It can be almost impossible to find a veterinarian who treats chickens, especially if you want the birds treated in a holistic manner. When that’s the case, it’s best to learn to handle minor injuries and sickness yourself.
To begin, pick one or more holistic modalities. Then, buy, gather or grow appropriate remedies and learn to use them before emergencies occur. In the past few issues of Chickens magazine, we’ve discussed herbs (March/April 2017), essential oils and aromatherapy (May/June 2017), homeopathy (July/August 2017) and flower essences (September/October 2017). In this column, we’ll discuss home remedies.
Some home remedies aren’t related to any specific holistic healing system such as homeopathy or flower essences. They’re basically homemade concoctions created using things from everyday life, such as apple cider vinegar, garlic, garden herbs, and the contents of your cupboard and refrigerator.
Remember, however, that home remedies are best used to prevent health problems, address minor injuries or treat symptoms rather than full-blown disease. If your chickens are sick, talk to a veterinarian, county extension agent or an experienced chicken-keeper to discover the underlying reason. Treating symptoms is not enough.
Your Best Vet
The information in this column is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis or treatment. Natural and holistic care has their places in the coop, but don’t forget about your vet. There may be times when the care you are administering just doesn’t seem to be working and you should consult a professional.
Stanch Bleeding Fast
Bleeding can be a problem when a hawk, dog, fox or other predator mauls a chicken or when roosters get into fights. Some holistic home remedies work as well or nearly as well as commercial blood-clotting products. Here are a few good ones.
- Saturate a green or black tea bag in warm water, squeeze out the excess moisture and hold it firmly against the wound until the bleeding stops.
- White vinegar applied to minor injuries causes blood vessels to constrict and stanch bleeding.
- Wrap an ice cube in a damp washcloth, and hold it against the wound. Ice also helps dull pain.
- Grind harvested and dried wild yarrow into fine powder. Liberally sprinkle yarrow powder on the wound. Once the injury stops bleeding, remove the clotted yarrow, clean the wound and reapply yarrow powder as a healing dressing. Goldenseal root powder works the same way, though gathering goldenseal in the wild is prohibited in most states, so you’ll have to grow it or buy it from an herb supplier. You can substitute cayenne pepper powder; cayenne stings but not as much as you’d think. A bonus: Yarrow, goldenseal and cayenne are natural antibiotics.
In the Pink
Do your best to keep your chickens safe and healthy. If you do all of the following things, your chickens will rarely get seriously ill.
- Provide nourishing food and clean water.
- Free-range your birds when possible but always provide protection from predators in the form of secure overnight housing, and if necessary, a fenced-in chicken yard.
- Keep the henhouse clean and hygienic.
- Handle your birds so you can watch for issues such as chicken lice and mites, and treat infestations as quick as you can.
- Avoid overcrowding in your henhouse and chicken yard.
Lice and mites can be a problem, especially for birds that spend a lot of time in the henhouse and don’t free-range. Chemical treatments are the norm, but there are alternatives for holistic chicken-keepers.
- Help prevent mite and louse infestations by liming henhouse floors and runs at least twice a year. Never allow wild birds to nest where your chickens live.
- Chickens are hosts to several types of mites that hide in bedding, on roosts or in cracks in the walls by day and then come out to feed on their hosts at night. Help prevent infestations by providing dust-bathing facilities liberally laced with cooled woodstove ashes and food-grade diatomaceous earth. Sprinkling DE in nest boxes, on roosts and all over the henhouse floor helps, as does hanging bunches of wormwood throughout the coop or adding garlic to your chickens’ food or water. These ploys also inhibit louse infestations.
- Kill mites by spraying affected chickens under their wings and around their vent areas using water infused with garlic juice and essential oils. Appropriate essential oils include bay, cinnamon, clove, lavender, spearmint and thyme. Remember, a few drops of essential oil go a long way, so don’t use too much. After spraying, dust your birds with food-grade DE, taking care not to get it in their eyes or yours.
- Are scaly leg mites a problem? Pesky leg mites burrow under the scales on a chicken’s legs and feet, creating a crusty, stinky discharge, swelling and lameness. To zap these mites via holistic remedy, soak the affected chickens’ legs in soapy water to which you’ve added a splash of ammonia. When softened, gently scrub the bird’s legs with an old toothbrush or nail brush to remove most of the crusty buildup. Dry the legs, and apply a thick layer of petroleum jelly, Vicks VapoRub or a similar thick, eucalyptus-infused ointment.
Alternately, slather on a thick covering of coconut oil, or mix 2 tablespoons of sulphur powder into 1⁄2 cup of petroleum jelly and use it to coat the chicken’s legs and feet. Repeat every few days as needed. In the meantime, strip all bedding from the henhouse floor and spray walls, floor and perches with full-strength or lightly diluted vinegar; apple cider and white vinegars work equally well.
Quash Respiratory Distress
Sneezing, coughing and wheezing as well as watery eyes and nostrils are symptoms of serious disease that should be addressed without delay, as is head-shaking to dislodge nasal secretions. That said, it’s OK to ease these basic symptoms with a holistic home remedy, too.
- Prepare a steam inhalation treatment by adding several drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil to a quart of boiling water. Securely hold your chicken over the pot. Place a towel over her head, making sure, first, that the steam isn’t too hot. Hold her there for five to 10 minutes. Repeat as needed.
- Go the herbal route. Instead of using essen-tial oil, add 1 teaspoonful rosemary and 1 teaspoon of thyme (fresh or dried) to a quart of water, and bring it to a boil. Remove the pot from the stove, cover it and allow it to steep for five minutes. Then, as earlier, hold the covered chicken over the warm steaming pot for five to 10 minutes.
- Prepare a solution of 1 teaspoon of warm VetRx (a nonchemical commercial product containing Canada balsam, camphor, origanum oil and rosemary oil) in 1 cup of warm water, and drip it into the sick chicken’s nostrils. You can also rub warm, undiluted VetRx over her head and under her wings. If there are several sick chickens in your flock, spray them with warm VetRx solution when they roost at night. Also add a few drops of undiluted VetRx to their drinking water; it will float on the top and get on their nostrils and beaks whenever they drink.
- Crush and finely chop three cloves of garlic, and mix the garlic with a liberal dash of pure apple cider vinegar. Add this mixture to drinking water at the rate of 2 tablespoons of garlic to 1 gallon of water.
Help for Molting Hens
Chickens look and feel bedraggled when molting, and they don’t resume laying until it’s past, so it’s good to hurry the process along if you can.
- Add linseed meal or flax seeds to feed to boost protein levels, and add a large dose of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to chickens’ diet.
- Treat chickens to a daily handful of high-protein cat kibble. Yes, a friend’s veterinarian suggested this.
- Molt is a good time to boost your birds’ nutrition with dill or fennel: fresh herb, dried herb or seeds. Kelp, nettles, cleavers or garlic are great nutritive additives, too.
Ouch, Stop Picking!
When chickens start picking one another, they just don’t stop. A picked-on chicken can quickly be picked to death. It’s a difficult habit to break, but these remedies can help.
Remove badly picked chickens from the group. Cleanse their wounds, and coat the injuries with salve. Keep them in separate quarters until they heal.
If the target chickens can’t be kept separate from the rest of the flock, clean the wounds and then coat the injured areas with Stockholm tar, a high-grade pine tar available from farm-supply stores.
You can also spritz the area with a long-lasting, colored wound dressing such as Blu-Kote, which covers the red, raw areas that attract more picking and will not taste good to a pecking bird. Wear disposable gloves and old clothes if you use it; it’s terribly difficult to remove from skin and clothing.
Picking is often triggered by overcrowding and overcontainment. Cut back on your population, and try to get the rest outside for part of the day. Ensure remaining chickens are eating a balanced diet. Scatter whole grains or fresh herbs and greens on the floor to give them something constructive to pick at. Leafy alfalfa hay hung in a hay bag works well, too.
Prepare for emergencies in advance. Compile a chicken first-aid kit and know how to use it. Store everything in a tool kit, a day pack or book bag, or a small food-service bucket with a lid, so you can grab it and go when you need it. The basics include:
- blood-clotting medium
- cotton swabs
- gauze or nonstick pads
- latex gloves to protect your hands
- paper towels
- petroleum jelly, a thick herbal ointment or coconut oil to spread on legs and feet to suffocate scaly leg mites
- self-adhesive wrap in 2-inch and 4-inch widths
- spray-on wound dressing
- wound-cleaning solution
- wound-dressing ointment, antibiotic or holistic
Also gather materials to quickly assemble sick and injured chicken accommodations. It’s hard to beat a large-size, dog crate for sick chicken housing, with plastic or metal feed and water cups to clip inside the crate.
You’ll also need a bed sheet or lightweight blanket to drape over it to simulate darkness. Use old towels or blankets that can be easily washed for bedding, placing a 12-inch length of 4-by-4-inch atop the bedding for a perch. Some people also place a small heating pad under the towel or blanket bedding at one end, in case the invalid needs more heat. Store everything inside the crate until you need it.
These tricks are just the beginning. To collect more, join chicken forums and groups on Facebook and ask for tips. Then, start a home-remedy file on your computer or write them down in a notebook. Keep them on hand for when you need them — because you probably will.
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Chickens magazine.