Occasionally you may see a hen will become a bit of a stargazer. No – she won’t be spending time in her garden with a telescope, but she will contort and bend her head right over her back rather like she’s doing her daily yoga. However, your hen isn’t indulging in a spot of downward dog – she actually has something called wry neck.
For hen keepers that have never seen this condition, it can be very alarming to discover and usually people think their hen has broken her neck. However, this is a condition which will usually have been present since your hen was a chick, and something that simply was not corrected or treated while she was in the commercial system.
What is wry neck and what causes it?
The technical name for it is Torticollis but we also call the condition wry neck, crook neck or stargazing. The cause is not totally known in hens but has been narrowed down to a Vitamin D deficiency, or fungal infection. It is more common in newly hatched caged birds – finches and love birds are especially susceptible and in these cases the condition may be due to poor positioning inside the egg.
If you notice that your hen is having difficulty standing, or that her neck twists and it looks like she’s permanently looking upwards, they’ve likely developed wry neck. We understand it can be distressing to see a bird like this, but the good news is your hen can live a perfectly happy and healthy life even with wry neck. The even better news is that it can be treated…
Treating wry neck
Check your hen’s ears and mouth for evidence of a fungal problem or infection. Supplementing Vitamin E and a course of antibiotics should help to correct the condition although often it corrects spontaneously, and some hens are normal most of the time with an occasional twist.
One thing to remember is correcting wry neck won’t happen immediately. You may well see an improvement within 24 hours, but it can take up to a month before the vitamins take full effect and the condition is reversed. Once your hen seems better, you can discontinue the vitamin supplement as offering this for too long can cause imbalances. A proper, well-balanced chicken feed is all they need on a long-term basis.
An important thing to do is to ensure that your hen can reach food and water easily. Hens usually cope well with wry neck and there is no need for drastic action in most cases, but it’s important to keep an eye on them especially around food and drink so you know they are getting enough. If other hens are barging her out the way it may be necessary to separate her from the rest of the flock to ensure she has adequate access to food and water. Only do this if absolutely necessary.
Can wry neck be prevented?
As outlined above, wry neck is most often caused by either poor positioning within the shell, a vitamin deficiency or a head injury. To combat a potential vitamin deficiency, it is important to feed your hens a well-balanced diet to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need, plus this is good for their general health and wellbeing anyway.
Offer your hens foods rich in vitamin E and selenium, such as sunflower seeds, broccoli and spinach, though be sure these have not passed through your kitchen unless you live in a vegan household, due to the law around feeding food waste to chickens.
For more hen health advice call our Hen Helpline on 01884 860084.