Being prepared for the worst
The first thing most chicken owners will tell you when you ask about veterinary care, is that chicken vets are a long way away, and they are expensive. This reality leads most chicken owners to learn the basic steps for providing medical care for their birds.
As you might think, preventing illness and injury is really the first step. Fortunately this is fairly easy.
Check for anything sharp. This could be nails driven in too far while building the coop, or splinters from partially broken wood. If you’ve built your roosts yourself, make sure you lightly sand any corners so the birds don’t spend the night hanging on to an edge.
Put away any poisons or toxic substances you might use in your yard. Clean up nails, tacks, or other loose, sharp objects that the hens might swallow. They like to peck at shiny.
Prevent parasites. Keep your coop clean and use diatomaceous earth on the floor and in the nest boxes. When the girls have picked out their dust bathing spot, sprinkle DE over the dirt around that area. Some people mix it into their chickens’ food to help with internal parasites. The biggest caution here is to make sure you get animal or food grade DE. If you get it at a farm store it shouldn’t be a problem, but a home improvement store will also carry a type of diatomaceous earth that is used in pools. This is poisonous and will kill your chickens. Don’t use it.
Another parasite prevention option is dolomite lime. This is commonly used in gardens, and sprinkling it in your coop and pen will keep down parasites and help eliminate odor. If you free-range your birds, dolomite lime is great to spread around the yard as fertilizer; it will help your yard and it is an additional source of calcium for your chickens. Avoid the hydrated lime, also called quicklime. This has different chemical properties, and you risk harming your chickens. Some people make whitewash from quicklime to paint the insides of their coops. This seems to be ok, as long as the whitewash is dry before the birds come in contact with it. The choice is yours – just be careful.
Basic chicken repair kit
If something does happen, being prepared is always the best plan. There are some things you can start collecting to have ready in case of injury:
Pedialyte, or other electrolyte solution. Birds that are in shock from an attack will do better if they’re given a little bit of electrolyte solution. I add a splash to their water, and leave it for a couple days. Don’t give it full strength, and don’t leave it in the water as you can over treat with this. I sometimes add a little sugar with the electrolytes for a bit of an energy boost.
Vitamins without iron. Easiest is Poly-Vi-Sol (baby vitamins); it’s in a nice dropper bottle that can be added to their water. Again, good for shocked or injured birds to help them recover. If I have chicks that don’t seem to be doing as well as they should, I add a couple drops of this to their water for a few days. Again, don’t use this constantly, only for a few days.
Baby aspirin. Aspirin is the only analgesic you should use on your chickens. Baby aspirin is nice because it’s easy to crush and dissolve into a cup of water. For a bird in pain, I dissolve 1 baby aspirin into a cup of warm water, then try to get the chicken to drink a couple drops from an eyedropper. I then mix the rest of the cup with another cup of water and leave it in the waterer for the rest of the day. If she still seems in pain the next day, I wash out the waterer and repeat this. I’ve never given one of my chickens aspirin for more than three days as it does cause blood clotting problems.
Blue-Kote or gentian violet. Blue-Kote comes in a nice spray bottle that is easier to use; Gentian violet is usually in a dropper bottle and requires some creativity to apply. The purpose of these items are twofold; both to help prevent infection, and to keep the other chickens from pecking a wound. Use on a bird with surface injuries, visible blood, or someone getting picked on. The blue color and nasty taste helps convince other birds not to keep picking at an injured hen. I’ve used it on a baby turkey’s ears when the other chicks were continually picking at her (resulting in a cute, blue headed turkey for a few months) and on hens that are low in the pecking order to give them some relief from constant bullying. If your hen has been injured, spray the blue-Kote on the cleaned wound and any blood spots left on the feathers.
Antibiotic ointment without pain reliever. The “ ‘caines” are toxic to chickens, don’t use them. Keep a tube of antibiotic ointment for putting on wounds that are more than skin deep. Avoid applying to deep puncture wounds or other areas that might be able to trap bacteria. Since the ointment will pick up debris, I usually only apply I to birds that I’ve brought inside and have an old t-shirt as their bedding. You don’t want them wandering around with poop stuck to an open wound.
Povidone-iodine (Betadine). This is a topical antiseptic and should be used to wash wounds. Don’t use it full strength; rather squirt a little in to your wash water until it’s the color of weak tea. Gently use this solution to cleanse a wound prior to any other wound care.
Other things to consider. Gauze, needle and thread, antibiotics, anthelmintic. I’ve never wrapped a wounded chicken in gauze, and it seems like the kind of thing that would only work for very docile, or very wounded birds. Still, it’s not a bad thing to have around. Needle and thread if you think you might be inclined to stitch a wound closed. Again, this isn’t something I’ve done and I’m not sure I would. The risk of trapping bacteria into a closed area is very high, so you would probably put your bird on antibiotics if you decided to try this. You would also need to plan for quite a bit of indoor recovery time. Antibiotics and anthelmintics can be purchased at a feed store, and they do expire. I wouldn’t keep them in the repair kit, just purchase as needed. You'll need to stop eating the eggs produced by the bird on drugs, check the package to know how long you'll need to throw the eggs out.