How to Handle a Chicken Foot Injury
Spraddle leg, bumblefoot, scaly leg mites, and more.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
A chicken foot injury prevents or slows down a chicken’s ability to tend to chicken business. Healthy chickens are active busybodies. If your chicken finds it painful or difficult to move around, it can become reluctant to move to find food and water. The good news is most chicken foot injury cases are easy to spot. Most problems detected in the beginning stages are treatable.
The chicken foot comes in a few varieties. The rooster’s foot is larger than a hen’s foot. This difference is noticeable as the chick grows and apparent long before you hear the first creaky crow. The Cochin and Brahma breeds have fluffy feathered feet called booting. This can be a few feathers reaching to cover a toe or two, or a heavy feathering that collects lots of dirt and mud. Silkie chickens commonly have a fifth toe extending from the back of the foot. Heavy breeds and chickens raised for meat are more prone to foot injuries because of the weight they carry.
Early First Aid Makes a Difference
No matter what type of foot your chicken has, caring for the chicken foot is especially important. When you notice a chicken foot injury, do a check as soon as you can. If your chicken is hard to catch, wait until roost time. It is easy to grab a chicken off the roost after dusk. Then you can determine a plan.
What Does a Healthy Chicken Foot Look Like?
The foot consists of part of the ankle bones, plus three toes and a claw all ending with a toenail. The most common looking chicken foot appears as three toes sticking out in the front of the foot and one toe or claw in the back. This configuration makes it easy for the chicken to perch and stay securely in place while it sleeps. When any part of the foot suffers a chicken foot injury, the chicken may be unable to roost properly.
In addition to roosting, the chicken’s foot helps it find food. Chickens scratch at the ground with their feet, find tasty bugs, worms, grains, or plants, and peck them with their beaks. Without good healthy feet, the chicken is left to only eat the food put into a feeder. Chickens do best when a good, healthy, varied diet is available to them. Finding bugs and other treats is part of natural chicken behavior.
The chicken will use its feet to scratch itself and kick up dirt for an effective dust bath.
Where is the Spur?
The spur on a rooster grows from the lower part of the leg shank. Occasionally, a hen will grow spurs. Spurs are a defense mechanism for the rooster to use when protecting his flock. He may use them when threatened by another rooster too. A good rooster for a backyard flock learns to recognize the difference between a predator and a chicken keeper.
Chicken Foot Injury with Chicks
Even small day-old chicks can show signs of a chicken foot injury. Slippery surfaces, irregular or rough surfaces, and nutritional deficiencies are possible culprits. When you see a chick having problems walking, check on it as soon as possible. It could have been stepped on by the broody hen, caught a toenail on something, or have a less obvious problem.
Nutritional deficiencies can be the factor behind curled toes, spraddle leg, and slipped tendon. A slipped tendon is more likely seen in one leg while spraddle leg or splayed leg has both legs affected and sliding out from the body. A slipped tendon is related to nutritional deficiencies, usually from the B vitamins.
Spraddle leg is noticeable at hatch. It can be attributed to slippery surfaces in the brooder or incubator. Other causes link spraddle leg to nutritional issues with the breeder chickens’ diet. There is also evidence that it can be caused or contributed to by having too high of a temperature in the incubator during development and hatching.
Curled toes appear as if the chick is making a fist with its toes. This is a serious condition and often leads to death because the chick won’t seek food and water. The cause of the curled toe condition can be from the diet of the breeder chickens or the chick’s diet once hatched.
When the cause is the diet of the hen or rooster, the cause is a vitamin deficiency, specifically riboflavin. The sciatic nerve might not develop correctly too. These eggs often do not hatch.
If the chick’s diet lacks proper nutrition, the growth rate of the chick slows, it will show diarrhea, and toes may curl.
While curled toes are a serious condition of the chicken foot, crooked toes are a bit more common and less concerning. Some of the factors implicated in the condition are overcrowded brooder, a smooth slippery floor in the brooder, nutritional deficiency, injury, and genetics. In most cases, the toes can be straightened with a makeshift splint or wrapped to keep it straight while it heals. In any case, if your chick has crooked toes, do not use it for breeding stock as it could be a genetic factor causing the condition.
Scaly Leg Mites
Tiny microscopic mites burrow under the leg and foot scales of the chicken. The chicken mites deposit debris that accumulates and raises the scales up from the shank bone and the foot bones. The foot appears crusty with deformed and thickened areas. Scaly leg mite can cause lameness and mobility issues
Scaly leg mites are hard to eradicate. The process takes time and consistency. Both the chickens in the coop and the coop itself should be treated.
Treating the Coop for Scaly Leg Mites
Treating the coop involves coating the roost bars with something that kills mites. Old-time suggestions include brushing kerosene on the roost bars. My personal preference is to completely clean the coop of all bedding. Scrap any droppings from the roost bars. Apply a thin layer of diatomaceous earth to the roosts. Add some DE powder under the nest box material too. Re-bed the coop with clean dry straw or pine shavings.
Caring for the Chicken
Taking care of the infestation on your birds requires a slightly different approach. You can consult your vet about the proper dosage of oral Ivermectin. When using Ivermectin (an off-label use in chickens) the egg withdrawal time is 21 days. Another product on the market is called VetRx. This is a natural formula that has shown promise in reducing and eliminating scaly leg mites. Use it as a leg dip, completely covering the leg up to the feathers.
Vaseline used to coat the areas of raised scales can also be effective. Dipping the entire affected area of the leg in vegetable oil can also help smother the mites. Repeat every day or three days depending on how bad the infestation you are dealing with.
The important point is to treat both the coop and all the birds at the same time.
A small cut or injury on the bottom of a chicken’s foot can lead to an infection. These abscesses or bumbles are why the condition is referred to as bumblefoot. The abscess is usually seen on the bottom, padded area of the foot, although I have seen a couple that is between two toes. Since the cause is Staphylococcus, it is a good idea to wear disposable gloves when treating your chicken. Research information on different approaches to caring for bumblefoot.
Bumblefoot often has an environmental component to it. Any rough surface in the coop or run can cause a slight injury that lets staph bacteria enter. Frequently soaking the foot in an antibacterial solution will soften and loosen the abscess and release the inner core. Keep the foot clean and dry between cleanings.
More on bumblefoot treatment and prevention can be found in this article. Heavier chickens specifically raised for meat can develop infections on the bottom of the feet.
Avoid Chicken Foot Injury Problems with These Suggestions
- Feed high-quality chicken food to both breeding stock and growing chickens.
- Clean and treat the roost bars regularly.
- Investigate any limping, reluctance to move, or depressed behavior promptly.
Originally published in the Backyard Poultry Special Subscriber 2020 issue — Comb to Tail Health — and regularly vetted for accuracy.