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Lameness

Broiler growth rates have increased dramatically due to intense genetic selection and enhanced nutritional programs. Fast growth places great demands on birds’ musculoskeletal systems, which can result in impaired locomotion and lameness.

Lameness reduces animal well-being and has severe economic consequences from poor growth, increased culling and mortality carcasses condemnation and downgrading at slaughter. 

Lameness is often a multifactorial condition. Understanding the various causes can help producers identify areas for improvement and develop effective strategies to reduce the incidence of lameness. Conditions responsible for lameness can be of infectious or non-infectious origin. It is important to identify and understand these risk factors in order to develop a prevention or mitigation strategy to reduce incidence of lameness in poultry flocks. This table focuses on lameness conditions and suggests solutions that can help mitigate the damage caused by these conditions.  

Mycotoxins

Potential causeChecklistCorrective action
Deoxynivalenol (DON)

Histopathology; translocation of bacteria from the intestine due to disruption of the tight junctions to the femoral head, where ongoing pressure of growth results in micro fractures and eventually degeneration of the joint.
 

Reduced growth; Increased culling at out loading of damaged birds; Increased further processing due to the poor quality of the femur head. 

  • Origin of raw materials from supplier/region with history of Afla contamination. 
  • Check average contamination levels.
  • Positive for DON in raw materials (ELISA) or feed (HPLC)
  • Prevent mold growth, purchase clean raw materials.
  • Avoid contamination of feed bins or feed/water lines by stale, wet or moldy feed.
  • Add an effective mycotoxin deactivator in the feed.

Nutrition

Potential causeChecklistCorrective action
RICKETS

Vitamin D3 deficiency, Ca/P imbalance 

Enlargement of the ends of tibia and femur, with widened. 

Check the feed composition. Feed vitamin D3 with balanced calcium and phosphorus.
IONOPHORE TOXICITY

Potential cause: Monensin 

Legs extended backward

Mix feed properly.Withdraw the ionophore.
OSTEOPOROSIS/CAGE LAYER FATIGUE

Impaired calcium flux in laying hens 

  • Soft and rubbery bones, birds on their sides in the back of the cage.
  • Lesions: Vertebral fracture affecting spinal cord. 
Check the feed composition.
  • Feed appropriate calcium as per the production stage.
  • Care must be taken to feed ∼50% of the dietary calcium in the form of coarse limestone, with the remaining half as fine particle limestone.
PODODERMATITIS/FOOTPAD DERMATITIS/FOOT BURN/AMMONIA BURN

Biotin deficiency, poor quality litter 

  • Ulceration of the metatarsal and digital footpads.
  • Lesions: Necrotic lesions on the plantar surface of the footpads.
Check the feed composition
  • Improve gut integrity by feeding multi-species, poultry-specific, live probiotics.
  • Supplement biotin in the feed.
  • Lower litter moisture with proper ventilation and avoid water spillage.
TIBIAL DYSCHONDROPLASIA/
OSTEOCHONDROSIS

Ca/P ratio, excess chloride in feed metabolic acidosis, acid/base balance, mycotoxins. 

  • Swelling and bowing in the region of the knee joints, angulations of legs, typically in birds >35 days.
  • Plug of cartilage in proximal end of tibia, distal tibia, and proximal metatarsus, in decreasing order of frequency.

Check the feed composition.

PEROSIS/CHONDRODYSTROPHY

Manganese deficiency 

  • Thickened and shortened legs, shortened wings.
  • Enlargement and malformation of the tibio-metatarsal joint, twisting and bending of tibial distal end and the proximal end of tarso-metatarsus, slippage of the gastrocnemius tendon from its chondyles.
Check the feed composition.
  • Feed appropriate manganese as per the production stage.
  • Maintain Mn/Ca/P balance 

Pathogen - Bacterial

Potential causeChecklistCorrective action
Bacterial Chondronecrosis with Osteomyelitis (BCO)

Enterococcus cecorum, Streptococcus spp., Staphylococcus spp, E. coli 

 

  • Bird will be sitting on its breast/keel, with the legs directed forward, use of wings for walking support and hip flexion.
  • Necrotic degeneration and microbial infection, primarily within the proximal heads of the femur and tibia. 
 
Vertebral Osteomyelitis / Spondylitis / 
Spondylopathy / Spondylolisthesis / Kinkyback

Enterococcus cecorum, Staphylococcus spp., E. Coli. 

 

  • Typically starts from day 22, bird will be sitting on its breast/keel, with the legs directed forward, posterior paralysis due to spinal cord compression.
  • Abscess and/or necrosis in T4-T7 vertebrae, dorsal buckling of spinal cord (kyphosis), interstitial edema, atrophy, degeneration of muscle fibers. 
 
Bumble Foot - Staphylococcus spp. 
  • Swelling above the hock and around the hocks and feet.
  • Abscess on hock joint, infected joints may have clear exudate with fibrin clots.
 
Fowl Cholera - Pasteurella multocida 

 

  • Swollen hock joints, swollen wattles and comb, greenish diarrhea.
  • Necrotic foci on liver, petechiae in the epicardial fatty tissues.
 
  • Vaccines only if endemic.
  • Antibiotics
Bacterial arthritis/Airsacculitis (MS)

Enterococcus faecalis, Mycoplasma synoviae 

 

  • Ruffled feathers, swollen hock joints and feet, bilaterally asymmetrical legs.
  • Joints and tendon sheaths have viscous grey to yellow exudate, caseous exudate from the lesions.
 
Osteomyelitis Complex

Bacterial, but no specific pathogen has been identified. 

Green discoloration of liver, inflammatory lesions in bones and joints.

Only identified at slaughter.Improve gut integrity by feeding multi-strain poultry-specific live probiotic.

Pathogen - Viral

Potential causeCorrective action
Tenosynovitis/Viral arthritis

Avian reovirus 

  • Soft swelling of the joints with turbid fluid in the capsule, swollen shanks.
  • Swelling and petechial in the synovial membranes, small erosions on the articular cartilage, adhesions between the tendons and fibrosis of tissues.
  • Live vaccine followed by inactivated vaccine.
  • Euthanize the infected flock. 
Amyloidosis - Corona virus 
  • Swollen hock joint containing orange-yellowish material, muscular shivering.
  • Extracellular buildup of amyloid protein in joints and internal organs.
  • Live vaccine.
  • Sodium salicylate 1g/liter (acute phase)
  • Anitbiotics to control secondary colibacillosis.
Infectious bronchitis (IB)/Infectious laryngo tracheitis (ILT) 
  • Sudden death, muscular shivering.
  • Edema of skeletal and pectoral muscles.
  • Live vaccine.
  • Sodium salicylate 1g/liter (acute phase)
  • Anitbiotics to control secondary colibacillosis.
Marek’s disease 
  • One leg stretched forward and the other backward.             
  • Tumors in internal organs, unilateral enlargement of peripheral nerves. 
  • Live vaccine.
  • Eradication of infected flock.
Avian encephalomyelitis (AE) 
  • Trembling of the head, neck, and wings, paralysis of both legs extended out to one side.
  • Gross lesions are mild or absent, focal white areas in gizzard muscle. 
  • Vaccination of breeders.
Newcastle disease
  • Twisting of neck and paralysis of wings and legs, cyanosis of comb, facial edema, green diarrhea, drop in egg production, sudden death.
  • Hemorrhage in intestine, petechial hemorrhage in proventriculus, congestion and mucoid exudates seen in the respiratory tract, especially in trachea. 
  • Live vaccine.
  • Eradication of infected flock.

Others - Management

Potential causeChecklistCorrective action
Tibial dyschondroplasia 
  • Swelling and bowing in the region of the knee joints, angulations of legs, typically in birds >35 days.
  • Plug of cartilage in proximal end of tibia, distal tibia, and proximal metatarsus, in decreasing order of frequency. 

 

  • Lower the energy and protein density of feed to slow down the growth.
  • Correct the nutritional imbalances.
  • Add an effective mycotoxin deactivator in the feed. 
Twisted leg 
  • Genetic selection, stocking density.
  • Distortion at hock, valgus/varus, various angulations of legs.
  • Linear twisting of tibia and femur, Changed angulation of tibial condyles. 
 
  • Euthanize affected bird.
Pododermatitis
  • Ulceration of the metatarsal and digital footpads.
  • Necrotic lesions on the plantar surface of the footpads.
Check biotin in the feed.
  • Lower litter moisture with proper ventilation and avoid water spillage.
  • Improve gut integrity by feeding poultry-specific, live probiotics.
  • Supplement biotin in the feed. 
Degenerative joint disease 
  • Developmental defects, physical damage. 
  • Imbalanced walking, huddling.
  • Damaged epiphyseal articular cartilage, especially of femoral anti-trochanter, but also other leg joints, resulting in erosions and cartilage flaps.
 
  • Euthanize affected bird.

Find this handy checklist and more in our Science & Solutions special issue.

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