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