Wry Neck in Chickens: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

There may come a time when you notice that one of your chickens can’t stop looking at the sky. The position might look like your hen is simply stargazing, but the longer you look, the more you will realize that something isn’t right. Holding the neck and head in such a position is referred to as wry neck, a condition that affects a chicken’s ability to stand and move around.

Today you are going to be introduced to wry neck in chickens, including the causes, treatment, and preventative measures. Let’s begin.

red chicken eye close up
Photo credit: Pxhere

What is Wry Neck?

Wry neck, or Torticollis, is also referred to as “stargazing,” “twisted neck,” and “crook neck.” It is a medical condition that affects newborn chicks and adult chickens. A bird suffering from wry neck will have a hard time standing up and maintaining balance, due to a twisted neck that gets stuck looking upwards. If you notice that one of your chickens is struggling in such a way, they have most likely developed wry neck.

Here is a video of a chicken with wry neck to help you visualize:

Due to the way wry neck causes a chicken to hold its head, the bird falls over often or ends up laying on its back, where it can’t eat or breathe properly. Sometimes this leads to premature death.

What Causes Wry Neck in Chickens?

There are a few factors that causes wry neck in chickens:

Genetics

One of the widely known causes of wry neck is genetics. Due to a genetic mutation, such as vitamin E deficiency, chickens can develop this condition and pass it onto their young, making them more susceptible. Sometimes, genetic problems can also manifest as wry neck, though the underlying cause will also have to be treated.

If you are dealing with several chicks that have wry neck, there is a high likelihood that their parents are lacking something nutritionally.

Vitamin E Deficiency

Research has pointed to vitamin E and wry neck being closely interlinked. For chickens, vitamin E is an essential part of their health, as it maintains a number of internal processes. Selenium is also needed to work alongside vitamin E, so if your chicken is lacking one or both, they could develop wry neck.

If you think a lack of nutrition is causing wry neck in your chickens, then it is time to switch to a higher quality feed. Make sure your flock is receiving a balanced diet, as well as plenty of chicken grit. Chicks and adult chickens need a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals for growth and wellness.

Toxic Substances

Should a chicken ingest or be exposed to something toxic, they may develop wry neck.  Toxins have a broad affect on chickens, including loss of balance, wry neck, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Can a Chicken Live With Wry Neck?

Yes, chickens can live with wry neck. However, because the of the nature of the condition, living with wry neck is stressful for both you and your chicken. They will be in constant distress. Fortunately, wry neck is easily treatable.

Chickens do die of complications with wry neck. Being unable to properly eat and drink will take its toll on your chicken. Additionally, because they cannot move well, chickens with wry neck get bullied and trampled by other members of the flock.

Is Wry Neck Contagious?

Fortunately, wry neck is not a contagious disease. A chicken that develops wry neck will not pass it on to the rest of the flock. The only thing you have to worry about is chickens susceptible to wry neck passing it down to their chicks.

That said, if you believe that a lack of vitamin E or selenium is the cause, you should switch up your flock’s diet. Otherwise, other chickens may begin to develop wry neck or other symptoms of malnutrition.

How Do You Treat Wry Neck in Chickens?

Seeing a member of your precious flock come down with wry neck can be deeply upsetting. Luckily, early detection and treatment of wry neck usually always has a great prognosis. When you can address the condition swiftly, there is little reason to worry about your chicken.

Here is how to treat wry neck in chickens:

Isolate The Chicken

Although wry neck is not contagious, you shouldn’t let the affected chicken mingle with the others. Chickens with wry neck cannot maneuver the way other chickens can, and they can get bullied because of their condition. Separating them until their wry neck is gone is best.

Increase Vitamin E

The next step is to provide your chicken with vitamin E supplements or enriched food. It does not matter what you believe the cause to be; wry neck is canceled out by vitamin E.

You can find vitamin E supplements for chickens in capsule or powder form. Sometimes, they even contain some selenium, though you may have to buy them separately. Give these supplements to the affected chicken 2-3 times per day. Mix the supplements into their feed. Don’t want to use supplements? Try introducing greens, such as asparagus and spinach.

Also, monitor your chicken to make sure they are drinking enough water.

Monitor and Assist The Chicken

During this time, you will have to keep an eye on the chicken. Since wry neck can make movement difficult, your chicken may also need assistance with eating, drinking, and repositioning themselves. As the owner, it is your duty to make food and water accessible. For example, you can use a spoon to bring food and water closer to your chicken’s beak or help them stand while they peck at their meal.

Here is a video that shows you the best way to help a chicken with wry neck eat:

How Long Does It Take to Treat Wry Neck?

Faced with treating wry neck, you may find yourself wondering how long it will take to cure. Keep in mind that wry neck will never go away if the condition is not addressed. Therefore, you can’t simply wish the issue away. As soon as you begin administering vitamin E, however, you can expect some improvement as early as 24 hours. That said, it takes a little longer for some chickens.

Improvement is not immediate. You will have to monitor any changes in your chicken’s condition over a course of weeks and months. There will also be moments where your feathered friend seems to worsen after getting better. It’s natural. Don’t lose patience. Being consistent with treatment helps your chicken overcome wry neck faster.

As your chicken starts to recover, maintain their extra supplementation for several more weeks.

How Do You Prevent Wry Neck in Chickens?

Do you never want to deal with wry neck again? Taking preventative action will save you time and money, and it will keep your chickens livelier. You also won’t have to stress about your chickens. So what is the best way to prevent wry neck?

Vitamin E. It is best to check with your veterinarian before beginning your chickens on vitamin E supplements, however. They can tell you the best amount of vitamins for your chicken. Ideally, you should be using chicken feed that is optimized for maintaining health and wellness. If you do not want to change out the feed you are currently using, you can add fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods for a nutritional boost.

Chickens will happily eat many of the fruits and vegetables that are natural sources of vitamin E, including:

  • Broccoli
  • Avocado flesh (only the flesh, not the peel or the pit, as these are toxic)
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Fish
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach and other greens
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Parsley

Common Myths About Wry Neck

There is a lot of misinformation out there. Let’s tackle some of the myths:

1. Silkie and Polish Breeds Are Most Susceptible

There is a belief out there that chicken breeds with vaulted skulls, meaning that they have a cranium with a hole in it, are more likely to develop wry neck. That isn’t true. All breeds of chickens can develop wry neck, not just a few breeds. In fact, about 8% of all chickens in the world are affected by wry neck per year.

Cranium-related medical conditions are a completely different thing.

2. Wry Neck is Contagious

three hens photo close up
Photo credit: Pxhere

As mentioned earlier, wry neck is not contagious. This is because it is not caused by a virus or bacteria but by a deficiency or genetic issue. Therefore, it cannot be transmitted from one chicken to the next. If multiple chickens come down with wry neck, it is most likely the result of malnutrition or some genetic problem.

3. Wry Neck is an Illness

No, it is not. Wry neck is a symptom of other conditions, usually vitamin E or selenium deficiency. In other words, it is often caused by some other problem. In order to get rid of wry neck, you have to first address the underlying cause.

4. You Can Stretch a Chicken’s Neck Back Into Place

Please, do not do this. There is some highly disconcerting advice out there stating that if you attach a pulley system to a chicken’s neck and feathers, you can reposition the head. This sounds horribly cruel and painful. Furthermore, wry neck is not musculoskeletal and cannot be manipulated with chiropractics. It is most often caused by vitamin E deficiency, so that is the best way to treat this condition.

5. Use Turmeric to Cure Your Chicken of Wry Neck

While turmeric is excellent for many ailments, it won’t help with wry neck. Turmeric won’t hurt your chickens, either. You can use turmeric if your chickens need an anti-inflammatory, but there is nothing in turmeric to help cure wry neck. Even though there are trace amounts of vitamin E in turmeric, it is not enough to have an effect.

Pure Vitamin E and selenium are the vitamins needed for wry neck. Nothing else.

Conclusion

Dealing with wry neck in chickens can be difficult. You may not know the exact cause of the condition, but you can at least treat it. The best way to handle wry neck is with a little patience and vitamin E. If your chickens keep coming down with wry neck, it may be a sign that something in their diet is lacking. Since prevention is easier than treatment, swap in foods that are rich in vitamin E and selenium. That is the best way to stop wry neck from happening.

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