Spraddle leg (splay leg) in chicks is a condition that occurs in newly hatched chicks. It is caused by a weakness or injury in the tendons of the feet and legs. When evident at hatch, causes may be due to a poor chick position inside the egg or improper incubator temperature. The most common cause after a chick is more than a day old is when a brooder floor is too slippery and the baby chick's legs slip, causing tendon injury in the legs. For this reason, we strongly advise against using newspaper or other slick flooring in the brooder. We recommend paper towels or pine shavings for the bottom of the brooder.
Fortunately, spraddle leg may be corrected and many chicks recover quickly if treated at the first sign of symptoms. The best treatment is applying tiny "hobbles" to the chick's legs to gently keep its legs up under them which allows time for the tendons to heal. We recommend Vet Wrap to form hobbles. Vet Wrap will not stick to the chick's down or legs but does adhere to itself. To apply hobbles, cut a piece of Vet Wrap into a strip approximately 1/4 inch wide by 4 inches long. Loosely wrap one end of the Vet Wrap around the chick's shank, leave about a 1-inch width between the chick's legs (more or less, depending on the type of chick, you want this to be the width of the chick's body), and wrap the other end of the Vet Wrap around the other shank. Trim any remaining Vet Wrap after you have both shanks circled. The chick should be able to walk but the Vet Wrap prevents its legs from splaying sideways. Important: DO NOT stretch the Vet Wrap. Doing so may make the hobble too tightly wrapped around the chick's legs and it may cut off the circulation and cause permanent and irreparable damage to the chick's legs and feet.
Leave the hobble on for 24 hours and then gently remove it. Observe the chick and if its legs still appear weak, reapply a new hobble for another 24 hours. Chicks grow so quickly in the first few days that you really MUST remove and reapply the hobbles every 24 hours to check the healing progress. If you do not, the chick could grow enough in 24 hours that the Vet Wrap becomes too tight and causes leg injury. It is best if you can place this chick in a separate brooder by itself so that other chicks will not pick at its funny new hobble, and also to give the chick a chance at feed and water as it learns to walk with the hobble. Typically, the healing process takes 3-4 days total.
More information can be found on our blog.
If you have any questions about treating spraddle leg or other chick issues, please contact us any time!