Lesson 476 – Releasing Webbed Toes in a Maran Chick (Charlie)

Warning – the following post contains directions with photos of how to surgically release webbed toes in a Maran chick. There is some blood (but if you can get through that there is a happy ending 🙂

If you are readers of this blog, you know that last weekend I was given a tiny Maran chick that was unable to be sold because both of her feet were webbed and one foot was deformed. Webbed feet (toes that are fused together) is a genetic condition making this little guy unsuitable for any kind of breeding, the future didn’t look good for her (for the record we still don’t know if it is male or female but to quote Trevor “If Charlie turns out to be a boy, I’m just gonna cry.”)

After convincing (read – pleading) with the seller to let me buy the chick by letting her know that we raise our chickens as pets and only for eggs, and that we seem to specialize in “special” ones, she let me have him. Marans lay dark chocolate colored eggs, hence her name “Charlie” – as in “and the Chocolate Factory.”

A chick in the winter in New Hampshire is not the best of all times to have one. She won’t be ready until around the Spring to go outside which means for all intents and purposes we have an indoor chicken. (Yeah, says Marc.)

Our house is very cold and so in order to keep Charlie warm we heat up the TV room with an electric heater making it toasty warm. So toasty, in fact, that the other kids are pretty much living there also. (Seriously, our house, which used to be a summer cottage by a water fall, is so poorly insulated that you can see curtains blowing in the breeze. In the winter, wool and polar fleece become our best friends.)

This of course means that Charlie is getting very socialized. Chickens are flock birds, when I teach people about chickens, I always say that you have to have at least 3 birds in your flock. Not having other chicks right now, the kids have become Charlie’s flock. She shits (that was actually a typo but I think for obvious reasons I’m going to keep it in) sits on their shoulders while they watch TV and she likes to cuddle up near a warm neck or under an armpit.

Everyone loves Charlie.

Except that Charlie had those horrible feet that were literally hobbling her. When we moved her to a large plastic tub, because she walked on the knuckles of one foot, it started bleeding. Not good. I had to make a decision, leave it alone and hope that maybe she could build up enough scar tissue to walk on her feet, or try to release the toes.

I wasn’t sure that those feet would be able to tolerate the weight of a full grown chicken.

After one week of adjusting, I decided it was time to do a little bit of surgical intervention. Based on instructions that were pointed to me by a good friend (who, is now Charlie’s official God-mother, thanks Lauren!) we decided to go for it. We thought about doing only one foot at a time but decided instead to do them both at once (based on reading others’ accounts that said their chicks bounced back by the end of the day.) These are the steps we took:

Charlie wasn't too keen on her bath.

1.Wash the feet off of gunked-on food and poop.

You can see the webbing and deformation in this photo.

2.Sterilize some cuticle (curved, thin, and sharp) scissors in Isopropyl (Rubbing) alcohol (use good quality scissors, the first set I found the blades actually bent if pressure was applied – not good for tiny toes, I bought a top-brand pair for about 11 dollars)

3.Put a large glop of instant Oral-gel onto each foot and hold the chick quiet for a few minutes.

4.Bath the foot in Betadine (do this over newspaper or you’ll have stained memories of this in your house for the rest of your life)

Right foot.

Left foot, the tricky one.

5.Apologize to the baby, tell her that it might hurt but it will be better in the long run and while someone else (Trevor) firmly holds the chick, spread out one foot and as best you can snip the webbing up to the main foot. Do it as quickly as you can with precision. A longer cut is better than a lot of little snips. The chick will squawk a bit, either in distress or pain but it’s not that bad. (Not like your kid getting her first shots.) For this step, really spread the toes wide, you want to snip the webbing and not the cut the actual toe.

6.In our case, I also had to release the other foot, the problem with that one though was that not only was it webbed but it was truly deformed. Again while Trevor held the chick, I spread out her toes and did my best to cut only webbing and not toe tissue. To be honest, I didn’t do as good a job on that foot, there was just too much deformation to see what was what.

The entire procedure (both feet) took about 5 minutes.

You can already see the difference in the right foot.

Afterward, I put more Ora-gel on the feet, slathered on antibiotic ointment and then we put her in a crate with clean newspaper. She left little blood spots for a few hours and then the wounds clotted and she stopped bleeding (make sure the chick has access to water at all times, even a little bit of blood loss means a lot of fluid loss for a chick.)

Once she stopped bleeding we reintroduced her food. She’s still a baby and we have her on medicated food (we keep all chicks on medicated feed until about 5 weeks), in this particular case, I think the medicated food was a stroke of luck on our part.

The right foot almost looks normal, the other one, still not so much.

Charlie seemed the most calm when she was near another member of her flock and so Trevor spent hours holding her in his shirt while he studied for his upcoming finals. When we did put her in the cage, she was definitely favoring that one foot (the more deformed one) and at times would stand on one leg with the foot tucked under her doing her best flamingo impression.

Almost immediately, though you could see that she was able to stand more upright and could walk with more balance, the better of the two foot’s difference was remarkable.

I checked on Charlie this morning and although she is doing fine, when I looked at the deformed foot, I could see that it looks like the top knuckle of her middle toe, although released from the neighboring toe, is still fused downward (imagine bending your finger so that the top segment touches the bottom segment). If that’s the case, then her toe-nail is going to grow inward instead of outward. Not good.

I’m going to let her fully recover from this, give it a few days and then see if she might need another tiny release on that one toe. (This all needs to be done when the chicks are as young as possible so that the toes can grow right as they gain weight – for this operation, Charlie was 1 week old.)

As I’ve stated, webbed toes are a genetic condition that you don’t want introduced to or perpetuated in your flock, for the most part these chicks are usually destroyed.

Just not in our part.



Filed under Backyard Chickens, Charlie, chicken care, Chicks

13 responses to “Lesson 476 – Releasing Webbed Toes in a Maran Chick (Charlie)

  1. Hey sis–sitting around with bird in hand reminds me of our days with our Cockateil. So will this little bird become comfortable within a real flock or has she imprinted on humans as her flock? I suppose time with tell. A friend dubbed our bird a “dog in a bird’s body”, and admittedly he/she was alone so indeed we were his/her flock. Interested to hear what you would do for a truely deformed toe–remove the end at the knuckle?

    • Wendy Thomas


      Only time will tell, when it’s warm enough she will go outside but I guarantee that she always be a favorite of ours that will be looked out for. By the way, I took your hen therapy idea and told the kids to turn Charlie into a “reading chicken.” Everyday I make sure they read to her out loud.

      Tricky mom.

  2. Sometimes you can get curly toes to straighten if you make a little lightweight shoe. I’ve put a piece of heavy duty tape on the table sticky side up. Then put the little foot down on it and another piece of tape over the top of the foot sticky side down. Then press together with the toes in good position. Then cut around the outside of the two layers of tape just a bit wider than the foot. If it’s light and not to uncomfortable they can still walk in it and it keeps the toes straight.

    It looks like the incubator was too warm when she was in there.

    • Wendy Thomas

      I’ve heard about the shoe and am going to look into it as an option once she is fully healed, thanks for the tip with the tape, I would have tried to use a bit of cardboard which would have been tough to do.


  3. It’s worth a try once she’s healed. I have had croad langshans that have some genetic foot webbing. It doesn’t affect their mobility at all. I wouldn’t even worry about it if you’re not breeding. The curled toes on the other hand can be a disability that affects how they can move, scratch, walk etc. I would be more worried about that. The younger you splint it, the more improvement you will get.

  4. As a guinea pig and rabbit fan, I get my share of “hey they’re just rodents” remarks when go on and on about their distinctive personalities. So embarrassed to have thought the same thing about chickens now that I see them in a different light. Love your blog and your chickens, but I’m hoping to keep more of Marc’s resolve than you have. I cannot have another animal obession, and repeat I must not have another animal obsession and repeat….

    • Wendy Thomas

      I personally see no problem with getting attached to chickens (not only are they cute and have great personalities but they make your breakfast.)

      Try having a guinea pig do that!


  5. Pingback: Lesson 477 – Post surgical update on Charlie’s webbed toe release « Lessons Learned from the Flock

  6. Pingback: Lesson 483 – Just look at our little Charlie now! « Lessons Learned from the Flock

  7. Emily

    I came across this while looking at webbed human feet. I just want to say how wonderful you and your family are for caring for the ‘special’ birds that no one wants. The world really needs more people like you guys. I hope Charlie is doing well now.

  8. Pingback: Lesson 1425 – Skunks and squeals | Lessons Learned from the Flock

  9. Cassie

    Thanks for posting this… I have a day old webbed baby … both feet of coarse.. I will try to release them this evening. I was glad to see that someone had a documented how to! Thanks again!

  10. Emily Capt

    I used this method today except I used chlorhexidine to disinfect and a size 16 scalpel to cut. Thank you so much for this blog post!

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