Is your chicken twisting its head in a weird way? Has it been like this for quite some time?
Your chicken could be suffering from wry neck.
Sometimes referred to as “crook neck” or torticollis, wry neck is a condition that can affect chickens of all ages and breeds.
This comprehensive guide will dive into the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention options for wry neck in chickens.
What Is Wry Neck in Chickens?
Wry neck is a neurological disorder that affects a chicken’s neck muscles, causing the head to twist or tilt to one side.
This uncomfortable condition can be congenital or acquired, often resulting in difficulty for the affected bird.
It makes it increasingly more difficult for them to do everyday activities like eating, drinking, foraging, socializing, and even moving around.
Understanding the potential causes and recognizing the symptoms are crucial steps in managing wry neck in your flock.
Causes of Wry Neck in Chickens
One of the leading causes of wry neck is a deficiency in certain essential nutrients, particularly vitamin E and selenium. These nutrients play a crucial role in maintaining proper muscle function and nerve health.
These ingredients are commonly added to most commercial chicken feed. If you mix your own feed, make sure to include them in some way.
Organ meats, Brazil nuts, and seafood have high levels of selenium, followed by grains, cereals, dairy products, and muscle meats.
Marek’s disease is 100% preventable, so please do your part to avoid it for the sake of your flock.
Certain breeds of chickens are more prone to developing wry neck due to their genetics.
Breeds like Silkies and Polish chickens are known to have a higher incidence of this condition. This may also be attributed to their need for more protein, so ensure they get slightly more protein than the rest of your flock.
It may be hereditary, so avoid incubating the eggs of hens with known health issues, wry neck or not.
Head Injuries and Other Traumas
Trauma to the head or neck region can result in wry neck. This could be from a fall, an attack by another animal, or any other accident that damages the neck muscles or nerves.
Ingestion of toxic substances, such as lead or pesticides, can also cause neurological issues like wry neck in chickens.
We have a comprehensive guide about herbicides and pesticides and their effects on chickens.
Also, lead poisoning is far more common in backyard chickens than you may assume. This study estimates that backyard hens may have 40 times more lead.
Please note, though, that this study only included sixty-nine chickens across fifty-five Australian backyards.
Generally speaking, we like to see larger groups than this, but this is a good starting place for learning about lead poisoning and poultry.
What Are the Symptoms of Wry Neck?
Identifying wry neck in chickens is essential for early intervention.
Here are some common signs and symptoms to watch out for.
The most apparent sign is when a chicken’s head is tilted to the side or even upside down– you won’t be able to overlook this one.
Chickens with wry neck may exhibit a twisted neck posture, making it challenging for them to stand or move properly.
Trouble Eating, Drinking, or Foraging
Due to the misalignment of their heads, affected chickens may struggle to peck at food and drink from a water source.
This will be even more apparent in birds who are allowed to free-range or forage.
Exhaustion or Lethargy
Wry neck can cause general weakness and lethargy in affected birds. They will sit down, lay down, or roost far more often than their flockmates.
Loss of Balance, Clumsiness
Chickens with wry neck may have trouble balancing, leading to frequent falls. Chickens are usually sure-footed, so this is a strong indicator of an issue.
In laying hens, wry neck can also lead to decreased or completely halted egg production.
How to Treat Wry Neck in Chickens
Once you’ve identified wry neck in a chicken, prompt action is necessary to improve its quality of life.
Here are several treatment options you can explore.
Balanced Nutrition with Proper Supplements
Addressing nutritional deficiencies is often the first step. Provide the chicken with vitamin E and selenium supplements.
You can find these in liquid or capsule form, which can be administered orally or mixed into their food.
Soft foods like yogurt and baby food can be easier for them to consume– especially if wry neck has them feeling uncomfortable.
Physical Therapy (Yes, Really)
Gently massage and exercise the chicken’s neck muscles.
This can help improve blood flow and reduce muscle stiffness. Be careful not to apply too much pressure.
Isolation with Supportive Care
Isolate the affected chicken if it’s part of a flock. This can prevent other chickens from pecking at the injured bird or causing additional stress.
It’s natural for flocks to try to kill off sick or injured birds as a means of protecting themselves from whatever illness or ailment that other bird is carrying.
Wry neck is not contagious, but your other birds won’t know that. This is why you’ll need to move your affected birds to a separate and safe location.
Provide extra care and attention to chickens with wry neck. Ensure they have easy access to food and water.
You may need to assist them in eating and drinking initially. Lower their roosting bars too so it is more accessible.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a poultry veterinarian, but if you are lucky enough to have one, get in touch.
In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medications like anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain.
Consider Butchering Your Affected Chicken
Wry neck is uncomfortable for your bird, and it is not always something that can be corrected.
It is unlikely that you’ll have a poultry vet in your area, and it’s often impractical to purchase and administer anti-inflammatories or pain medication.
For these instances, humanely processing your chicken may be the best option.
We have a few guides on this to help get you started:
- Poultry Processing Equipment (Everything You Need to Butcher Chickens)
- How to Gut a Chicken
- Chicken Processing 101: When To Slaughter Your Chickens, Steps, and Equipment
How to Prevent Wry Neck for Your Flock
Preventing wry neck is often more manageable than treating it.
Here are some quick steps you can take to reduce the risk of wry neck in your flock:
Provide Proper Nutrition
Ensure your chickens receive a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs right from the start. High-quality poultry feed and supplements can help prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Maintain a clean and safe living environment for your chickens to reduce the risk of infections and injuries.
If you’re a breeder, consider selecting breeding pairs carefully, avoiding birds with a history of wry neck in their lineage.
Follow recommended vaccination schedules to protect your chickens from infectious diseases like Marek’s disease.
Monitor for Symptoms
Regularly observe your chickens for signs of illness or discomfort, and take prompt action if you notice anything unusual. Healthy hens are happy hens!
FAQ on Chicken Wry Neck
How Long Can Chicken Survive with Wry Neck?
A wry neck usually isn’t fatal for chickens unless it seriously affects the bird’s ability to eat or drink. In this case, it is indirectly deadly.
Some chickens can live with wry neck for years before succumbing to it, or they may die of something entirely different. They may need a little special care, but it can be okay.
Will Wry Neck Go Away on its Own?
Most of the time wry neck is the result of a Vitamin E deficiency. If this is the case, wry neck will be resolved once your chicken is given enough Vitamin E.
For injuries or hereditary caused wry neck, this may not go away.
If you are willing to treat wry neck, be patient because it could take a few weeks to fix itself. Sometimes it may never go away, but your chickens can live with it for years in some cases.
Wry Neck In Chickens: Final Thoughts
Wry neck in chickens can be a challenging condition to manage, but with proper care and attention, affected birds can often recover and lead fulfilling lives.
Remember that early recognition and intervention are key to successful treatment.
Additionally, taking preventative measures in your flock management practices can help reduce the risk of wry neck occurring in the first place.
Always consult with a veterinarian for professional guidance and to rule out any underlying health issues that may be contributing to wry neck in your chickens.
By providing your feathered friends with the best possible care, you can ensure their well-being and enjoy the many benefits of raising chickens in your backyard.