His mother is a Red Sexlink and his father is an Olive Egger.
On April 21st, Rolie’s owner contacted me. The email read “Are you interested in helping out a cockerel with club feet? Rolie is about 13 weeks and only about the size of a 4 week old chick. He managed to hatch by himself. He’s from a Sexlink egg, covered by an OE rooster but looks like a red sexlink. I have had him in a hay filled brooder with chicks so he doesn’t hurt his curled feet but the chicks keep outgrowing him. I’m running out of places to keep him and since I just lost my last “Special” chicken, I just can’t emotionally get attached to another just yet. He’s going to end up all by himself if he stays here because the ‘normal’ chickens will beat him up.”
She sent me the photo that you saw at the top of the page. My heart melted instantly.
When I got there to pick him up, she brought him out to meet me. As she handed him off, he looked scared. He looked as though he didn’t understand why the only momma he had known had just given him away. He craned his neck to try to get one last look at her as I walked away. I didn’t have the heart to put him in the box that I had brought with me. This tiny sensitive creature needed comfort right now, so I held him against my chest wrapped in a soft piece of fleece as I drove home. I could feel him trembling and every so often he would make a sad little noise. My overwhelming thought was, “I hope he accepts me.”
This is Rolie’s brother at the same age Rolie is in the picture above. So not only does sweet Rolie suffer from club feet, he is also a dwarf. I had no idea that chickens could even exhibit dwarfism, but some research turned up exactly that.
We have had some experience with club footed (even though that is not the technical term for this) birds. Glenna the turkey came to us with almost exactly the same condition, but I had no idea what to expect in terms of the dwarfism. I didn’t know if it would affect his overall development or if it would cause physical and/or physiological problems for him in his future. Time would tell. But come what may, we were committed to doing everything possible to give this little darling the best quality of life possible.
The first hurdle to over come was getting him to accept us as his family. He was weak and he slept a lot. His skin was pale and we could only assume what his condition meant to his over all state of health. We held him as much as we could his first few days with us. He loved to cuddle up in a piece of fleece or a fuzzy little blanket. The softer, the better. He has little cuts on both his tiny legs and you could see he was relieved to not have pressure on them. And snuggling into a soft little pseudo-nest meant that he wasn’t spending all of his energy trying to balance on his deformed legs. There were bruises and mild swelling on both of his knees from trying to get around in the brooder cage he had been raised in. Nothing severe, but it was apparent that it made him somewhat uncomfortable.
He would sit on my desk with me during the day while I worked. I fashioned a little sling chair out of an upside down wire basket It provided him enough support that he could sit there and be comfortable and help him feel safe.
We would take turns holding him in the evenings while we watched TV. As the rigors of the day overtook them (Papa from his warehouse job and Rolie from many hours of practicing being cute) Rolie and Papa would snooze together in the recliner. His new people were quickly becoming the family that every brooder chick longs to have. After all aren’t we all looking for a strong wing to make us feel safe and loved?
One night one of my young frizzles was curious about our new visitor. And being young, he had little fear. He climbed up on me and slowly moved toward Rolie with his neck stretched way out as if to say, “Please don’t be scared, I just wanted to say hi.” Rolie was apprehensive at first, but it wasn’t long until he realized that Comber was not a threat at all. Soon he relaxed and even seemed quite happy to have the company of a new friend. Needless to say, I was beyond proud of little Comber for doing everything he could to make the newest member of our family feel welcome.
Rolie quickly warmed up to all of us, but he developed a special affection for Papa Tim…
Rolie was a good little eater when the food was close and he was stable enough to eat. His difficulty in eating was finding the right balance on his knees so as not to tip over. His little sling chair worked fairly well to provide him a comfortable place to eat his meals. Unfortunately we quickly learned that even though Rolie’s legs were not normal, his wings were plenty strong to flap and wriggle out of his little chair so that he could try to hobble after his people when they didn’t stay right with him.
The next hurdle was to get the little guy mobile so that he had as much quality of life as possible. I attempted to work and stretch his legs to see if there was any correcting the condition. Sadly Rolie’s tiny legs were just too deformed. Even trying to open his little curled feet caused him to cry in pain. Splints and physical therapy just weren’t an option in his case, he had just been this way too long. He hobbled about on his knees, but even on the carpet, it was obvious that it was uncomfortable for him.
I set about researching ways to protect his knees from the impact of walking on them. Sadly, I could find nothing online about cases similar to his were any adaptations were made for them. I spent several hours looking thought the sports and medical areas of my local department store and finally came up with this idea. They are foam toe bandages designed to be cut to length and used to keep toes from rubbing together. There were 3 in a package for under $3.
My first attempt was unsuccessful. I cut one of the approximately 3 inch foam tube in half and slipped one half over each curled foot and up over his knees. It looked good in theory, but after only a few minutes of jumping around on the floor, he already had both of them slipped down around his ankles. On to Plan B. I took the 2 remaining bandages and slowly worked the whole bandage over his foot and up his leg so that the majority of his legs were covered by the foam. This worked amazingly well. It took him a few minutes to find his balance in them, but the moment he realized that he was standing without pain you could see an immediate change in his demeanor. There was going to be no stopping him now. What would from here on become known as Rolie’s Socks were a success!
Rolie’s started to run everywhere. He made a sound similar to a tiny galloping horse. He was so excited that he would easily wear himself out. His tiny legs and weak hips were not strong enough for all the activity. As he got tired, his legs would slowly start to slide apart. After only a few days, we realized that his legs were starting to spraddle. We had to do something quickly or he would be permanently and irreversibly crippled. Even though Rolie as 4 months old, developmentally, he was still a baby. So what do you do with a baby chick that is spraddle. That’s right, you hobble them. For those of you that don’t know what hobbling is in chicks, essentially what you do is tape their legs together in such a way that there is enough space between them so that the hips are in the correct alignment. After a few days, the chicks hips will strengthen and the tape can be removed and they can walk and develop normally. So I got a long section of paper tape out of my medical kit and taped Rolie’s socks together at his ankles so that there was about 2 and a half inches between his feet.
This displeased Rolie A LOT. He went from being mobile to being barely ambulatory. He could move about still, but with his feet not moving freely of one another, his coordination was poor. He wobbled and fell a lot.
Where as it might take a 3 or 4 day old chick about a week to strengthen and be able to remove the hobbles, Rolie was not that lucky. After a week, I removed them and checked to see if he could be without them, but after a few minutes, his hips weakened and his legs separated. I hoped that he would not need to be taped like this for the rest of his life, but the alternative was far worse…and painful. As time passed, Rolie grew stronger over all. His comb started to grow and the color in his skin pinkened with each passing day. You could actually see Rolie start to bloom. Even with his ankles taped, he started to adapt and regain his coordination. With the use of his wings, he was able to do a sort of run jump step to get where he wanted. And where he almost always wanted to be was on my lap.