“Mom! Help!” is not an unusual morning cry in my house. These desperate pleas for help often involve finding clean socks to wear, locating misplaced school iPads or getting out a new box of cereal. Such is life with a house full of sons.
This time, however, the cry for help came from outside, which immediately drew my attention. I arrived at the kitchen door just as my son Jaeson charged up the stairs, a motionless black bundle in his arms. “I found her like this by her waterer,” he breathlessly informed me. “Is she going to be OK? What’s wrong with her? What can we do?”
“She” was Fitzbear (that’s her in the photo above), daughter to our Black Orpington hen, Fitz. I wasn’t sure whom to triage first, the inert pullet or the panicked teen. So I guided Jaeson to our grooming table and had him gently set Fitzbear down so I could examine her. He remained highly agitated until I had finished evaluated, hydrated and placed her in a “hospital” pen.
Although Jaeson has been around our flocks all his life, seeing one of our animals in distress causes him anxiety. I can only imagine that the same scenario must be even more unnerving for those new to chicken-keeping. Unexpected injuries are, unfortunately, part of poultry-raising. Minimize your own panic so that you can better treat your bird by following these five preparatory steps.
1. Have a Hospital Pen
Your injured bird needs someplace safe where she can rest until she can be seen by a veterinarian. Once she has been professionally treated, she will need a place in which to recuperate. Any solid-walled container will do as long as it offers her enough room to ruffle her feathers and and easy access for you and your veterinarian. A sturdy cardboard shipping box works, as does a hard-sided pet carrier, a dog crate and even a hard rubber tote. Make the interior as comfortable as possible for your injured bird, so add at least one inch of shavings, a nesting pad or a soft, fluffy towel to serve as a liner. If your pen is open on top, drape another towel over the opening to screen out the light.
2. Designate a Quiet Space
Peace and quiet are absolutely necessary when dealing with an injured bird. Assign a specific room in your house to serve as the quiet space where you’ll keep your hospital pen, before heading to the veterinarian as well as after returning, while your chicken recuperates. Make sure that it’s not a main traffic area such as a kitchen or living room, but rather somewhere less frequented by your family. A laundry room is perfect; so is a guest bathroom. Keep your pets (and small children) away from this room while it is in service.
3. Have a Vet’s Phone Number
Have and keep accessible the phone number of an avian or livestock veterinarian willing to treat chickens. The typical small-animal veterinarian specializes in companion animals such as dogs, cats and rabbits and will not take on chickens as patients, so you need to do some research in order to find a vet who can help you in case of emergency. Ask your pet’s veterinarian for a referral; you can also contact your county fair supervisor, 4-H office or extension office to ask for recommendations. Don’t wait until you need a veterinarian to find one.
4. Keep Disposable Gloves
Minimize the risk to yourself and to your family by keeping your hands protectively covered when handling your injured bird. While work gloves will do the trick, it’s best to use vinyl or nitrile gloves you can easily throw away after each use. Most pharmacies and farm-supply stores sell boxes of single-use, disposable gloves. The use of protective gloves does not eliminate the need to thoroughly wash your hands, however.
5. Assemble an Emergency Kit
Unless you are trained in veterinary sciences, you should not attempt to diagnose or treat an injured chicken as you might unintentionally cause her more harm. There are, however, things you can do to help stabilize your bird. Have gauze or clean, soft rags on hand to stanch the flow of blood; use Vet Rap to hold these in place until the veterinarian removes them. Make an emergency hydration cocktail of room-temperature water blended with electrolytes such as Sav a Chick or Durvet Vitamins and Electrolytes. Your bird might very well be in shock because of her injury, and the electrolyte-rich water can help hydrate her and reduce her shock. Because of her condition, you might need to use a syringe or an eyedropper to slowly offer her water until she is able to drink on her own. Don’t force the issue, however, as this might aggravate her condition. Leave the rest to the professionals and take comfort in knowing you’ve done your best to help your bird.