Danish Brown Leghorn

by Susan Barrow
(Canada)

Question:

Danish Brown Leghorn: I have a 7 week old danish brown Leghorn that is having trouble walking. It started about a week ago and I thought maybe the cause was overcrowding.

I got a bigger pen ready and assumed the Leghorn just had weaker muscles and would get better in a couple days (there are 39 of them, all the same age and different breeds).

But it's the only one with a problem...seems to scoot along to where it needs to go or if it stands for a while it gets tipsy and wobbly and falls backwards.

If it gets going too fast it flips over sideways or even somersaults. It is eating and drinking (it stays close to those areas in the pen). Nobody seems to be really bother it.

I am feeding the turkey starter because I was told they needed the higher protein (heritage breeds).

I am not sure what to do for this chick and it seems to be getting worse. I cant seem to find a cause even in all the books and websites I've looked at. Thanks for you time...hopefully somebody can tell me what to do.

Answer:
It's important to separate any sick acting chickens from the flock. In part, this is to help prevent the spread of disease as the sick have become a breeding ground for disease.

The other purpose is to protect the one not acting right from likely harassment by the flock or dominant individuals in the flock.

Adding to an ill or injured chicken's stress level, with flock curiosity and harassment, can be a death sentence. Without veterinary testing it is impossible to know for sure what is at the root of this problem.

She may have been injured, eaten something toxic to her system, be overwhelmed by a crowded environment (with concentrated bacteria and ammonia fumes from droppings) and having to compete for food.

Her immune system may have been weakened leading to symptoms of disease and nutrient deficiencies.

In every flock you will have the strongest and the weakest. The weakest are a good indicator of a problem or problems that could affect the whole flock, if not corrected in time.

It sounds like you have taken the steps to provide more space for your flock. A good sized yard will provide about 10 sq ft per adult that never get out to free range.

Chickens are territorial and can be aggressive about food and space. Some will prevent the weak from eating as often as they need to.

This pecking order in flock behavior is why, in some chicken "factories" chickens have their beaks removed at hatching (they plan ahead for problems stemming from very over crowded conditions).

Unfortunately, there is one disease that is famous for the symptoms you have described.

Marek's has several forms, but a common one affects the nervous system, starts in the legs and feet, and slowly immobilizes a chicken. They young seem to be most at risk.

They seem to remain alert during this degenerative process with a good appetite, just difficulty getting around.

This disease is highly contagious, often hides in "silent carriers" and once in a flock, can lie dormant and then suddenly appear in the most stressed individuals, the weakest in the flock.

With so many little lives at risk, I would highly suggest getting a veterinary diagnosis for this one chick, so you are certain what you are dealing with. Hope this helps.

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