THE OFFICIAL BLOG
When we acquired our first substantial number of goslings we did what most people do these days: We went to the internet and searched for basic care information. Most of what we found assured us that geese and other waterfowl have higher protein feed requirements than chickens and it was suggested that we feed either a game bird feed or a feed specially formulated for waterfowl. Easy enough. We knew that we would be free-ranging our adult flock on grass someday, but our young birds would need supplemental feed until they were grown. There were plenty of formulated feeds in the feed store with pictures of geese and ducks on the package.
What we did not find during that initial search was information on Angel Wing Syndrome - and so, as with most things out here, we had to learn the hard way.
What is Angel Wing Syndrome?
The mechanics of it are simple enough. At some point during the wing feather growth stage of development, the heavy primary flight feathers grow in too quickly. The weight causes the wing tips to sag out away from the body and twists the wrist joint in such a way that the bird cannot tuck the primary flight feathers back under its wing. Left in this condition, the wrist joint becomes permanently malformed and the adult bird is left with the lower part of its wings protruding out like a little airplane. Needless to say, this condition is extremely serious in any waterfowl dependent on flight for survival. In heavy domesticated fowl, it is largely a cosmetic issue.
What causes it?
There is more than one theory regarding the development of Angel Wing Syndrome in waterfowl. There are those who believe it is a genetic issue and nothing more. Other theories attribute it to a high-calorie diet during feathering. Still others blame it on high-protein diets rather than calories alone. Also because it has been observed in waterfowl populations that are often fed bread (such as at public parks) it has been theorized that a high-carbohydrate diet is the culprit. (This is one of the reasons you may have been warned not to feed the ducks bread at the lake shore anymore.) It is also possible that a deficiency in Vitamin D, Vitamin E, or some other nutrient or mineral contributes to the problem during the feathering stage of development.
We first encountered AWS when seven of our first thirteen goslings arrived for morning feeding time with unsightly bright blue feather shafts protruding from their bodies at right angles. Pretty sure that this was not a normal awkward teenage stage for geese, we returned to the internet and found the syndrome and a lot of information (most of which was conflicting) about how diet can cause the problem. In our case, due to our inexperience, we had been feeding a formulated grower for waterfowl which was rather high-protein. Mea culpa. We slapped our foreheads and took all of the geeslings off feed and put them on grass exclusively while we tried to figure out if we could correct the problem -- and if so, how.
Wing-wrapping for Angel Wing Syndrome
After some research, we bought some medical tape and vet wrap and set to work. We had read that it was best to wrap the wings in the evening so that there would be more of a chance for the wrap to stay on for extended amounts of time. We also read that we would need to isolate the affected goose in a cage or some such so as to prevent them from moving around and removing their bindings. Our first attempts on all seven affected goslings involved wrapping only the wing to itself and securing it with medical tape. We isolated the goslings and went to bed... None of the goslings had wrapped wings by morning - and the wings were even worse. The next night we used more medical tape. Same result. We moved on to wrapping the wings against the body. That wrap did not last long enough for us to get out of the barn that night. We tried figure eight style wrapping - which stayed on longer, but was causing some of the feathers to shift into even less natural positions. We tried wrapping more tightly - with obviously bad results for the geese.... I will just stop here and summarize: We tried every configuration we could possibly think of to stick the wings back against the body and keep them there until the wings could grow . None of them worked. Morning after morning we found vet tape littering our property and geese with medical tape hopelessly tangled and stuck in their feathers. We were all less than thrilled with the nightly goose-wing wrapping routine... and in the meantime, the feathers were still growing and getting heavier and heavier.
In desperation, I turned on my brain and started to think hard about what we were trying to accomplish. Why were we trying to stick the wings back to the body? How would that help the wrist joint form in the proper position?
Though there were others who seemed to have success with the whole body wraps and other such configurations, it was not going to happen for us. I set out to find a way not to wrap the wings so much as to create a sling that would support the weight of the primary flight feathers while the wing developed.
The technique requires no more than one twelve inch long and one inch wide strip of vet wrap per wing. The end of the wing is lightly wrapped from the outside a couple of turns. The long end of the vet wrap is then tucked under the upper part of the wing and used to gently pull the wrapped wing tip up, tilted back against the body where it should be, and tucked under the upper wing. At that point I wrap over the outside of the upper wing and down around where the wing tip is wrapped - going around a couple of times to secure the wrap to itself. Never too tightly - just enough to keep the wing tip tucked in place and being sure the vet wrap is secured.
Wrapping this way works for several reasons. First, it can be wrapped lightly enough so as not to interfere with circulation and cause swelling or discomfort for the goslings. Also, it allows a certain amount of range-of-motion in the wing so that the bird can continue to build necessary wing strength (and also makes him less likely to try to remove the binding). When applied correctly, so little tape is visible it does not become a pecking target for other geese (who often removed it from their fellow geese during our first attempts). And finally - it can get wet without falling off or becoming otherwise ineffective which is important because.. waterfowl.
Our method for prevention
Some combination of restricted diet and our perfected wrapping technique ultimately led to complete recovery for our first seven Angel Wing goslings. Years later, it would be impossible to tell which geese had actually had the problem.
Since then we have hatched and raised quite a number of geese and the problem is extremely rare. As a matter of fact, we have had exactly one gosling affected since - the one in the picture above modeling my vet wrap technique.
We still supplement our young goslings diet with a formulated high-protein nutritionally balanced crumble for optimum health. However, our best practice for prevention of Angel Wing Syndrome involves graduating goslings to a grass-only diet as soon as they begin to develop true feathers. They are kept away from formulated feeds, treats, scratches, and grains until their wings are fully developed. Or at least we try to keep them away. Sometimes the craftiest of them find a way to break into a chick feeder or manage to steal some carelessly spilled food through the fence of the gosling nursery area. Our current patient has been one of the crafty sort - and is now sporting the vet wrap cuffs to prove it.
If you are local to our area, please feel free to contact us and make arrangements to come out and see us. We would be happy to demonstrate our effective method of wing-wrapping for you.
If you have a young goose or duck and despite your best efforts to put the growing teenager on a diet, he has begun to show signs of Angel Wing Syndrome, do not panic. It can be corrected if caught early enough.
Posted by Anita
Keeper of the vet wrap.