Tar and particular types of clay have been used in the treatment of wounds for many years.
In the days of wooden sailing ships during a sea battle a shrapnel injury, or a limb removed by flying debris sometimes got cauterised with a burning taper and had tar slapped over the wound to seal it. Surprisingly many sailors lived to tell the tale if the shock or subsequent infection didn’t kill them. Tar in various forms is still used today to seal wounds in livestock and mud is still used in places where modern medicines aren’t available.
I’ve used two types of tar here, one that I sometimes get from our sheep vet which has antibiotic properties and Stockholm Hoof Tar. I’m only going to deal with Stockholm Hoof Tar (SHT) in this article, mainly because it’s widely available.
Chickens in my experience are extremely hardy creatures. I get very few sick chickens here but I get a lot of injured chickens. The majority of these injuries are caused by attacks from predators; there are a lot of those here to.
In my experience what kills chickens is shock, and later, infection assuming they survive the initial attack.
A wound on a chickens body poses one particular problem that isn’t applicable to say a wound on a human. This problem is feathers. You can’t effectively cover a cut on a chickens body with a sticking plaster, or a bandage. Even if you can get a bandage to cover a wound the likelihood is the chicken will peck at it, as may their flock mates and should the chicken be unconfined, the bandage is likely to be ripped away when the chicken dives through some bush, or decides a dust bath is in order. Bandages get damp and they get dirty and apart from the work involved in changing the bandage on a regular basis and re-cleaning the wound, you have to catch the chicken if it’s not confined. The constant handling, cleaning, re-applying of a bandage causes stress for the chicken and given the time involved for the keeper, may get overlooked on a busy day and that one day of missed attention may be enough for an infection to take hold.
The most important thing about SHT is it will seal the wound! This solves what is usually the most difficult problem of a wound on a chicken. If you can seal it then the chances of recovery are vastly improved.
I have a wonderful vet here called Gloria who specialise in fowl care and has helped me take care of the chickens here over many years. She thinks I’m mad; people don’t take chickens to vets here. Gloria says the best way to get chickens back to full health is for the chicken to mix with other chickens. In my experience this has been very good advice. Gloria also says chickens know the difference between an injured chicken and a sick chicken and while sick chickens are often attacked or driven away from the flock, presumably because the flock doesn’t want to catch the sickness, chickens are surprisingly tolerant of another injured individual. This has also been my experience. You can believe the second part, or not, as you wish.
For me the great advantage of SHT is you apply it once and the chicken can rejoin the other chickens much more quickly. You don’t have to keep stressing the chicken with repeated handling and you don’t get stressed because you have one more task that needs doing each day.
There are a few things you need to be prepared for; SHT is very messy to use; it gets everywhere and it sticks like shit to a blanket.
I have in the past tried wearing latex gloves when using SHT and finally gave up on them and just accepted that I was going to get mucky. The fingers of the gloves get stuck together, the gloves get stuck to the chicken, you end up with some of the glove fingers half pulled off and the whole business becomes frustrating. Use bare hands.
Open the tin and scoop a large blob of SHT into another container. If you try taking it from the original tin while you work you will end up with bits of feather etc. in the tin.
Clean the wound. There are lots of products on the market for cleaning wounds. One of the best I have found that is readily available is mouth wash with Chlorhexidine. Most pharmacies will have it. It’s cheap and it works better than Hydrogen Peroxide because it doesn’t cauterise the tiny blood vessels that need to be open to promote skin/flesh regrowth.
Let the wound dry. You want the SHT to stick and moisture makes this more difficult.
Apply SHT liberally to the wound making absolutely sure you cover all the damaged tissue.
Proper coverage is important. Apply lots, so you have a large black sticky blob. Do not try to make a neat, smooth thin film.
Once the SHT has been applied it will form a skin. It is usually touch dry within a few hours. Over time this skin hardens from the outside inwards adding protection to the wound.
I try to stand the chicken on a table when I attend to injuries. Chickens don’t like being restrained and holding them upside down can be dangerous for the chicken. I also have a leather head pouch which I sometimes use to cover the chickens head with. If they can’t see they tend to be a lot calmer. Failing the above hold them on your lap lying on their side.
For deep flesh wounds it’s a matter of packing the wound with SHT.
For joining skin that might otherwise require stitching I’ve found the following works well.
Cut the feathers all around the wound about an inch from the wound leaving a stubble less than a quarter of an inch long. Pull the skin together if there is enough and apply a layer of SHT to the wound and the area where you have trimmed the feathers.
Next cut a piece of medical gauze large enough to cover the wound and the area of trimmed feathers and press the gauze on to the area around the wound. The aim is to get the feather stubble to stick to the gauze. Apply a further coat of SHT to caver the gauze and wound and once again press gently around the wound so the gauze is fully embedded in the SHT. Leave this to dry.
Wounds under a chickens wing can be more of a problem. I’ve found that a large piece of baking paper taped to the chickens body, or the wing, depending on the location of the wound, will help stop the wing and body sticking together. Sometimes it may be necessary to bandage the entire wing to the body for a few hours with the baking paper in place while the SHT forms a skin.
SHT can also be use for helping to position leg splints. I’ve yet to try this but I’ve seen it done.
There are places you should not use SHT:
around the eyes,
around the beak,
around the ears,
around the vent,
around the preen gland at the base of the chickens upper back.
You can use it on the comb and wattles but make sure there are no blobs hanging off.
I’ve used SHT for:
ripped skin sections,
deep flesh wounds,
wounds in combs,
spurs broken off at the leg,
wounds cause by leg ringing
wounds in the foot pads
and on the splits I get in the ends of my fingers during the winter.
What SHT won’t do is replace vet care, painkilling drugs and antibiotics all of which may be needed for some wounds. It will if used correctly, seal the wound and in many cases this is enough to give the chicken a chance to repair itself and allow that chicken to rejoin the flock much earlier than by using many other methods.
For many people the option of vet care isn’t realistic. For some the expense to too great, for others there are no vets that will treat chickens locally.
I keep very few drugs for chickens here but I always have mouth wash with Chlorhexidine, Coccivex for Coccidia and Stockholm Hoof Tar.
SHT had saved more chickens here than I care to dwell on and as I type this there are two running around with their tribe, eating and drinking with the rest who have fairly serious wounds that in many cases would have meant days of incarceration and hours spent cleaning and caring.