### Warning – Some of these images might be disturbing ###
Injuries in your flock are always a tough thing. It seems like you’re never really sure just how bad the bird might be feeling. This can cause you to be anxious – and for the record, I don’t like being anxious.
But at the same time, you know that a vet bill can cost significantly more than the original purchase price of the entire flock. This leaves you asking yourself, ‘Can I really justify a vet bill for an animal I purchased to eat?’ Of course, asking this question leaves me feeling guilty and cheap.
I can tell you that my grandparents generation was a lot better at dealing with this kind of situation than I am. Between a depression and some pretty big wars, my grandparents had a lot tougher sense of self than today’s ‘participation award’ group.
Fortunately though, for both the ‘tough’ and ‘feel good’ crowds, chickens are remarkably resilient creatures that, if cared for properly, can heal surprisingly quick.
There is a host of home remedies out there for the countless ways your birds can find themselves injured. And I can totally relate to those who don’t want to let go of their long-time egg laying friend.
But there are times that it is feasible and unfortunately, times where it is not. Each situation will be unique. A word of caution though. Don’t be too quick to assume the worst. Sometimes things can seem quite dire and the birds will completely surprise you.
So take heart. With a little bit of basic care and luck, your chicken could be back to scratching and pecking before you know it – even if the situation seems dire.
Personal Experience: Chicken Toes And A Weasel
Late this spring, we purchased a batch of 15 chicks – dual purpose birds; meaning capable of laying eggs, as well as, being meaty enough for the freezer. One of the chicks didn’t make it (sadly, that happens from time to time), but the other 14 were healthy and grew quickly.
Over the next five weeks, all of the remaining chicks had demonstrated a response to the treat call, and with the outdoor temperatures being suitable, I decided to move the flock outdoors to the chicken tractor.
Inside of this mobile chicken pen, was a small coop (chicken house) where the birds would spend their nights locked away from predators. This coop had served me well for a couple of years, so I felt pretty good about the situation.
However, on the fourth morning of my chicks being in their new home, I opened the door of this coop and immediately recognized that I had a problem.
Instead of everyone running around excitedly, some of the birds would take a step or two and then promptly sit down. This is not the behavior of healthy chicks.
As I stood there watching, a sick feeling in my stomach began to grow. All of these chicks were either sitting, limping or standing on one foot.
Officially freaked out, I began grabbing a few of the chicks and picking them up to get a good look at their feet.
SOMETHING had chewed off toes!
This was a real problem.
Not really knowing the severity of things, I ran back into the garage and filled the recently vacated brooder with clean pine shavings. Adding some fresh water and feed, I returned to the injured birds and gathered them up.
After putting the chicks into the garage brooder – where I KNEW they would be safe – I turned off the garage light and let them rest. (Chickens go quiet when it’s dark, and I felt rest would be best for them.)
Twenty four hours later, I returned to do a more thorough inspection. Some of the birds seemed a lot less lethargic, which was really encouraging. However, some of my chicks looked really rough – their feet being severely mangled.Of the 14 chicks, 12 had lost toes – with some losing multiple toes!
There was no way I could afford a vet bill for 12 chicks. But at the same time I didn’t like seeing them suffer. This left me with only my worrying. Would these wounds eventually get infected? Is there a risk for a disease? Am I going to loose all of my birds?
So what do I do…and while I’m figuring that out, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!
Personal Experience: Chicken Wire Vs Weasels
Frustrated, I went back out to the chicken tractor where the incident had occurred and began looking things over. There were no visible holes or gaps in the chicken wire, leaving me to believe that whatever had gotten in, had to be small enough to get through the 1 inch spacing of the actual chicken wire.
That means either a weasel or rats. Either one of these predators would happily kill a chick.
But why only the toes?
Well…because of how I had made the coop!
The walls and the ceiling of the coop are made of wood. There are two locks on the lid – for redundancy – and the floor is made of hardware cloth, with half inch spacing. Technically speaking, nothing did get in to the coop. The problem came from the chicks not being on a roosting bar.
With the chicks sitting on the floor of the coop, their toes could slip through the very small gaps in the hardware cloth. And with the weasel being small enough to get through the chicken wire, it simply found a way underneath the coop where it scurried back and forth biting at anything that was hanging down.
It’s worth noting that there was 1 to 2 inches of pine shavings in the coop, so I really am surprised that the chicks toes were exposed. But obviously, they were.
Personal Experience: Chicks Recovery
After three days recovering in the garage brooder, I selected the chicks that seemed most active and returned them to the chicken tractor – the hardware cloth flooring now covered with a solid board.
These birds were clearly pleased to be outdoors again and so I had a sense of optimism about them.
Waiting another twenty four hours, I noticed that a couple of the remaining injured chicks were moving about quite well, so I allowed them to join their sisters in the chicken tractor. This left five birds that were still quite injured.
Over the next few days, I spent a fair amount of time observing these maimed chicks and wondering about their future. The suggestion was made to put them down as it was clearly difficult and painful for them to walk around. But I felt, that as long as the birds were eating and drinking with no signs of infection, then I would give them a chance and see how things turned out.
I am happy to say that all twelve chicks made a full recovery – despite the lack of any medical intervention.
Gimpy, the chicken belonging to the mangled foot shown above, had a long string of sorts that wouldn’t fall off. She would peck at it, but wouldn’t pull on it, so I knew it still hurt. For her, I cut that string off, after which she recovered even faster. But other than Gimpy’s painful string, I did nothing. All I did was provide them a clean, quiet place to recover and these chickens did the rest all by themselves.
A chicken’s resilience is absolutely amazing! Despite the trauma of their injuries, I can tell you that all of the chickens have adapted to the situation and show no signs of being handicapped.
As I write this, they are free-ranging happily about in the backyard, scratching under the pines for anything that might be hiding underfoot.
My purpose with writing this article is not dissuade you from visiting the vet, but to encourage you to give the injured bird a chance. Things can look really bad, but so long as chickens are eating and drinking, then there is hope.
I’m certain that there are host of viable home remedies that I could have employed. But my personal preference is to observe diligently…albeit, from the sidelines. Had one of my chicks showed signs of infection, I would have acted differently. But so long as they were still eating and drinking, I forced myself to let them deal with things on their own.
That being said, everyone is different. If you are the type of person who feels better when ‘helping things along’, then by all means, please do so. No one knows your flock better than you.
FYI, chicken forums are a treasure trove of information. The help I have gotten online has been absolutely incredible. I highly recommend joining one, no matter what size your flock is.
So to reiterate, chickens are incredibly resilient. If you have an injured bird, don’t immediately give up. With clean bedding, water/food and a safe place to recover, it might just surprise you what these amazing birds can recover from.