles over on its back, unable to walk at all. It can be fatal if not treated, as the chick or duckling risks becoming dehydrated and malnourished quickly if unable to eat or drink by itself.

Causes of Wry Neck in Chicks and Ducklings

The exact cause of the condition can vary, from genetics to a head injury to a vitamin deficiency. Ingesting toxins/contracting botulism can also bring about wry neck.

Chicks especially are prone to being affected by toxins such as lead or other metals in their environment, so care should be taken to remove any potentially dangerous substances.

It can also be a symptom of Marek's disease or aspergillosis.

Silkies and Polish chickens are most susceptible to head injuries (their brains are not protected by a hard skull like other breeds, but instead vulnerable to a well-placed peck) and more apt to be pecked by others due to their fancy headdresses.

Separating those breeds from more aggressive breeds helps to protect them from injury. Also. overcrowding can lead to unnecessary bullying and pecking so you will want to be sure your chickens and chicks have adequate space.

A vitamin deficiency, Vitamin E specifically, can also cause wry neck. 

Vitamin E Deficiency

If you see evidence of the condition, regardless of the cause, you should immediately step up the Vitamin E in your flock's diet. Selenium helps boost the effectiveness of Vitamin E, so simply treating with a Vitamin E supplement often isn't enough. Adding some selenium is important.

A well-rounded diet is the key to good health. Treatment can take weeks or longer, immediate results should not be expected, but the sooner you begin treating, the better chances for success. Also feeding your chicks medicated feed can interfere with their thiamine (Vitamin B1) absorption, causing a lack of that essential vitamin. 

Adding some Brewer's Yeast, bran, sunflower seeds or wheat germ to their diet can help build up their B1 supply. I have never had a case of wry neck here on our farm despite hatching and raising countless chicks over the years, although I have read a lot about it.

I have a strong feeling that our success with not having to deal with it is in part due to the variety of herbs and weeds I offer to our flock on a regular basis.

They are packed with vitamins and ensure a well-balanced diet for our chickens and ducks. I also only buy hatching eggs from reputable sources to minimize the chances of hatching embryos that have vitamin deficiencies.

Treatment for Wry Neck in Chicks and Ducklings

Regardless of the cause of the wry neck, you will want to separate the afflicted chick to be sure it's not getting trampled and able to eat and drink unimpeded.

Hand feeding might be necessary if the chick is not able to eat on its own. (Dipping the beak into a small dish of water is far safe than using an eyedropper which can lead to aspiration.) Incorporating some molasses into the afflicted chick's diet is beneficial, as molasses is packed with vitamins and nutrients. 

Natural Sources of Vitamin E

Because Vitamin E supplements aren't often absorbed well, instead, adding natural sources of Vitamin E to your flock's diet works better, as many of them are also a good source of selenium. Fortunately, lots of culinary herbs are high in Vitamin E.

The following herbs and spices are high in Vitamin E:

  • Basil
  • Cayenne Powder
  • Cloves
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme

These herbs and spices contain Vitamin E In lesser amounts:

  • Caraway
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Marjoram
  • Turmeric
Other sources of Vitamin E include alfalfa, dandelion, nettle, raspberry leaf and rose hips. Also, spinach, sunflower seeds, pumpkins, squash, fish, olive oil are all high in Vitamin E and would be good supplements.

Read this fascinating account on the Natural Chicken Keeping website about offering turmeric tea to an afflicted hen.

Prevention of Wry Neck in Chicks and Ducklings 

If you are planning on hatching eggs from your hens, be sure your flock is eating a healthy diet of good-quality layer feed in advance of collecting the eggs you plan on incubating.

Supplementing their diet with some herbs and other foods high in Vitamin E can help prevent the onset of wry neck in any chicks you hatch.

Similarly, feeding your newly hatch chicks or ducklings foods high in Vitamin E can also help prevent the condition from afflicting them.

If they don't seem interested in eating the chopped fresh herbs, try making herbal tea for the chicks by steeping the fresh or dried herbs in boiling water and then cooling. Strain and serve alongside their regular drinking water.

Reference Sources/Further Reading:

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