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Keel Bone Deformities

Keel bone deformities are a major welfare problem in free range laying hens, and are reported to affect between 56 to 97% of hens per flock. The keel bone is a prominent bone in chickens that extends ventrally from their sternum and is the point of attachment for the wing flight muscles. The keel bone can be deviated or twisted, both horizontally and vertically, having an s-shaped appearance, notches or bumps.

Bone deformities range in severity and are painful for chickens, preventing them from perching with other flock members or taking them longer to fly down from perches. Hens with keel fractures often suffer from long-term chronic pain, depending on the severity of the injury and extent of damage to the sensory nerves.

Keel bone fractures are caused by trauma resulting from collisions with other hens or solid objects, and falling from perches. Fractures are more likely to occur in hens with weak bones, or existing deviations caused by long-term pressure on the keel bone, such as resting on a poorly designed perch.

Symptoms

Reluctance to move
Decreased activity
Muscle atrophy
Lameness
Loss of appetite
Depression
Weakness
Reduced egg production

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs

Treatment

MethodDetails
Supportive careIsolate injured bird from the rest of the flock, in a quiet, warm, comfortable recovery area for 3-4 weeks.
Perform a body wrap using bandage material, to minimize wing movement.
Make sure to wrap above and below at least one wing in order to prevent the bandage from slipping.
Lowering perch height

Prevention

  • Install perches lower to the ground (less than 30in(77cm) above the ground)
  • Design perches so that inter-perch distances are less than 24in(60cm) apart
  • Supplementing diet with Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Using soft perches
  • Let hens of plenty of daily physical activity during growth, to help them increase their bone strength

Scientific References

Age Range

Hens have an increased risk of keel bone deformities with age

Risk Factors

  • Overcrowding birds
  • High perches
  • Improperly designed perch layout