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: 

Poultry/Chicken first aid kit.
Poultry First Aid Kit
So far, these four items have been all I’ve needed to nurse my birds 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.

18 thoughts on “Chicken First Aid”

  • I've had chickens for about 12 years. Not anymore – my kids are adults and have left home. I had about 12-16 at all times. I am so glad they did not hurt themselves that much! The worse that happened is a flu that required for me to give antibiotics. (no eggs for a week after the antibiotics). I had bought very cute chickens at a fair and they were sick! All my chickens got sick, I lost three or four, and then everything got back to normal. The male, Charlie, died two years ago: he was 12. His favorite chick whose name was Blondie had died the day before – she was 10. Reading your post I thought the pepper and the Tiger balm were great ideas! I wished I had known those tricks when I had chickens.

  • I love your story about Charlie and Blondie, how sweet! They must have been well cared for to live such long lives.
    Someone warned us about getting chickens from an unknown source for that very reason, I hope that's something we never have to deal with!

  • We have mainly had to deal with illness rather than injury, other than a vicious attack of one… and my nursing skills are terrible! we have lost quite a few, but they often were fine and one day just ended up dead (I believe they were probably egg bound.) A few seem to have gotten what appeared to be a drunken look and walk about them and if they didn't die then the others attacked them; usually they just withered away within a few days.

    Yes, I try desperately to tend them, separating them, medicating them, hand feeding them if need be, but most often they perished.

    We usually add to the flock, trying to keep at least 10 hens (no roosters.) So far we are doing alright πŸ™‚

  • sspatterson1214 – It sounds like you're doing everything right! I'm really not looking forward to the day when we start losing more than we're able to help, we're lucky that our flock is still young and healthy.

    I don't know what I'll do when the time comes to put one down, I don't think our local vet deals with poultry. Have you ever had to put one down yourself?

  • Cheryl,

    Luckily my husband takes care of that for us–he uses a pellet gun so that it is over quickly. I had one hen I tried to nurse back to healthy and she struggled for a few weeks. It was probably cruel of me to try and keep her going as she suffered so much… but she was my favorite, she was beautiful, and she was our first to go down. I couldn't see her suffer any longer.

  • I'm sure it's an incredibly difficult decision to make the first time, hopefully it gets easier to recognize that point when it's necessary.
    I'd never thought of using something like a pellet gun.

  • We just started with chickens – did you raise your chickens from tiny chicks or were they started pullets? I assume you keep your chickens as pets. Do you feel the cost of feeding and such versus the decreased laying is worth keeping your chickens past their high laying years?

  • Mrs. Merl – We raised our hens from chicks (there are a few posts about that if you click on the "chickens" category). Our girls are still very young, so we haven't had to weigh the cost of feed versus output yet. Since they are very much like pets, it's not going to be an easy decision, but I suspect we will cut them more slack than most poultry farmers would. : )

  • Thank you for the response. We are raising chicks right now. They are in a large box in the house – since it has been unseasonably cold here. I will be glad to get them outside! I will look into your other posts, I am very interested in your blog, as we are living in a similar situation!

  • We have 14 free range ladies and one was attacked by the neighbor's dog yesterday. She has a large open wound that I've been treating with iodine. I'm going to try the pepper right away. I've isolated her, but am concerned about her picking at it. What did your friend do about the open wound? Did she stitch it closed? My grandmother did that to a chick and it lived to be a ripe old age. Don't know if I can do that to a full grown hen.

  • Amy – I'm so sorry to hear about your hen! I don't know whether my neighbor stitched the wound or not, but I suspect not.
    The pepper should help with the bleeding, but I'd be worried about infection, so antibiotic ointment might be useful as well. Good luck!

  • Our hen was attacked by a dog yesterday. She has some puncture wounds on her back and is missing most of her feathers on her back and tail. Your tips tell me I'm doing most of the right things with anitbiotic cream and iodine spray. What I don't know about is leaving the wounds uncovered or covered. I have used a little vet wrap to cover it and keep her from picking and keep her warm. Would she be better off without it?

  • Cheryl-Thank you for all the great advice. She seems to be doing quite well after 3 days. To our surprise she has continued to lay eggs too!

  • I don't do much Dr. ing on my chickens But a littlebit of raw applecider vinegar goes along ways put it in the water everytime its like antibiotics for chickens

  • Hi Nora,
    I've just gone back and updated the Feedblitz subscription bar (right hand side, part way down).It had somehow gotten removed. Sorry about that! πŸ™‚

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