hen legs

Looking out for lameness; the ins and outs of your hens’ legs

We love to sit in our gardens watching our hens enjoy pecking around and experiencing the sun on their wings and it’s a great opportunity at the same time to note how they’re doing and if anything looks unusual.

Checking your hen’s legs should be part of your weekly routine to help identify any impending issues early. Here are just some of the things you should keep an eye on…


After a rehoming day, we sometimes receive calls about hens limping which may result from minor bruising on their legs.  This limping will often not manifest itself until a couple of days after you get them home. Unless the hen is refusing to bear weight, the lameness will normally resolve itself naturally in a few days and Arnica cream massaged into the legs can be beneficial to alleviate lameness.

Scaly leg mite

The scales on a hen’s legs grow and shed in the same way as feathers and in older hens, it’s not unusual for the scales to be slightly raised and thickened.

If you use leg rings to identify your hens it’s important to check they’ve not become too tight or caught around a toe or spur. This is especially important where the hens are older and the scales have thickened.

Raised scales can also be a sign of scaly leg mite. This is a condition caused by a mite called ‘Knemidocoptes Mutans’ which burrows under the skin to feed on the keratin.

The tunnelling causes irritation and leg scales becoming thickened as the keratin seeps from the leg tissue, eventually becoming encrusted and lifting away from the leg. The legs will appear lumpy with large gaps visible between the individual scales.

It’s spread by direct bird-to-bird contact and is relatively easy to treat with many proprietary treatments available. The scales on the leg will still appear raised and the legs will not look smooth again until the scales are shed in the normal way.

For more information on Scaly Legs click here.


Swelling between the toes and on the bottom of your hen’s foot can be a sign of Bumblefoot. This is more common with barn or free-range hens where they’ve encountered rough or stony ground or an uneven perch.

As a first resort standing the hen in a comfortably warm Epsom Salts or calendula bath will help to soften the feet and can be beneficial. Where there is infection, it might be necessary to visit a hen friendly vet.

If you’d like advice on your hen’s health, why not visit our Hen Health page, where we discuss important things to look for in your hen’s health, whether its personality or physical symptoms. Or, head to our Hen Examination Guidelines where we can show you where to find things like the crop or the wattle.

If you need to seek medical advice, click here to find your nearest Hen Friendly Vet.
You can also call Hen Central on 01884 860084 to speak to one of our rehoming assistants.

Giving a gift today helps fund our Hen Helpline. It helps support hen keepers, giving them the best advice on how to care for their hens. If you have found our advice helpful, please consider giving a gift towards the hen helpline here.

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