A chicken twisting its head upside down is a disturbing sight. A symptom of wry neck, this condition is easy to treat, if a little time-consuming, and even easier to prevent.
Wry neck can be caused by different issues, all of which we’ll address below.
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- Genetic disorders
- Head injury
- Vitamin deficiencies
You can prevent wry neck by:
- Only buying healthy birds and never from a commercial broiler yard.
- Minimizing head injuries by ensuring that each chicken has an adequate amount of space.
- Avoiding specific breeds that are susceptible
- Only feeding fresh foods to your chickens
- Making sure your chickens eat a healthy diet with all the vitamins and minerals they need.
Below, we’ll go through the details of your chicken twisting its head upside down, how to prevent it, and how to fix it.
What Does Wry Neck Look Like?
A couple of months ago, I thought one of my chickens had broken her neck and, if you ever saw a chicken twisting head upside down like she was, you’d probably think so too.
Instead of pecking around, as usual, she had her head twisted around as if she was trying to spot a shooting star. It was clearly a stressful time for her.
In her strange position, my hen could just about walk but eating and drinking were out of the question.
A panicked call to a veterinary friend revealed that my chicken was suffering from a condition known as wry neck. Although less common in older birds, like my star-gazing hen, wry neck “affects about 8% of chicks across all breeds.”
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What is Wry Neck in Chickens and What Causes It?
While not an illness in itself, wry neck is a clinical sign of a deeper problem.
Also called crook neck or twisted neck, wry neck’s scientific name is torticollis, and refers to a muscular disorder in poultry manifested by a curved neck and limited head mobility.
Wry neck can be a symptom of several conditions, including:
1. Genetic Disorders
There is evidence to suggest that, within the commercial broiler industry, at least, genetic selection has lead to an increase in “skeletal abnormalities,” including congenital cervical scoliosis and torticollis (CCST).
This is unlikely to be the cause of my chicken twisting head upside down problem, however, or any other backyard chicken. It’s almost certainly one of the “negative effects of intensive genetic selection,” to which few backyard chickens are, thankfully, ever exposed.
2. Head Injury
Sustaining a severe head injury could cause a chicken twisting head upside down scenario. Some breeds are more susceptible to this type of wry neck simply because their thinner skulls offer inadequate protection.
Overcrowding can also lead to bullying or pecking, either of which could result in a head injury.
Wry neck can be associated with toxin-induced botulism or paralysis of the neck and limbs.
So, what toxins cause wry neck in chickens?
4. Vitamin Deficiency
This is the most common cause of wry neck, especially in backyard hens. If your chickens’ diet is deficient in specific vitamins, namely B1 and E1, it can result in chicken twisting head upside down syndrome.
Here are a chicken’s mineral and vitamin requirements for starters (0-6 wks old, first column), growers (6-12 wks old, second column), finishers (12-18 wks old, third column), and chickens from 18 weeks old to their first egg (fourth column).
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How Can I Prevent Wry Neck?
- You can easily avoid chickens with a genetic predisposition towards wry neck by only buying healthy birds and never from a commercial broiler yard.
- It’s also easy to minimize head injuries, by ensuring that each chicken has an adequate amount of space – around “4 square feet per chicken in the coop along with 10 square feet per chicken in the run”.
- Avoiding specific breeds, like “Silkies and Polish chickens” which are the “most susceptible to bad injuries,” can also help.
- You can also stop chicken twisting head upside down as a result of botulism by removing any dead birds from the coop and ensuring you only give fresh foods to your chickens.
Meanwhile, good sources of vitamin E include:
How Do You Fix Wry Neck in Chickens?
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While not a complicated process, helping a chicken that’s twisting its head upside requires patience and commitment. Once you’ve stocked up on those, you can follow these simple steps:
- Remove the wry neck chicken from the flock, preferably to a nearby shelter where she can still see her flock but can’t be trampled on or knocked over.
- Feed your chicken a chicken vitamin supplement containing both vitamin E and selenium (or buy a dedicated vit E and selenium supplement) two to three times a day. Pavlovafowl (in the video above) had good success with organic beef liver, sunflower seeds, and turmeric.
- Help your chicken eat and drink during its healing time, either by supporting her close to the food dish or spoon-feeding her.
- Don’t give up! You’ll need to carry on this routine for several weeks, even if your chicken shows signs of recovery.
Catch It Early Enough
As frightening as it looks, it is possible to fix chicken upside down head syndrome as long as you catch it early enough.
It’s a pain-staking process, however, and keeping a healthy flock is definitely the better route. Feeding your chickens a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh components is essential, as is providing your chickens with enough space to, well, be chickens.
If you do see a chicken doing the star-gazing thing, don’t despair, but do settle in for the long haul.