Care Emergencies/Illness

How To Care For Your Chickens When You’re Ill Or Injured

I don’t often take sick days from work: 170 days in my sick bank is a testament to that. And even when I have been sick I’ve always been there to walk my dog and care for my chickens. Two years ago I tripped in the dark attempting to knock snow off the tarp above my chicken coop before I headed off to work. The result was a bloody cut on my head and a wrenched thumb. That injury required wearing a cast for a week, then a brace for the next five months. Despite the pain and the limited use of my hand I never took a day off feeding, watering and cleaning up after my birds.

Some folks get sick suddenly, while others are able to plan somewhat in advance. And some have families that are integral to the care of their flock and ease into taking over their chores. My partner is not a chicken person. She checks out the chicks, carries out fresh water if theirs is frozen and helps knock snow off the overhead netting. In an emergency, she’s been there to assist, not entirely happily, with chicken first aid. I’ve become a pro at dealing with bumblefoot and minor illnesses singlehandedly.

I belong to several Facebook chicken groups and read of member’s struggles to keep up with their chicken tasks when ill or injured. Worse still is when they are housebound or hospitalized and miss being with their flock.

I’ve had general good health all my life. The last time I was in hospital was more than 55 years ago when my tonsils were removed. I had a couple of stitches in my head when, as a toddler, I hit a radiator and cut my head open. All my bones are still intact. I’ve dodged a host of minor and major illnesses, including Covid. One of my claims to fame is that at the ripe old age of 60 I’ve never had a cavity. I can’t take credit for my good fortune. I hit the jackpot with the genes that carry oral bacteria that have protected my pearly whites. I lost out, on the other hand, with the bacteria that keeps gums healthy. It’s one or the other, apparently, but not both.

What that means is I was due for a small surgical procedure would take tissue from my palate and graft it on to my gums where it had receded. Sounds simple enough, and I’m sure my periodontist is skilled, but it still required the three Ss: sedation, scalpels and stitches.

Since I was able to plan for the procedure weeks in advance I kept in mind two things: dipping into my accrued sick leave from work to take the maximum time off possible and being prepared for dealing with my flock. Monday seemed like a good day to go under the knife. I work four days a week and that would allow me a full weekend to fill up their feeders, replenish their waterers and clean out the coop. I volunteer with the local food recovery program picking up the unsold produce from the grocery store and sorting it into people or animal food, and compost. I was advised to take it easy for three days following my surgery so I figured by the weekend I’d be fit enough to hoist a cooler load of totes into my car.

As the big day due nearer I beavered away getting chores done. In January my Shelter Logic frame in my back chicken pen collapsed under a heavy snow. I found replacement bits for free – it seems everyone has salvaged parts – and rebuilt it. The tarp over it was due for a change so a friend and I hauled that into place. Right before Christmas I had three cords of firewood delivered and had slowly been stacking it in the wood shed. I cleaned the house, not wanting to recuperate looking at dust bunnies and spider webs. Oral surgery requires eating liquid and soft foods, so I made sure to stock up of appetizing meals that didn’t resemble baby food.

My German-made automatic chicken door gasped its last breath, after seven years of reliable service, during a particularly bad cold snap. After some searching I opted for a Chicken Guard premium model and received it just in time. Despite poring over the instruction manual I still had to reprogram it the day after my surgery. If you’ve never had an auto door I highly recommend one; whether you’re under the weather or not it will save a lot of hassles. I couldn’t visualize stumbling out at the crack of dawn and then again at dusk dealing with their door and once I got the door calibrated properly I didn’t have to.

Another handy gadget I’d suggest is a trail cam. Mine is still in the box since I haven’t gotten around to installing it, so I can’t offer first hand advice, but it would allow folks to watch their coops from the comfort of home to monitor if things are going fine. There are even models that you can watch from your cell phone.

It occurred to me when writing this piece that if I was suddenly, unexpectedly incapacitated no one in my household would know how to care for my birds. I visualized my partner reading through my blog to figure out what to do. How many of you have written instructions about your flock’s care in the event of an emergency? Well, now might be the time to start making some notes just in case.

I’ve done a post on a checklist for chicken sitters; check that out here.

Some other helpful tips:

  • Ensure your flock doesn’t have internal (i.e. worms) or external (i.e. mites or lice) parasites – treat if necessary. An easy product to deal with your whole flock is Ivermectin, used topically.
  • Use large sized feed and water containers to reduce the frequency they’ll need to be refilled
  • Find a reliable helper who can clean the coop, collect eggs and report on any issues
  • If you have a chicken sitter provide them with clear, complete instructions
  • Provide a contact for online help
  • In particularly hot or cold weather make sure your flock is protected from drafts, frostbite, heat stress or dehydration
  • Ensure you have a Vet or someone who can deal with injuries or illness
  • Have your first aid kit well stocked in preparation for an emergency
  • Have a contact who can help with euthanasia

My surgery went well, better than anticipated from my perspective as I felt virtually no pain. The only side effect was an overwhelming need to sleep. Even with 10-12 hours sleep at night and a nap or two during the day I still managed to get out to see my birds a couple of times every day. Just as my convalescence was coming to an end I discovered that one of my hens, Nigella, had Vent Gleet so I had to bring her into the house for 11 days of treatment.

It’s a sick chicken keeper’s luck that one of my birds would need care when I was least able or prepared to deal with it. I soldiered on, and am happy to say that both Nigella and I are now on the mend. She hopes never to have to deal with that again, but I’m not so lucky. I’ve one more surgery scheduled for late summer and this time it’s two grafts done during a two hour procedure. So, again, I’ll be preparing for being down for the count for a bit, but at least I’ve had plenty of warning.

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Bitchin' Chickens

Everything You Need To Know About Small Flock Chickens & More

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