I’ve done 45 case studies, many of them collaborations with other chicken keepers. I have also featured some health issues in my series Avian Pathology Cases that have affected other poultry (e.g. duck, goose, turkey, quail and even a peacock), but I’ve never written a case study about a duck. And I’ve partnered with folks across North America but never an Australian. So here’s a first: a tale about a duck in Australia that survived life-threatening wounds inflicted by a predator, as recounted by her owner Rachel Jackson.
Whitey, 1 year old mostly Khaki Campbell Duck
I run a small flock of Khaki Campbell ducks with a splash of Indian Runner genetics. I had recently downsized my flock by twelve, leaving just five ducks. My four year old daughter named her favourites – Whitey and Brownie.
I awoke to the scene of a fox attack on my ducks just before the end of 2022. The pen had been fox proof for 15 years, so it was a shock. Over the next two days we discovered it was actually a trio of red fox cubs that had squeezed in the 2” gap where the gate swings. One drake was dead, and I found Brownie in deep shock with significant injuries to her shoulder and sternum. I focused my concern on her as the remaining three ducks were wandering around eating together. As I examined the dead drake – he was white – I found a big flap of skin with white feathers at the other end of the pen which I assumed was from him.
It wasn’t until I picked up Whitey and her feathers parted that I saw the extent of her injuries. That flap of skin had previously covered her throat. I could clearly see her trachea, esophagus and crop. The missing skin and flesh was so substantial that the two sides of the injury could not be pulled together for stitches, and they gaped open so you could see right along the inside of her neck to the muscles covering her vertebrae. My immediate thought was euthanasia. And yet, she seemed so normal: waddling around with the others, eating and drinking. If she had been flat or in shock I would have culled right then.
My regular vet was away but clinic staff were able to relay my message to another vet who was in surgery at the time. The message came back that I could administer 1ml intramuscular antibiotics (penicillin). I did so immediately, and also gave her 3ml of subcutaneous glucose (4 in 1 flopak). I gave glucose based on my experience looking after sheep and neonatal lambs because it contains base minerals and a boost of energy. They are designed to be administered subcutaneously to sheep and cattle and can buy you 24-48 hours to deal with the underlying issue.
In addition to these injections, I gave 150mg aspirin dissolved in 500ml of water, and refreshed that as she consumed it – approximately three to four times a day. I did this for Brownie as well.
I didn’t take photos of Brownie. Her left wing was partially ripped off at the shoulder and she had deep wounds to her sternum. It seemed that major organs and tendons had been avoided, so I was confident she could heal if I could get her over the shock. She was catatonic when I picked her up. As it had been raining, I gently dried and warmed her with a blowdryer, gave her a shot of penicillin and glucose then put her in a small dark box in my warm laundry for 24 hours. I resisted the temptation to peek and pester her. Thankfully when I finally cracked the box she was bright eyed again.
I sprayed Whitey’s wound with the antiseptic Chloromide (pink area). I wasn’t sure if I should spray exposed internal organs, but I was also thinking about all the germs in a fox bite and the risk of infection. Concerned about delayed shock, I put her a box next to Brownie in the laundry room and decided to take it hour by hour. That afternoon she was still doing well, so I decided that if I was going to give her a chance I needed to clean the wound. I washed it gently with Epsom salt water and trimmed the feathers. Once the ducks were bedded down for the night, I went hunting.
My husband and I have the appropriate licenses to shoot foxes. They are an introduced pest animal in Australia, which you must detroy – by law – where possible. We got all three: two on the first night and the third when it returned the following evening. We also did some renovations to the duck run; laying concrete to fill the small gap they had squeezed through.
Day 2: Gave another shot of 3ml glucose s/c and 1ml intramuscular anti-inflammatory
I coated the wound with raw honey and covered it with a feminine hygiene pad and held it together with self-adhesive vetwrap, which was changed twice daily. I kept her and Brownie who I treated in the same manner separated. They came in at night and went out to small pens on fresh grass daily. I noticed Whitey was reluctant to eat her usual pellets and wheat, so the fresh grass to nibble at all day was really important. It also allowed me to observe her demeanour. If at any point she lost her sassiness, it would have been time to cull.
Day 3: Gave 1ml penicillin. I wasn’t giving this daily as her poop was changing to green diarrhea, a sign that she had enough penicillin in her system. I didn’t want to overdose her and create problems in her gut.
Day 4: 1ml anti-inflamatory
Day 6: 1ml penicillin
Day 7: I started including a Bactigras dressing, a medicated paraffin mesh for human wounds, on top of the honey.
Day 8: 1 ml anti-inflammatory. This was the last shot I gave, although I continued to give aspirin in the water.
My regular vet was back and was able to look at the wound and agreed that stitching was never an option. She encouraged me to continue what I was doing and said the wound was looking good. I was also receiving encouragement from an online friend who had seen dramatic wounds heal. Their comments were really helpful as the wound began to change quickly, and every day I questioned if I was doing the right thing by Whitey. But she was sassing about the place as if nothing was wrong and began eating her usual food again.
Day 10: Stopped giving Aspirin (based on her willingness to eat hard feed again).
Day 18: At the vet’s suggestion, I removed the bandage. 12 hours later the wound had dried to a hard scab.
I began using a topical application of an antiseptic fly repellent, Septicide and did not rebandage the wound.
Day 21: The scab fell off. I was delighted to find that the fleshy structures had rebuilt just three weeks after having her throat ripped out. My vet and I both did the happy dance.
I thought she would have a big featherless scar, but was just happy that she was doing so well. I put her and Brownie (who was also recovering well) together to see how it went. I still kept them isolated from the rest of the flock, with no water for swimming yet.
Day 29: They did great together, and eight days after the scab fell off I was delighted to find the wound had shrunk to ¾”/19mm, was still shrinking, and new feathers were growing.
Four weeks after the initial attack, I integrated Whitey and Brownie back with the remaining two survivors. It was a happy reunion with lots of swimming. Whitey spent a long, long time happily splashing and preening. I expect that the wound will disappear completely in the coming days, her feathers will regrow and you’ll never know what she’s been through. She’s only a year old, so hopefully has another 10+ years ahead, for the sake of three weeks of intensive nursing. Four year old Brownie has also made a full recovery.
I asked Rachel about the cost of Whitey’s care and was a bit surprised at the total.
I had the meds on hand. The most expensive bit was the bandaging, I was going through a cohesive bandage twice daily. I experimented with crepe bandages, even neoprene wrist and ankle wraps, but cohesive bandage was the only thing that worked. I had a jar of raw honey on hand and one sheet of Bactigras lasted two bandage changes. I was using that on Brownie too, so lost track of exactly how many sheets, but each bandage change would have worked out to be:
- Bandage $6
- Bactigras $2
- Pad $0.5
- Honey $0.5
- Just Whitey: $9 twice a day for 18 days: $324 (Australian)!
- Plus a tube of Septicide $9.
- My BEAUTIFUL vet did not charge me for advice, but we have regular farm visits, so a little additional advice here and there is part of the service.
Thanks to Rachel for sharing her story and photos, used with permission. I also want to offer her my admiration regarding her dedication to save both Whitey and Brownie when many keepers wouldn’t have expended the effort.
Rachel Jackson lives in New South Wales, Australia where she and her husband raise Dorper sheep, llamas, horses, ponies, ducks and a dog on 400 acres. The area has a high population of venomous snakes (mostly Browns, Tigers, Copperheads and Red Bellies), and the ducks have been very effective in keeping them away from the house.
Amazing tale of great care! She’s not that far from my mate Mark McPherson in Adelaide
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m so glad both Whitey and Brownie are okay. I have a Khaki Campbell duck named Brownie as well she is the only Khaki Campbell I have. I have four Pekins along with her and she’s the boss of them all. Three boys and two girls and I know the numbers aren’t exactly ideal but we really don’t have any issues, and of course we have a couple of broody hens sitting on duck eggs as of now so we’ll have more duckies soon enough.
I agree many people would not put the effort forward it would take to heal such a tragic wound, but anybody that would make that effort for their animals is a decent human being, and I would thank you for doing what you did for your duck but I know you did it because you love her and you respect life. And like you said, if she had given up her fight you would have euthanized but as long as she was willing to try so were you. I cried reading this.
I had one Khaki Campbell duck that just never came home one day which is why I have only one now. I have a broody buffy sitting on an egg that belongs to my Brownie and is most likely fertilized by Lucky my head Drake. So I’ll have a duckling that will be a Khaki Campbell and Pekin cross. I’m wondering whether I’m going to have a large brown duck or a tiny white one. I guess we’ll see. I’ve only put the eggs underneath 3 days ago and I’m just now starting to see The telltale red spider lines coming out from the center of the yolk or there is a very distinct but faint circle of cells forming and growing. I could have never imagined when I was younger or not even 5 years ago really, that I would ever own chickens and ducks and become so hopelessly attached to them. Have had to nurse a few of my chickens back to health after an attack and it’s not easy but it’s totally worth it.