The Avian Veterinarian: Find a Doc for Your Flock

Pre-emptively protect your chickens' health by establishing contact with an avian veterinarian before the need arises. Here's how to find one.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Ana Hotaling

If you keep chickens, you’ve probably heard it from several sources. I’ve even suggested it several times in my stories. “It” is finding an avian veterinarian, a doctor specializing in treating the illnesses and injuries of birds. While some veterinary clinics might accept canaries and parakeets as patients, most of them work only with dogs and cats. When one of your hens needs medical attention, the inability to find a provider—especially during an emergency—can be frustrating and a matter of life and death for the bird. You can protect your flock by identifying an avian veterinarian who is ready to receive your call if the need arises. Here are five ways you can find your very own flock doctor.

Call a Pet Vet

During a recent visit at our kittens’ animal hospital, I pleasantly discovered that one of the staff veterinarians specializes in treating livestock, including poultry. I realize that I lucked out. Living in an agricultural zone, I was bound to find a veterinarian who cares for farm animals. Even if you live nowhere near a rural area, check with a local vet’s office. The people there might know of an avian veterinarian you can contact.

Visit Your County Extension Office

Every county in the United States features a extension office staffed with agents that work closely with university specialists in gardening and agriculture. These extension agents provide free assistance to the public, helping answer questions and provide solutions in matters including pest control, soil conditioning, animal husbandry and seed saving. Your extension office should have a list of providers and can refer you to an avian veterinarian.

Check with Your Fair Superintendent

Community, county and state fairs are enormously popular with poultry farmers, who bring their best animals to exhibit and compete for the title of best in show. Because show animals are housed very close to each other, fair superintendents often employ an avian veterinarian to screen each animal before assigning it a show cage. Any animal displaying signs of illness is turned away to prevent contamination of the other entries. Fair premium books and websites typically list the contact information for the superintendents. Reach out to your fair’s poultry superintendent and ask how to reach the avian veterinarian that assists on check-in day.

Contact Your Local University

If you live within an hour or so of a university with a veterinary school, you’re in luck. Many veterinary schools feature clinics where the public can bring ailing animals for assistance. These clinics, staffed by students and overseen by professors, often are themed: small animals, exotics, large livestock. If you live near one, contact the veterinary school to see if it offers medical care for poultry and, if so, when its clinics are. Another option is to contact the university’s poultry-science department to see whether a professor is willing to visit your farm to treat your ailing bird.

Communicate With Fellow Farmers

Many towns feature online groups and organizations where local chicken-keepers can buy, sell and trade animals as well as share experiences and ask questions. Members of these groups include backyard microflock owners, hobby farmers and even large-scale chicken producers. Reach out to your fellow farmers and ask for a referral to an avian veterinarian. Chances are that somebody in the group has experienced a medical issue with a flock and might know a vet that you can contact.

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