Many things can cause a chicken to lose a leg. Sometimes the cause is so traumatic, such as a predator attack, that the chicken dies from the shock or blood loss. But, other causes can often be treated and after the first two critical weeks have passed, you can feel more confident that your chicken will survive.
Welcome to part 2 of my guide on caring for chickens with a single leg or a leg injury, infection, or break. In the last section, I covered survival factors for chickens with one leg to help you decide on the next course of action.
In this section, I’ll be covering the causes of a lame, broken or injured leg and solutions to help the chicken survive. In Part 3, I cover infections, diseases, nutritional causes, and other causes of lame chicken legs.
There are many causes of a leg loss for a chicken including:
- Chicks hatch with a deformed leg
- A broken leg
- Infection or disease
- Injuries From Poor Environment
- Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies
- A temporarily sprained leg
- Genetic Issues
Hatched Chicks With A Single Leg
Often chicks deformities occur when fertilized eggs are held for more than 3-4 days before they are incubated. This happens with the hatchery holds eggs to space out chick hatchlings evenly.
It can also happen if a fertilized egg is left out without being incubated or kept warm by a brooding hen.
It causes a much greater rate of deformity in hatching chicks. Often a lame leg is a sign of other bone deformities or other internal issues in the chick that will signal an inability to survive.
When a chick hatches with one leg, or only using one leg, watch it carefully. Within 1-2 weeks, you will notice one of three things happening.
- The chick’s bad leg recovers and the chick starts using it.
- The chick learns to hop and survive with one leg
- The chick becomes lethargic and shows signs of failure
It can be especially heartbreaking to watch a chick that’s struggling to survive. We have had many tears at my house for chicks that get sick or die.
Sometimes it is more merciful to cull the chick and save it the suffering of slowly starving to death.
But, if you just can’t bring yourself to do that, there are some steps you can take to help increase the chances of your chick surviving.
Increase Your Chick’s Chances Of Survival With A Single Leg
First, if your chick seems alert and otherwise healthy, but has a splayed leg that is angled wrong, you can splinter it.
- Using 2 craft sticks, or clean popsicle sticks and cut them to fit the length of your chick.
- With medical tape, bind the sticks on both sides of the chicks leg so that it is held in the correct position.
- Be careful not to force the leg to change directions. You could break it or damage it if it grew the wrong way.
- Once a week, take the splinter off and watch the chick for a few minutes to see if it starts to use the leg.
- An injured chicken will seldom incorporate back into an existing flock without bullying issues. If bullying persists, separate the chicken. You can add baby chicks as companions to the injured chicken. The chicks will grow up with the injured chicken as the dominant chicken and will be less likely to bully it as grown chickens.
Baby chicks have a low success rate with wrongly angled legs and other leg issues. Often this is a sign of a much more serious condition.
Sometimes, the chick just has a sprained leg or foot and will recover within a few days. This is your chick’s best chance of survival. To help it survive, there are a few actions you can take.
- Separate the chick from most of the other chicks. Keeping 2 chicks together can help to keep them from being lonely, but also help the hurt chick not to be trampled. Chicks will often trample other chicks without paying attention.
- Make sure the chick eats and drinks water. If the chick isn’t able to hop on its one leg to water, it will die within a few days. You can hand-feed it, but unless it is able to get water and food on its own, its chances for survival are very slim.
- Give the chick Vitamin E. If the chick doesn’t have strength in its legs, it could be caused by a lack of Vitamin E. Giving your chick a little Vitamin E every day can help to cure this deficiency.
- Splinter the injured leg. Using small craft sticks, splinter the injured leg. In some cases, this helps the leg to heal and become functional. But, in more than half the cases, this doesn’t solve the issue.
- Amputate the leg if it appears to be infected, broken, or the bone is showing through. Wounds like these are more likely to cause infection to spread to the chick’s tiny body. A vet can help to amputate or you can amputate with sterile wire cutters. If the leg bleeds, cauterize it with the flat side of a knife. Hold the blade of the knife in the fire of a gas stove or a camp chef and then hold it against the amputated portion of the leg.
None of these steps will guarantee that your chick will survive. In many cases, it is more merciful to cull, or terminate the chick’s life. Some signs that your chick isn’t likely to survive include:
- A lethargic chick
- A chick that can’t maintain body heat
- A swollen, or infected leg
- Other deformities present in addition to the lame leg
- The inability to balance on one leg
- A chick that doesn’t chirp
- The head hangs down
Sadly, if you see any of these signs, it’s nearly guaranteed that your chick will not survive. At this point, you have two choices: continue to nurse it back to health, or mercifully end its life.
I haven’t ever been able to actually kill a chick so I have to admit that I always try to save the chicks life. And, I’ve seen a few amazing recoveries to fully healthy chicks.
But, I’ve also seen chicks die. I can understand others who don’t want the chick to suffer needlessly and decide to cull it instead of making it suffer.
It’s a choice only you can make.
What To Do If Your Chicken Breaks Its Leg
Sometimes it’s not obvious if your chicken has a broken leg or another hurt foot issue. There are a number of leg and foot issues in poultry that can cause a chicken to limp, use only one leg, or favor a leg.
The issue isn’t always obvious.
Identify the broken leg
If you suspect that your chicken has broken one of it’s legs or feet, you will need to do a physical inspection of the leg to identify a break or protruding bones..
- Are there any bones protruding from the skin?
- Does the leg bend at an unnatural place?
- Is the chicken limping on the hurt leg or not using it at all?
The only way to diagnose a broken leg in a chicken is to visually identify that the bone has broken. Chickens will usually refuse to put any weight on a broken leg.
If your chicken is limping, then it’s likely another injury.
How To Treat A Chicken’s Broken Leg
Chickens can heal from a broken leg if the injury is not too severe and if the chicken is in good health. Chickens can have a good quality of life, even with a broken leg, but several factors make a difference.
If the leg is broken above the joint, many issues can arise that prevent the chicken from healing. A leg may be torn off by a predator and the increased bleeding can cause the chicken to die.
Chicken legs bleed more above the joint than below. Circulation is better and so infections and other issues with the leg are more likely to travel and affect the rest of the body.
If the break is above the joint, it’s more likely that the chicken will get blood poisoning and die, although this can take a few weeks to occur.
It is critical that you treat an infected leg and try to prevent the spread of infection. You can do this by amputating the dead and rotting portions of the leg. You can cauterize constantly bleeding legs.
At a minimum, use hydrogen peroxide, triple antibiotic, or a poultry antibiotic. It may also be a good idea to feed your chicken medicated chicken feed while the injury heals. Medicated feed is fortified to help prevent illnesses within chickens.
How to Splint A Chicken’s Broken Leg
If the leg is broken below the joint, then the viability for it to heal is better. You will need to splinter the broken leg with cut down tongue depressor or popsicle sticks on opposite sides of the leg to keep it from moving.
Splinting will also allow the chicken to put weight on it as the leg heals without causing it to break again.
- Add a wound ointment or spray to the cut part of the leg.
- Wrap a gauze around the leg. This helps to prevent injury from the splint rubbing on the leg.
- Add the splints to the leg. The splints need to be smaller than most people think. It needs to cover the broken part, but not be so long that it impedes the movement of the foot or leg joints. Cut the split down to size as needed.
- Wrap a bandage around the splints and legs. It’s best to use a medical bandage that sticks to itself and doesn’t have adhesive on it. Adhesive can stick to your chicken’s leg skin and cause additional damage.
- Isolate the chicken and keep her from high activity for 1-2 weeks. An animal cage or bin usually helps accomplish this. Her food and water should be close by.
- Feed your chicken electrolytes. Young hens not yet laying eggs can be fed medicated feed to help ward off infection.
- Change the bandage every 2-3 days for the first week. After that, you can change the bandage every 3-4 days.
- Watch for signs of healing in the broken leg:
- Swelling should go down within 2-3 weeks, depending on the severity of the wound
- Bleeding on the bandage should reduce over the first week
- After 2 weeks, you may be able to feel additional bone growth over the broken area
- Your hen should start to use her leg periodically after about 2 weeks.
- The leg may be hot to the touch at the beginning but should cool down as the leg heals over the first few weeks.
Will a chickens broken leg heal? If the chicken’s beak is below the “knee” joint and is a clean break, it will most likely heal with the help of a splint. If the break is above the joint or is a compound break, it is unlikely to heal. Chickens have hollow bones so broken bones often shatter instead of a clean break. The older the chicken is, the more likely it is that the bone shatters and that the chicken loses part of its leg.
How To Amputate a Chicken’s Leg
In some cases, a leg may become infected, start to rot, and appear completely dead. If this happens the chicken can get blood poisoning or gangrene from the infected leg. The best action is to amputate the leg.
Ideally, you can find a vet or experienced chicken owner to do the amputation.
But, if you can’t you may have to do it yourself. (Disclosure: I have never had to amputate a chicken’s leg myself)
- Clean the leg with hydrogen peroxide or Surgical spirits to kill the bacteria. You can also soak it in Epsom salt water.
- Use a sharp, sterile knife or wire cutters. Boil them if needed and apply rubbing alcohol over the tools.
- In one swift movement, cut off the dead part of the leg. Be careful not to cut too high into the living part of the leg. If the leg is broken and rotting under the break, you may only need to cut the skin and release the broken leg.
- Dip the leg in hydrogen peroxide. If bleeding persists, you may need to cauterize with a knife.
- Hold the flat part of the knife over the flame of fire. Once it is hot, press the flat part of the knife to the wound to cauterize it.
- Apply an antibiotic cream to the wound
- Wrap with gauze and tape.
- Replace bandage daily for the first week. When the bandage starts to come off clean, you can reduce the changing to every other day.
Hopefully, this section was helpful. In the next section of this guide, I will cover common infections, parasites, hereditary diseases, and other factors that lead to lame chickens.