Chicken First Aid

I had no idea when we first got our chickens how much veterinary work would be involved with caring for them.  I’ve had pets my whole life, and it’s only on the very rare occasion that I’ve ever had to do any kind of doctoring. So far with my hens, I’ve had to deal with injuries ranging from sprains, to slashed wattles (run-in with the rooster?), and a broken beak (no idea how that happened, but it bled worse than any other injury I’ve seen) – that’s in addition to the normal, everyday cuts and scrapes and incidents of picking.

Any vet worth her salt would have a tool kit at the ready for dealing with problems as they arise, and this is mine:

So far, these four items have been all I’ve needed to nurse my babies back to health when they’re hurting. A couple of things will come as no surprise, but I expect that at least one of them might leave you scratching your head.

The peroxide is great for disinfecting cuts and scrapes, and the antibiotic ointment is self-explanatory, but can you guess what I use the pepper for (and no, it’s not seasoning for the ones who don’t make it)?  Black pepper works like magic for stopping bleeding, and it’s an indispensable part of my first aid kit for my people as well as my birds.  Just grind it up (a fine grind is best – store bought ground pepper works too), and apply it to the wound.  It doesn’t sting at all, and it is even said to reduce scarring (the one with the ghastly gash across her wattles looks fine now, if that’s any indication).  The pepper has the added benefit of deterring any hen who tries to pick at the wound (including the patient), as they don’t like the smell or the flavor.  I can only wonder what my neighbors think when they see me heading out to the chicken coop with the pepper grinder under my arm.  (Kidding! I usually grind some into a tissue and take it out in its own little packet).

The Tiger Balm (which we use to ease my son’s growing pains, as well as sore adult muscles) is great for preventing picking.  After stopping the bleeding (if necessary) with some pepper, I smear the tiger balm on the feathers surrounding the area that’s being targeted (try to keep it on the feathers, not the skin).  The strong scent of the camphor, menthol, clove and cinnamon oils will make any chicken think twice about going in for a nip, as will the flavor, should they decide to take a taste in spite of the eye-watering smell.

Depending on the injury, I might use only one of these things, or all of them at one time.  If necessary, I’ll isolate the bird in a cage for a few days (with her own food and water), close to her friends so that she isn’t lonely or scared. This also helps them to remember her, ensuring that she won’t have to go through the trouble of re-establishing her place in the pecking order when she’s reintroduced.

It amazes me how rugged and resilient these creatures are, even though they seem to have no regard for personal safety, and will happily injure themselves (or each other) at will. Our neighbor even managed to nurse one of her hens back to health after its abdominal cavity was torn open.  So far I’ve been lucky and have only had to deal with basic injuries, and not with things like bumblefoot or egg binding (knock on wood), but time will tell.

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