Thursday, 16 June 2016

Why Can I Feel My Chickens Keel / Breast Bone?

*** Why Can I Feel My Chickens Keel / Breast Bone? ***

We get hundreds of posts daily on our Facebook forum The Poultry Pages but one that seems to crop up time and time again is...., Why are my chickens so thin? OR Why can i feel my chickens keel / breast bone? Well we would like to answer that one and shed some light on these 2 common and similar questions. 

keel or carina (plural carinae) in bird anatomy is an extension of the sternum (breastbone) which runs axially along the midline of the sternum and extends outward, perpendicular to the plane of the ribs. The keel provides an anchor to which a bird's wing muscles attach, thereby providing adequate leverage for flight. Keels do not exist on all birds; in particular, some flightless birds lack a keel structure. Historically, the presence or absence of a pronounced keel structure was used as a broad classification of birds into two orders: Carinatae (from carina, "keel"), having a pronounced keel; and ratites (from ratis, "raft" — referring to the flatness of the sternum), having a subtle keel structure or lacking one entirely. However, this classification has fallen into disuse as evolutionary studies have shown that many flightless birds have evolved from flighted birds. The current definition of Carinatae now includes all extant birds.

Chickens are a flighted bird so are considered to class as "Carinatae" (have a pronounced keel) but there can be a few reasons why some can be more pronounced than others, which are as follows...
  • Motabilism decreases in summer (eat less, drink more)
  • Peak laying season in spring/summer (lose condition)
  • Lose weight during breeding season (during breeding activities)
  • Gain weight in winter as motabilism increases (eat more, drink less)
All of the above are TRUE and are 'other' reasons why a chickens keel / breast bone often protrudes when felt but let's go a little further into why. Chickens are a flighted bird so will always have a keel / breast bone which means you will always be able to feel it to a degree, however during the winter as the nights are colder and daylight is shorter a chickens motabilism increases, so they eat more to keep warm and they drink less, in turn this means the bird gains weight and a keel / breast bone will not protrude as much. During the spring as breeding season starts moving into summer the bird doesn't need to keep warm and therefore motabilism decreases, so they don't eat as much and drink more to keep cool this makes the bird lose weight and condition in turn which means a chickens keel / breast bone will protrude more during this time. A protruding keel / breast bone DOESN'T mean your chicken(s) are ill or there is something wrong with them, this is NORMAL.

HOWEVER, there is one exception to the above and that is internal parasites (such as worms) however DON'T just jump straight in and worm your chickens as many do needlessly. Take a poo sample and get a worm count done first, if the parasites are present then worm accordingly unless you see worms evident in the poo then a count is not necessary and obviously treat. 

If you lye your chicken on it's back you will notice or be able to feel the keel / breast bone as pictured above, sometimes you can't catch them or they won't let you so here's a TOP TIP, as they roost they are docile and they go into a trance like state, go in and feel under their stomach for the keel / breast bone. As stated though please DO NOT be concerned if your chicken is bright, alert, tentative, eating, drinking and it's behaviour is normal if you can feel the keel / breast bone, however any signs of illness, withdrawn, standing around, not eating or drinking and the keel / breast bone is prominent then please consult a VET

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