Everything You Need to Know About Wry Neck in Chickens

It’s likely you are here because you have known or suspected cases of wry neck amongst your chicks already. Read on for more information about wry neck in chickens and learn how to prevent and treat this condition before it becomes fatal.

two baby chicks on window sill

Wry neck is typically seen in chicks. It is caused by problems with the neck muscles or nerves in the neck and can lead to difficulty breathing, eating, and drinking. In severe cases, wry neck in chickens can be fatal to the affected bird.

It is necessary to act quickly.

Prevention is key, so make sure your chickens are properly fed and healthy — including your breeding flock if applicable.

Treatment typically involves vitamin supplementation, occasionally antibiotics, and then supportive care while the chick recovers.

What is Wry Neck?

Wry neck is a condition that can affect chickens of any age but is most common in young chicks.

If your chicken has wry neck, it will have difficulty moving its head or holding it up, or its head will become tilted, crooked, or cocked.

The condition gets its name because affected chickens often tilt their heads to one side or appear to be stargazing and looking skyward constantly.

This behavior is due to problems with the muscles or nerves in the neck, which can cause difficulty breathing, eating, and drinking. This could cause serious harm to a chick or chicken.

Alongside sour crop and pasty butt it is also one of the most common health issues you may find yourself facing with your flock.

What Causes Wry Neck?

While the exact cause of wry neck is unknown, it is thought to be caused by a deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients, genetic disorders inherited from the parent birds, ingesting toxins, and even a virus or bacteria. It is also possible that the condition may be a muscular reaction to stress.

If you notice your chick seems unbalanced, has a crooked head, or appears to be looking backward or up continuously, know that they may be in distress, unable to eat and that this is likely a case of wry neck, and you should act quickly.

a group of black and white plymouth rock chickens out on pasture

Preventing Wry Neck

There are many ways to approach both preventing and treating wry neck. Depending on the age of your chicken, you should consider the following proactive and reactive measures:

Feeding A Well Balanced & Formulated Feed

Vitamin E, B1 (thiamine), and selenium are important nutrients for chickens. It has been suggested that a deficiency in these elements may cause wry neck, but more research is needed before we know with certainty what causes this condition or how best to treat animals with a B1, selenium or vitamin E deficiency.

The problem may appear before the chick hatches. The parent birds may have inadequate dietary sources, so a baby chick will often suffer from similar symptoms unless supplementing their diet accordingly; if you opt to incorporate foods that naturally contain vitamin E and selenium to your breeding flock, try spinach or dandelion.

Additionally, the starter feed itself you are feeding your chicks may be old and stale, improperly formulated to begin with, or it may be contaminated with mold that will destroy vitamins and cause other issues.

Keeping Your Chickens Healthy and Free from Stress

Although wry neck disease is more common in chicks, older birds could still develop it.

Have a look around at your chicken’s living space and roaming environment. Is it clean and adequate? Is there enough space? Are there loud, disruptive noises, children, or other animals interfering with the chickens?

Is each chicken getting enough to eat and drink? And most importantly, do the chickens look comfortable?

Although stress isn’t a proven cause of wry neck, many chickens have developed the condition due to possibly stressful or poorly kept environments.

Providing Them with Clean Water and a Clean Environment

Clean drinking water is essential, as is a clean environment. Chickens are just like other animals–including humans – in that tainted drinking water and living spaces means they are susceptible to bacterias and viruses. This is overall unhealthy.

a basket of small fluffy yellow chicks next to blue eggs

Treating Wry Neck

Separate the affected bird immediately.

Wry neck may not be contagious but chickens with a wry neck are susceptible to injury and bullying, especially if trampled or if their heads are weighed down from the wry neck. Isolate them in a safe, comfortable, and clean space until they recover.

Additionally, you must help your chick eat and drink, as they will be unable to do so comfortably in many cases of wry neck.

Consider using a dropper and hand-feeding them. Using liquid supplements (in a dropper or syringe) is a good alternative to ensure your affected bird is fed and absorbing nutrients while its neck is crooked.

Administer Supplements

(Product recommendations are at the bottom of this article.)

You will need to administer the appropriate vitamins 2-3 times daily to the affected chick.

Using a dropper makes this easy.

Antibiotics

Another approach to treating wry neck is antibiotics. Along with supportive care, proper antibiotic treatment is essential for chickens to make a full recovery. Oftentimes, you can administer antibiotics through a dropper.

You may need to call a vet for guidance and treatment options with antibiotics and this is generally not necessary.

Will The Chicken Recover?

Possibly. But it will take time and care on your part.

You may see some improvements within 24 hours but it will take longer (weeks) for a full recovery.

Keep administering vitamins daily with your dropper until the chicken recovers and then keep going for an additional two weeks afterwards to be on the safe side.

Know that some chicks simply do not recover from this condition no matter what you try.

They can still live though.

It is up to you whether you think their quality of life can be good enough.

You can also choose to cull.

If you decide to keep the chick, I would watch the behavior of the rest of the flock as they may bully and even kill a sick or weakened member.

Products to Help Treat Wry Neck

Nutri-Drench Poultry Solution:

This solution is a great way to add nutrients and vitamins (that your wry neck chicken could be deficient in) into the water the chickens drink. Vitamin E, D-3 and zinc can help your chicken down the road to health.

Liquid Dispensing Dropper:

A dropper makes administering the correct dosage of liquid vitamins (or water) into your chicks.

Pet Feeding Syringe:

This feeding syringe is a great option (if you don’t use a dropper) for hand feeding your chickens and providing them with a slow flow of water. There are two options (a nipple and a tapered tip), and you can use this inexpensive vet-approved dropper on most small animals.

Wry neck is a condition that can be frustrating for chicken owners and distressing for chickens, but with proper care and treatment, most chickens can make a recovery.

Be sure to watch for the signs of this condition, especially with baby chicks that have just hatched.

With early diagnosis, preventative measures, and necessary treatment, your chicken can get back to living a happy, healthy life.

a flock of chickens on green pasture.

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