Leg problems can occur in fast-growing strains of broilers and turkeys. These disorders are not unique to small flocks but also occur in commercial broiler and turkey flocks.
Estimates of the incidence of leg and foot problems range from 0.5 to 4 percent of all broilers grown.
Some birds may develop crooked legs, toes and feet; bowlegs; twisted joints; or swollen hock joints between the drumstick and the foot.
Most are not severely affected and will grow quite normally.
Others are more severely affected and may not be able to stand, or their feet may deviate drastically from their normal position. Birds with leg problems so severe and painful that they are unable to obtain food should be terminated
Wide fluctuations in occurrence and multiple pathological conditions indicate that leg disorders are caused by many factors.
Selection for rapid growth may add to this problem because of the increased stress on the skeletal, muscular, and tendon tissues of the birds.
An average weight gain of 4.25 pounds in seven weeks, a high ratio of white to dark muscle, stress, and improper management may lead to leg problems. The largest, fastest growing males in the flock are usually the ones affected.
Although a small percentage of birds may be predisposed to leg problems, use of highly selected fast-growing strains is recommended because savings in feed costs and time far outweigh the loss of a few birds.
Infectious agents also have been identified as direct or indirect causes of leg disorders.
Staphylococcus and viral arthritis/tenosynovitis are two common agents. Leg disorders caused by these agents can be easily confused with nutrition related conditions
Many leg disorders appear to be the result of nutritional deficiencies.
Broilers need a well-fortified starter ration that contains 22 to 24 percent protein. Certain adjustments may be necessary if a lower protein, such as 20 percent starter ration, is all that is available.
Equal parts of a 20 percent protein chick starter and 28 percent protein gamebird starter will provide a 24 percent protein ration.
The article further advises on more formulation of feed mixtures to achieve best results and signs of symptoms of various leg and joint problems and their treatment.
The article also offers solutions to prevent such leg problems, such as reduced stress and touches on the debate whether to use faster growing breeds to gain efficiency or slower growing ones to avoid health problems.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Kansas State University.