Helping Shaun Stand on His Own Two Feet

As farms grow they typically do not have the luxury of time to spend on individual animals with various aliments, challenges, etc. In fact, efficient farms foster those things that grow and survive well in their particular environment, whether it be a specific animal breed, crop or plant variety. We certainly endeavor to be a very efficient farm, but our hearts also creep up on us and we find ourselves from time to time nursing animals back to health (with little or no financial argument to do so). Our sister, Jennifer, has often brought back sickly bottle lambs from the brink of death, or pulled a calf during birth minutes before all hope was lost. Such was the case with a little chick who recently came to the farm with a horrible case of splayed leg.

Splayed leg is a condition where a chick’s muscle structure does not hold it legs straight and they end up either stuck in the spits left-and-right or front-and-back. The chick normally cannot walk in this condition and in a commercial setting would almost certainly be killed by the other chicks or would die of starvation and/or dehydration. However, there is an easy fix.

We recently moved a group of 100 chicks into our brooder, and buried at the bottom of the pile was “Shaun” (my kiddos named him a few days later ;-). Shaun could not walk was facing a very short life. The following article describes how we helped Shaun learn how to walk…

Baby chicks normally get their feet under them within minutes of hatching and are up and walking in less than an hour. Chicks with splayed legs don’t have the muscle strength in either one or both legs to properly walk. If you catch it early enough (first 2-3 days of life) the condition can be corrected.

"Shaun", a 2-day-old chick unable to walk with a condition called splayed or sprawled legs.

“Shaun”, a 2-day-old chick unable to walk with a condition called splayed or sprawled legs.

In the past I have used one of my daughter’s small hair bands to create a sort of soft leg shackle to hold the legs in place. This is made by simply taping the center of the hair band to create a small semi-rigid tether with a loop on either end. You can see an example here.

While this approach does work well, it is a little difficult to apply and it is not always rigid enough for really bad cases. Legs that are sprawled left-and-right can be pulled back together with a soft brace, but legs split front-and-back need something firm to keep the legs aligned up under the bird. For Shaun, I decided to make something a bit more rigid, reusable and easily applied and removed.

Materials required to build a simple but functional splayed leg brace of chicks.

Materials required to build a simple but functional splayed leg brace for chicks.

This is the final brace I made from a Lego and two hair clips.

This is the completed brace I made from an old Lego, two tiny hair clips and a tube of super glue. The whole thing is about 1.5″ wide.

I used a small Lego, two tiny claw clips from my daughter’s hair drawer and a tube of super glue. I carefully glued the clips to the Lego and then applied a few additional coats of glue just to make sure it was all held together well. The final result was quite clean and very easy for just one person to use. Not only is it functional, but it can be stored and used for years.

Once I had the brace built I let it adequately dry and then placed it on the Shaun. I then put the chick in a small box lined with a clean paper towel, a rolled up washcloth (dry), and a jar lid of food; all under a warm desk lamp. For the first few days I took Shaun our periodically and tried to encourage him to take a drink while sitting on his “new legs”. By day three I was able to move his water into his box and he could hop over, stand up and drink on his own initiative. It is now day 8 and he is almost jumping out of his temporary cardboard box house.

The little claw hair clips are perfect for holding the chick’s legs for the first week or so of life. It was loose around the ankles on day one and a little snug on day 7-8 (but not too binding). I guess it could be used for close to two weeks if necessary, but the legs should not take that long to correct anyway.

Here is "Shaun" the chick with his brace on. He quickly figured out how to move around once it was installed.

Here is “Shaun” with his brace on. He quickly figured out how to move around once it was installed. Noticed the curled foot on his bad side – it corrected itself once he started using his leg properly.

I kept the brace on for three days without taking it off. By day three his bad foot had opened up and he was able to hop around on his own accord and drink and eat as he pleased. (you can see his right foot curled up in the picture).

After day three I started taking the brace off to see the progress. While it looked more promising each day, he still needed a little more time to strengthen up. In the past this process has normally taken only 2-4 days, but Shaun had a really bad case.

The final thing I will do is increase the size of his box a bit and add a couple of other chicks (from the same hatching) in with him to re-acclimate him to the “real world” and let him learn to keep up with the others. It might be a bit too much to just throw him in with 100 other chickens and expect him to integrate immediately; after all, he’s spent his entire life in a box!

Below is a video of Shaun when we first took his brace off and he was able to walk successfully on his own. He’s now running all over the place.

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