4 common poultry leg issues explained

Leg problems are a prevalent cause of mortality, production losses and welfare issues in chickens and turkeys.

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(Andrea Gantz)
(Andrea Gantz)

Leg problems are a prevalent cause of mortality, production losses and welfare issues in chickens and turkeys.

They can be caused by several conditions – such as spiral fractures of the tibia or femur and lameness – or by disorders like pododermatitis, fractured femurs, fractured tibia, tibial dyschondroplasia and spondylolisthesis.

Here is a brief overview of four common poultry leg issues:

Leg deformities

Leg deformities are a significant animal health and welfare issue. In the past few decades, the modern technology has enabled broilers to reach greater weights in a shorter amount of time. Bone mineralization sometimes can’t keep up with the growth of the bird, resulting in leg or other skeletal issues.

There was a rise in valgus and varus leg deformities across the U.S. starting in 2017, although the prevalence began decreasing in 2018. As of now, the cause is still unknown, although some cases were associated with bacterial chondronecrosis with Osteomyelitis (BCO)-associated lameness.

Marek’s disease

Marek’s disease is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause tumors to develop in various parts of the body, eye cancer, wing and leg paralysis and eventually death. It is spread through bird feed, bedding material, bird droppings, feathers and dead skin. The disease costs the poultry industry an estimated $1 billion each year.

Leaky vaccines – that manage disease symptoms but fail to prevent infection and spread – can protect chickens against the painful symptoms of the viral disease, revealed a 2020 study from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

Foot-pad dermatitis

Foot-pad dermatitis – which results from long-term contact with wet litter – causes lesions on the plantar surface of poultry feet. The skin condition has been linked to reduce live weight, reduced meat yield and increased whole carcass condemnation.

Several flock and environmental management techniques, including litter type and depth, ventilation, lighting and nutritional strategies, can help reduce the incidence of foot-pad dermatitis in flocks.

Turkey reovirus

The term reovirus refers to a family of specific viruses infecting turkeys and chickens. In recent years, the virus commonly contributes to the development of leg and joint problems resulting in lameness issues in turkeys.

Turkey arthritis reovirus (TARV) causes lameness, swelling and increased fluid in the leg joints of turkeys. The virus has been reported in every turkey producing state located in the U.S., infecting up to 70% of turkey flocks in the country.

The disease can be costly to producers, leading to increased culling and mortality, increased condemnation rates, low rates of weight gain and poor feed efficiency. The National Turkey Federation has named TARV as one of the poultry industry’s key research needs.

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