Wonder of wonders! I walked outside yesterday to find a vole carcass on the sidewalk outside the front door. Mushu, our cat, has finally gone hunting. I am going to take full credit for motivating the cat. With the husband away and the boy closeted in his room, the cat is only getting fed twice a day because I am the only one around to listen to his lies. After two and a half years of working with animals who perpetually insist they are starving and who soon grow obese if you give into to their pathetic pleas for food, I have grown immune to their tricks. And let me tell you, the cat has tried everything in the last week to get me to fill his food bowl. He even tried sleeping with me, but with a chicken in the house, I have not slept well for the last few days. The dander has built up to critical mass and nighttime breathing has become nearly impossible for me. In my tossing and turning, I think I either kicked the cat or rolled over on top of him and he abandoned his attempt to dull my mind with his mere presence.
Speaking of the chicken, Thundermuffin got evicted yesterday. His wound has mostly healed. He’s completed his course of antibiotics and had his yogurt to reestablish bacteria in his gut. However, he was getting very rank. I didn’t want to bathe him because the wound is still not entirely healed and I didn’t think the stress of a blow dry was something he really needed. So I figured he would clean himself and I would be able to breathe again if he were returned to the flock.
For the record, the first thing he did when I put him out was to count his hens and herd them over to the morning scratch. The second thing he did was eat most of the morning scratch himself. The third thing he did was eat half the food I set out for the hens. Clearly food is more important than nookie for a rooster who is recovering from a coon attack. He’s fine. Despite my inexperienced, bumbling surgery. The Apriori Siver Gray Dorkings still have a future.
Which brings me back to surgery and first aid kits. I once spent way more money than I care to admit on a vet visit for a hamster. Never again. Not for low cost, low impact animals. Horses, cattle, sheep, etc, warrant veterinary care, by virtue of the investment you have in them and the income they produce. Working dogs get vet care too simply because you have so much time invested in training. But chickens, even rare breed varieties like Dorkings, don’t cost much to acquire and I simply cannot justify the cost veterinary care for them.
I do not mean to imply injured and sick chickens should just be put down. Their medical care must come from the farmer. Thundermuffin’s adventure brought several of my shortcomings into focus. First and foremost, a farmer should spend a little of his downtime learning some basic medical skills. Watch some videos online. Read up. Practice on the cuts of meats you prepare for dinner, if you like. Secondly, knowing how to suture, staple, or glue a wound means you know what items you’ll need in your first aid kit for such procedures. In my first two years of chicken keeping, I’ve also had to deal with force feeding, crop impactions and bone breaks (chickens do survive such things.) I haven’t yet met a prolapsed oviduct, or an internal egg break, but those things do happen. I can tell you right now, I haven’t the tools to deal with those. So below is what I would include in a chicken first aid kit and why. Please don’t rely on a pre-packaged first aid kit. Band-Aids aren’t much use on chickens.
Farm First Aid Kit – (Chicken focused, but can also be used to treat all livestock and pets, and in a pinch, your significant others.)
Vetericyn – This stuff is the first thing I go to for open wounds on all my animals. I’ve seen it completely heal up some serious abrasions my neighbor’s horses got the day they broke loose and fell in the road. It is essentially hypochlorous acid in a saline solution. Hypochlorous acid is the active ingredient in laundry bleach but the human body also makes the stuff. It’s a strong antimicrobial agent. Vetericyn is pricey, but don’t be tempted to substitute liquid bleach. The two products are very different. Vetericyn makes several products that packaged the same. Read the labels and get the Wound & Infection Care. $30 for 16 ounce spray bottle.
A broad spectrum oral antibiotic available from the local farm store – You may not believe in medicating your animals, particularly for an illness. You may, however, find yourself treating some nasty wounds on an important animal and you may want the antibiotic option. $5.49 for 6.4oz. Keep it in your fridge, read the label carefully and then prepare yourself to do some math. Label instructions are for mixing by the gallon, not by the cup. A cup of antibiotic mix per day is what you’ll need for a chicken. I’ve never had much luck getting my birds to drink the mix straight, so I now mix in 2 teaspoons of powdered Gatorade per cup.
Several sizes of syringes – I use these mostly for force feeding. Very small ones are for getting food (finely pureed baby food) into chickens. Large ones I use to shoot applesauce into the horses’ mouths so when the wormer or other paste medication comes at them they are used to the syringe and are more likely to swallow expensive medications. 1cc is good for chicks and hamsters, 3cc is a good for grown chickens. 35cc for horses. $5 will get you several of each size. You can find them sometimes at the farm store, but I rarely find the size I need. Order online.
Chlorhexidine – You can also buy this in gallon jugs at the local farm store. You dilute the concentrate way down. (Normally, 2 TBS to a gallon of water, but read the directions on your bottle, in case you pick up a differently concentrated solution.) When diluted, it is used for wound washing and was recommended over betadine/iodine type solutions by both my horse vet and the animal rescue lady we consulted when the rooster nearly got decapitated. It doesn’t sting like alcohol or peroxide. You can also use Vetericyn for wound washing, but it is sooo pricey compared to the $12.50 for 1 gallon of chlorhexidine concentrate.
Vet Wrap – this a self-adherent gauze-type roll bandage. I have not yet had call to use it, but it’s something you can use on the family if necessary and its willingness to stick to itself makes hunts for safety pins a thing of the past. $1.50 a roll.
Disposable gloves – you’ll really want these if you have to dig around in an open wound. The germs on your hands infecting such a wound notwithstanding, the combination of blood and animal fat very quickly makes your fingers sticky and detail work with small instruments gets difficult. You can get a 100 count box of these for under $10.
Super Glue – while wearing your disposable gloves, you can put a few drops of glue on the margins of a wound and then press the edges together. So much better and more effective than a Band-Aid. If your gloved fingers get stuck together, it’s no big deal. Price varies, but for under $6, you can get two 3 gram tubes.
Suturing kit – This consists of individually packaged pre-threaded, small, curved needles and a pair of hemostats (locking surgical pliers) with which you hold the needle, a pair of small forceps with which to hold the wound closed and a pair of scissors to cut the sutures. Needle and suturing material size varies from 00-10, with 10 being the smallest. From what I read, sizes 3-5 seem to be the size most applicable to external stitching. You’ll also want cutting edge needles. Tapered needs are used for small, internal suturing. Absorbable sutures do not need to be removed and generally produce more scarring than non-absorbables. Unless you are showing an animal and scarring would affect show potential, I would opt for the absorbable suture – one less procedure performed on an animal = less stress. Catgut lasts about 2-4 weeks and does not need to be removed. A box of 12 catgut sutures, stainless steel forceps, and a stainless steel hemostat (needle holder) costs about $30. You can also buy practice kits with outdated sutures with which to perfect your technique.
Hospital Pen – sized appropriately for the animals in your care. Medium size dog crates work well for housing a large breed chicken. I use a plastic dog kennel, but if I had it to do over again, I would probably use a wire crate, simply because my options for hanging food and water dishes are limited with the plastic kennel. Feed and water dishes must be anchored. Cost is about $40.
Heating Pad – Placed on top of a dog crate helps keep your patient warm. Covering the crate with a blanket keeps in the warmth and keeps patients in relative darkness which encourages them to rest. Get a heating pad without an automatic shut off feature. Under $20.
Stethoscope – for listening to heartbeats, breathing and in horses, digestive sounds. I don’t use them on chickens. Under $10, but it’s probably not going to be very comfortable in your ears.
Digital Thermometer – Under $7. I haven’t used thermometers on chickens, rather I use these for the horses. With chickens, you’ll know if they are feverish by feeling their comb.
Preparation H – Applied to hen bums when their oviduct has come out with the egg. The active ingredient in Preparation H is Phenylephrine HCL, which constricts blood vessels. Luckily for me, I haven’t had the need for this yet.
Bulb syringe or Turkey Baster – easier to work with and larger capacity than the syringes mentioned above. Useful for squirting liquids into wounds for cleaning. Under $5. Or you could just recycle a water bottle with a squirt top.
Most of these things I have acquired in the last two and half years. The suturing supplies, well, that’s my next acquisition. I have no experience in foaling or calving, castrating or dehorning, so my kit does not include materials for those procedures. This is simply a list of what I found works for me and what I would consider essential. I am not a vet. I am not a veterinary assistant. Normal life experiences constitute the sum of my medical training.
What’s in your first aid kit, and do you know how to use it?