If you keep chickens in your yard, it’s very wise to have a first aid kit on hand. You’ll want to be able to handle the basics yourself so you don’t have to call the veterinarian whenever something goes wrong. We keep the following items in our kit:
- Disposable Gloves
- Wash Cloths
- Nail clippers (cat clippers for nails, dog clippers for spurs)
- Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline)
- Oral syringes
- Blu-Kote Spray
- Pick-No-More Lotion
- Pinless Peepers
Here are some situations where basic first aid skills and a kit come in handy:
It is common for chickens to peck each other to assert dominance. Sometimes, someone will peck a little too hard and create an open wound. The usual targets for such pecking are the comb and wattles. Broken toenails or pulled feathers are also common sources of bleeding. Chickens are attracted to the site of blood and can mercilessly peck the area if left unattended (see “Cannibalism” below). Therefore, it’s very important to look over your flock daily to check for open wounds. For broken nails, we hold pressure on the break with a wash cloth until the bleeding slows then dip it in a coagulant such as styptic powder, flour, or corn starch. For minor wounds on the skin, comb, wattles, or feather shafts, we spray with Blu-Kote. Blu-Kote is an antiseptic spray that does two things: it prevents infection and contains a blue dye that masks blood, preventing any further pecking. We recommend using it with gloves since it stains and takes a few days for the overspray to come off of your skin. If any wounds look infected, we clean the area with Betadine first then apply Blu-Kote. Frequently check on any wounds you have treated. Several applications of Blu-Kote may be necessary before the area heals.
To reduce the occurrence of open wounds, give your chickens as much open space as possible. Toys which keep them preoccupied also help tremendously. When chickens are bored or confined to small spaces, they become stressed and pick on each other. It’s also important to keep toenails and spurs trimmed. Long nails are more likely to break and spurs can accidentally wound hens.
One of the first signs of cannibalism is feather picking which often causes a bald spot and exposes the skin. If a feather shaft or the skin bleeds, chickens will start to pick/tear at and possibly eat flesh, resulting in cannibalism. This occurs most often if they are confined to a small space, but it can occur in free ranging chickens as well. It is important to observe your birds as they interact, watching for feather picking. This is a serious behavioral issue and escalates quickly. In a short span of time, one offender can teach feather picking to the others, and the behavior spreads throughout the flock. Look over their bodies for any bald spots, and if you find any, spray the exposed skin with Blu-Kote. If it’s a large area, apply Pick-No-More Lotion. This lotion has a horrible taste and deters the chickens from pecking, often stopping the behavior. It may be necessary to apply this several times until the feathers have grown back.
Cannibalism can also take the form of vent pecking. Unfortunately, this happened to us when our hens were about a year old. Our hen Helen would incessantly peck the others’ vents, making several of them bleed. Blu-Kote and Pick-No-More did not stop her obsessive habit, and one day, she severely wounded another hen. As a last resort, we put Pinless Peepers on her. Peepers are a plastic device that look like chicken sunglasses. They attach into the nostrils, effectively blinding the bird from seeing straight ahead. Since the chicken can only see up, down, and to the sides, they cannot target an object to peck (though they are still able to eat and navigate). As soon as we put them on Helen, the behavior stopped, allowing our other chickens to heal. After a few weeks, we removed her naughty sunglasses and the behavior has not returned.
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection that can develop in the feet. It often develops after an untreated cut becomes infected by bacteria. If the infection is not treated, it can cause death. Frequently inspect your chickens’ feet for any signs of bumblefoot. Carefully look over the entire foot (especially the bottom) for black or brown scabs along with redness and swelling. We have never found bumble on any of our chickens so far, but we continue to inspect their feet on a regular basis. The infection often requires surgery and antibiotics. Some people do this themselves at home (warning: graphic content), while others consult a veterinarian.
Scaly Leg Mites
Monitor your chickens’ legs and feet weekly for any signs of scaly leg mites. These mites live underneath the scales and irritate the skin. One of the first signs of mite trouble is the scales on the legs and feet will start to pop upward (normally they are flush with the leg). When this happens, you can suffocate the mites by applying vegetable oil or Vaseline to the affected site. This should be done once or twice per week until the scales return to normal, which may take a couple months. If left untreated, the legs will develop thick scabs that are painful and can lead to crippling deformities. If you have a severe case, it should be treated by a veterinarian.
Crop impaction can occur if a chicken consumes a lot of material that is hard to digest such as straw/hay or long pieces of grass. If you have a chicken with watery stool or liquid vomit then their crop should be inspected, especially in the morning. It’s normal to have a full crop at night, but it should be empty in the morning. If it feels like there is a hard mass in their crop then it is likely impacted. To treat this condition, we fill an oral syringe with 1 mL of vegetable oil and squirt it on the chicken’s tongue so they drink it. We then massage the crop to try to break up the impaction. This process should be done 3 to 4 times throughout the day. During treatment, the chicken should be kept away from any material that may have caused the impaction. The crop should be empty by the next morning. If treatment does not work, a veterinarian should be consulted.
This is an uncommon problem, but it can be life threatening if it occurs. A hen may be egg bound if her back is hunched up and it looks like she is straining, as if she is trying to lay an egg. She will look very uncomfortable, act lethargic, and won’t feel like eating or drinking. As soon as symptoms are identified, treatment needs to start immediately since it can be fatal. The egg bound hen should be isolated from the other chickens and soaked in a hot water bath for thirty minutes. Only her belly and vent area should be submerged. After she is dried off, the vent should be inspected. You can feel under her vent for the position of the egg, but not too hard as this may break the shell. If the egg does break inside of her, this greatly increases the chance of infection. Lubrication may help the egg pass, and you can gently squirt some vegetable oil inside her vent with a syringe. She should be placed in a warm, dark and quiet place to try and pass the egg. You can repeat these steps in a few hours if she has not laid the egg. If your attempts are unsuccessful, then she should be taken to a veterinarian.