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It’s Fowl Friday again, and almost three weeks since the new chicks arrived at Curbstone Valley, and much of the fluff has been replaced by feathers.  This is especially true for the Delawares, Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, and Golden Laced Wyandottes.  Do you remember being a teenager?  Those awkward, lanky, pimply years?

We've reached that awkward stage, neither chick, nor chicken be....

Most of the fluff that remains is on their heads

The wing feathers are growing in very well though!

I may be having a bad hair day...but look at my wings!

Not to be outdone, the Golden Laced Wyandottes are developing a lovely pattern on their wing feathers

Still a Mystery…

Mystery chick is still an enigma…and perhaps not what we first thought.  We had guessed that maybe our ‘mystery chick’ was a silver-laced Cochin.  Now, we’re not so sure.

Three weeks old and our mystery chick still has his/her racing stripes down the back, and a much higher amount of fluffage than anyone else in the brood.  So, who are you?

Come on, SING! Who are you???

With a little more rummaging around in the literature, there’s another possibility for our fuzzy enigma.  A Dark Brahma.  For more on the Dark Brahma (as this post will be a bit long with the rest of the week’s news), see this article by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Suffice it to say, the chicks of the silver-laced Cochin and Dark Brahmas initially have a similar color and pattern. However, we’ve noted that this chick is very slow to develop relative to the others.

See how much smaller the wings are compared to the girls above?

The ashy down on the chest seems closer in coloration to the Dark Brahma chicks…but, we’ll have to wait and see who this chick turns out to be!

Whoa…Slow Down!

Of all the breeds, there is no question that the Delawares are developing the fastest.  Sometimes rapid growth though can lead to trouble. On Tuesday morning we noticed that two Delaware chicks suddenly seemed to have crooked toes, and we were very concerned about the entire flock.  We’ve never had this problem before.  As they seem to change almost hour by hour, we knew we needed to act fast to identify and remedy any problems we may have with our flock.

A Delaware with normal feet

Notice this Delaware's toe on her left foot curls backwards...this is not normal

Crooked toes in growing chicks is most commonly a manifestation of one of three problems.

1) Brooder Management

If the brooder is too cold, the chicks will pile up on top of each other to keep warm, which can lead to the chicks placing undue strain on their growing legs and feet.

Or, if the brooder is bedded with the wrong flooring material, like newspaper, which has a slick surface, the chicks constantly have to battle sliding across the floor, and this can cause orthopedic problems with crooked toes and/or splayed legs.

2) Nutritional Management

A nutritional deficiency, specifically in Riboflavin (vitamin B2), has been known for many years to lead to crooked toes in chicks.  Any nutritional deficiency in an animal that grows as fast as a young chicken can manifest as a health problem, but Riboflavin has specifically been implicated in this condition.

3) Genetics

Crooked toes have also been shown, in some birds, to be genetic in origin.  This may be a gene that is responsible for bone development, or perhaps a gene involved in regulating assimilation of nutrients (like Riboflavin) in the diet.  Regardless, of all the causes of crooked toes, this is the one we have the least control over at the present.  Although, breeders do have the responsibility of not knowingly breeding genetic stock that has a predisposition for disease, or developmental anomalies.

Fixing the Problem

So what caused the crooked toes in our Delawares, and how do we manage it?  We don’t know the cause, and it’s not practical to try to definitively diagnose the problem, but we are taking steps to correct it.

Addressing Nutrition

We strongly doubt this is an issue with the feed.  We feed a commercially regulated, pre prepared, balanced and organic feed.  However, feed that has been stored for excessive periods, or faults in manufacturing can occasionally be issues, but are not common.  Our feed is fresh, and we have an advantage in that we currently have 6 breeds of birds in the brooders (if you count our mystery fuzzy-footed chick).  Examination of all of the other chicks showed that only two Delawares have the problem.  Everyone else is just fine.  We also noticed that the two affected Delawares, are the two in the flock that are largest, and growing the most rapidly.

The worst chick is the one we’d already dubbed ‘Godzilla’ (‘Zilla’ for short…it’s more feminine) as she has outpaced the other chicks significantly since the day she arrived, and always stands out in a crowd! Really, you can’t miss her!

Meet Zilla...she towers over the other chicks in the brooder

For any animal that grows rapidly, even slight deficiencies in diet can manifest themselves easily.  To address any potential common nutrient deficiencies in these chicks, we are now supplementing the entire flock with a water soluble vitamin supplement that includes Riboflavin.

Critically Evaluating Management

We also examined our brooder setup, which has worked fine for us in the past, but was anything different?  There’s plenty of heat, as we’re using 250W infrared bulbs in the brooder boxes.  We use cob-litter for bedding as it provides good traction, and is non-toxic.  We also have variably sized perches (actually branches as they’re naturally roughened, not slick surfaced).  So what’s different?

When we previously reared chicks, we had a very small number of birds, and used a different style of feeder, one that was difficult to perch on.  With so many chicks this time we had little choice but to opt for a long trough style feeder to accommodate the chicks.  At first it was a metal feeder, but a manufacturing defect caused one of the chicks to badly catch a toe on the first day, and so that feeder was removed and replaced with a feeder that had less sharp edges.

This metal feeder has sharp open ends that can catch small delicate toes, and was replaced

Could that be our problem?  The feeder surface on the replacement plastic model is very slick.

Could this be our culprit?

A few birds, including Zilla, seem to enjoy trying to perch on the feeder.  Although we raise the feeders every few days to keep the trough height at the level of the chick’s backs, they can practically fly now enabling them to perch anywhere they choose.  Our only option seemed to be to either modify this feeder so they can’t perch on it, or change the style of feeder again.  We opted to change it, even though Zilla’s problem could be a combination of factors, it doesn’t hurt to go back to what we know works.

We reverted to our old round feeders, to eliminate perching

The chicks are large enough now that it makes sense to split them into another brooder box.  Our boxes are very large, but with as active as they are, more space to run around is never a bad thing.  With less chicks in each brooder, we could go back to our original tall round feeders that can’t be perched on so easily.

Correcting Crooked Toes

Crooked toes aren’t necessarily permanent IF you can catch the problem soon enough.  But how do you fix crooked toes?  The chicks are growing so fast, their bones are growing so fast, that some improvement at least can be obtained by splinting the toes. However, splinting can also be dangerous if it’s not done properly.  If you have a chick with crooked toes, please consult your Veterinarian!

At their rate of growth, you cannot simply splint a toe, and leave the splint on, because it will constrict the toes as they grow, restricting blood-flow, and cause many more problems than it is intended to correct.  None of the chicks are intended to be marathon runners, and we caught the problem soon enough, that if this is as bad as it gets for Zilla, it’s really not that bad, and she’ll be able to get around just fine.  However, if we can improve her toes, even a little, to prevent future foot problems, we want to try.

 

First the crooked toe was splinted, then Zilla was fitted with a new orthopedic shoe to help stabilize the toe

The first splinting earlier in the week did improve the toe position, but Zilla needed re-splinting this morning.  This time, to prevent the toe from trying to curl over the splint, we’ve stabilized her toe with a nice new shoe …not exactly Manolo Blahnik, but pretty fancy, don’t you think?   The goal here is just to keep the toe in the most natural position possible, but still enable her to perch.  We’re splinting the toes for 48 hours, and leaving the splints off for 24 hours.  Rinsing and repeating as necessary.

The chicks tolerate the splints just fine, and after the first minute or two they forget they have anything attached to their foot.  Zilla doesn’t even seem to notice her new webbed ‘duck foot’.

The toe on her right foot isn't as bad, and holds its position well with just a splint

The good news is that so far the problem seems stable.  No new chicks are affected, and the two affected chicks don’t seem to be getting any worse.  Over the next few weeks we’ll continue to evaluate the two affected Delawares, splinting toes and modifying shoes as needed.  Next week we’ll see if Zilla’s toes have improved…Wish her luck!