I did an interview for Carhartt’s women’s clothing last year, centered mainly on why I wanted backyard chickens in Ferndale as well as the struggle around getting the ordinance changed. However, as we talked about keeping & raising chickens, I kept coming back to one topic that most people don’t think through often enough: what do you need to have on hand if your chickens get sick or injured?
I’m a negative, paranoid person who tends to think in terms of worst-case scenarios, and it’s served me well. In the few years that we’ve had chickens, I’ve run into several times when my negative outlook and adamant stance on keeping a first aid kit around has come in handy. Such misadventures include:
- When Bossy got a persistent yeast infection
- Little Girl’s mysteriously cut & bloody comb and wattles
- Little Girl’s slight case of being egg bound
- Bossy ripping her entire toenail off
- Multiple cases of extreme feather picking, to the point of hens being bloodied
- Multiple cases of broken/cracked beaks
- Chicks from TSC having a respiratory infection
- Hens overheating from 100+ degree humid days in summer
There was also the time Partridge got killed by a hawk- obviously there was nothing I could do by the time I found her, but the looming danger has ensured that I’ll always have bandages and a treatment plan in my head in the event that a hawk injures them without killing them.
Every time someone asks me what they should know before getting chickens, I tell them to put together a first aid kit. Here are my basic recommendations:
- Wazine: a wormer, for emergency purposes. Some people recommend worming twice per year, but chickens often develop a natural resistance to these pests- use this only if necessary after a fecal test.
- Tetracycline Hydrochloride: an general antibiotic for use primarily when you notice respiratory issues or ‘headcold-like’ symptoms
- Sav-a-chick Electrolytes: crucial for when weather gets very hot, or when dealing with an ill bird
- Flexible/vet wrap: get the kind that sticks to itself, for use in holding bandages in place if a bird gets injured
- Gauze pads: for injuries
- Wound wash: be sure to get one without pain relievers, as those are toxic to birds
- Activated charcoal: for symptoms of poisoning
- Providone Iodine ointment: a substitute for things like neosporin, for injuries–great antibacterial ointment
- Blu-Kote: germicidal fungicidal wound dressing. Crucial for a chicken kit- when chickens see red or blood associated with an injury, they will peck at it, and can turn cannibalistic if they’re not stopped. BluKote turns the wound area dark blue-purple, which immediately stops the other hens from picking at an injury.
- Rubbing alcohol: sterlizing
- Hydrogen peroxide: wound cleaning/debriding
- Styptic powder with no pain relievers: for staunching blood flow, but be sure it does not have pain relievers in there, as most that are used with dogs do
- NuStock: ointment used for burns and skin disorders, also can help prevent feather picking- just be aware that it stinks!
- Medical scissors: for cutting dressings and feathers around a wound site
- Epsom salts: for soaking when the hen is egg bound or needs a site cleaned
- Superglue: for repairing a broken beak (it does happen)
- Tweezers: for pulling splinters
- Nutrient drench: for sick hens to revitalize and regain energy
- Probiotics: for use after antibiotics
- Gloves: for when things get messy
- Book: The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, contains tons of information on disease, illness, and malnutrition including symptoms and treatment