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Rickets & Metabolic Bone Disease In Growing Poultry

Published: July 20, 2017
By: Bruce Hunter 1, Ashley Whiteman1, Babak Sanei 2 and Al Dam 2. / 1 University of Guelph, Canada; 2 OMAFRA, Ontario, Canada.
Rickets and nutritionally based bone problems occur very frequently in backyard and specialty types of birds. All birds, particularly fast growing birds fed "home-formulated" diets may be affected.
Status in Canada
Nutritional bone problems occur commonly any bird species fed diets other than those commercially formulated and targeted for that species and particular age of the bird. The disease occurs relatively frequently in ostriches and emus due to their nutritional requirements and rapid early growth rates.
Commercially formulated diets are scientifically balanced for protein, energy, vitamin and mineral content and other essential ingredients. These diets are formulated for particular species and specific ages of the bird as the dietary requirements for the bird will change as it grows and develops. Home-formulated diets including the feeding of whole grains or scratch grain diets are generally poorly balanced, particularly in the amount of calcium and essential vitamins such as vitamin D3 or vitamin A. An imbalance in the calcium/phosphorus ratio in the diet will also result in abnormal bone development and high phosphorus levels in the diet even with normal calcium levels can result in bone disease.
Rickets and metabolic bone disease are caused by a deficiency of calcium or vitamin D3 in the diet, or an imbalance in the calcium to phosphorus ratio in the diet.
Rickets & Metabolic Bone Disease In Growing Poultry - Image 1Group of young turkey poults with rickets. All of these birds are alive but refuse to stand and walk because of the painful changes in the bones.
The Disease
The skeleton of young animals grows extremely quickly. Species that grow very rapidly like commercial strains of chickens and turkeys and ostriches and emus are particularly susceptible. Calcium and phosphorus are essential minerals that are critical for proper bone growth and bone strength. The absorption of these minerals and the ability to incorporate them into the growing skeleton is dependent on the availability of Vitamin D3.
If either of these nutrients is lacking in the diet, the skeleton will not mineralize properly and the bone strength will be affected. As the bird gains in weight, the soft, poorly mineralized and rubbery bones bend and twist easily. These lesions are painful and the birds are lame and reluctant to walk. Because of the pain and physical deformities, the birds have difficulty reaching the feed and water and will lose body condition and eventually die if not treated.
At post mortem, the bones may be twisted and bent. Because they are poorly calcified the bones bend like rubber rather than snap and the growth zones at the end of each bone are wider than normal. There is often beading of the ribs at the junction of the spinal cord. The beak may bend easily. Folding fractures of the long bones and the ribs, and flattening of the rib cage may also be seen The parathyroid glands are usually enlarged.
Rickets & Metabolic Bone Disease In Growing Poultry - Image 2Rib cage from a young duck with rickets. Note the bending and twisting of the ribs and swollen areas where the ribs join the back bone. This softening and swelling of the bone at this location has been referred to as the “ricketic rosary”.

Treatment involves correcting the diet as soon as possible before the bone deformities become too severe to be reversed. Placing birds on a commercial diet designed for that age and species of bird and supplementing the feed with calcium (for example top-dressing the feed with dicalcium/phosphate or oyster shell etc.) and adding vitamin D3 in the drinking water. Remember, birds can only utilize vitamin D3 not other forms of vitamin D packaged for mammals. It is generally safe to assume that if the birds are developing rickets on a home-formulated diet, then they likely have other vitamin/mineral dietary problems as well, and so supplementation with multi-vitamin mineral packs may be helpful.
Proper diets are critical to raising healthy birds. Resist the temptation to buy cheap scratch grains and whole corn. Your investment in properly formulated and well balanced diets will pay dividends in good growth and healthy birds.
This article was originally published in Biosecurity Education Initiative, Factsheet 6.1.
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Babak Sanei
Francis Ogbebor
22 de julio de 2021
The information is very useful, thanks.
Fazal Malik Malik
9 de junio de 2019
Thnks too much informative but I think this problem started at any age but growing age is more required to observe
10 de marzo de 2019

I have problems with my broiler birds, they can stand to eat n drink water and they are losing weight every day, please advice me on what drugs to administer to them. I do buy a bags food for them (Top feed produce in Nigeria). Thanks

Gedion Mutambo
9 de agosto de 2017
Since I started formulating my own feeds, I have observed that the leg problem I was experiencing with the broilers has reduced. I use DCP 18%. I use 2.5kg DCP to 490kg feed. The experts can advise as to whether this is the collect amount I use. Thanks for the educative article. Gedion Mutambo, Broiler Farmer.
Ismet Mamode
Food & Allied Group of Companies
29 de julio de 2017
In broilers and layers, it is possible to see this problem. Whenever I obtain the confirmation both clinically and in post-mortem, I advise a treatment with CALCIUM GRIT in the feed plus VITAMIN AD3E in water. I take a sample of the feed to check the level of CALCIUM. The type of CALCIUM in the feed is important. A mixture of COARSE + FINE calcium is advisable depending on the type of birds.
daniel severino
28 de julio de 2017

Thank you for this great information. We have learned that we should get good grades of grains and get proper feeds.

Dr. Suresh Nipane
Suman Hatchery Ltd.
25 de julio de 2017
Informative article
Srinivasa Group
25 de julio de 2017
Any toxic problem this type of mortality and leasion are notified?
Henrique Marcos Borochovitz
24 de julio de 2017
Very important a quantity of the food eat a day. If not eat don't receive a quantity of calcium and phosphate and vitamin d.
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