Crooked, curled, or bent toes in chicks can be an unsightly condition, but in the majority of cases, having bent toes does not affect the chicken’s ability to live a completely normal life. Crooked or bent toes (bending sideways) are different from a condition called curled toes paralysis (toes curl under causing the bird to walk on the top of the foot). Here are a few reasons when and why your chicks may develop curled or bent toes and how to treat them.
Crooked toes can sometimes be evident at hatch or within a few hours after hatch. When crooked toes appear early in life (less than a week of age) it may be caused by a genetic issue, from a fluctuation in incubator temperature, or from a difficult hatch attempt because the chick is poorly positioned within the egg or the humidity is too low during the hatch. If the bent toes show up after the chick is more than a week or so old, management and nutrition are the primary suspected causes.
In the brooder, crooked toes can happen if chicks have a slick surface on the brooder floor, such as newspaper or plastic. Too much activity while the chick is very young may lead to bent toes later on. Make sure that your brooder is properly sized for the number of chicks you are brooding and that the surface is not slick.
Bent toes may also be caused by nutritional deficiencies, specifically a lack of riboflavin. If you are feeding a high-quality, age-appropriate feed that is fresh, nutritional issues should not be a factor. But if your feed is not fresh (milled more than a month ago) or your chicks are supplemented with too many treats, a nutritional imbalance can occur.
If treated early, bent toes may be corrected in some cases. To correct bent toes, you can use VetWrap to gently wrap a single toe to hold it straight. If the chick has more than one toe bent, you may create little “sandals” from a piece of thin cardboard and tape. To make a sandal, trace the chick’s foot onto the cardboard and cut it out. Then, with the chick standing on the cardboard, gently tape the toes to the cardboard “toes” of the sandal, gently aligning the chick’s toes as you apply the tape. Leave the sandal on for 24 to 48 hours, then remove it to check the progress of the toes. In most cases, 3 days is all that is needed to treat bent toes if caught and treated at the first sign of an issue.