yet another injury. where can i learn to doctor my own chickens?


11 Years
Jul 24, 2011
Tampa Bay, Florida
This time, it was a nail in the coop door that tore out a bunch of neck feathers and made what appears to be a 2"-3" vertical skin tear on the right side of her neck. She also has what appears to be a pocket infection at the top of the tear. Altho it looks like it is a week old, i am really clueless on how to help. Vets are out of the question right now. I'd rather spend the $150 bux on some really good vet books that deal strictly with chickens and some supplies. Not that i am looking to become the county free/reduced $ ranch vet, but i don't know where to begin on what i need to learn. Has anyone else decided to learn how to stitch up and doctor their own birds? Since it looks like i will be doing this a while, it seems to make perfect sense that i simply learn what any good chicken vet knows, minus the millions of hours on any other species. I looked at vet school and it looks like 30 to 36 credit hours of everything else before they even discuss avian. i don't want to learn how to manage a vet practice, don't care about statistics, my english is good enough for the hens, i just want to learn how to fix THEM. I've looked at vet books and i don't know what i am looking for. i figure i need to learn some anatomy, how germs work and sterilization hows and whys, then infections, ect... it's just amazing how there is just SO MUCH one needs to know in order to address every situation. Right now, i just want to learn the proper way to clean and stitch up a wound and deal with an abcess.

Back to my poor hen.

last night i noticed a semi bare spot near the base of her neck. it was getting dark in the coop so i turned on the light for a better look. at first i thought it was another possum attack, grabbed her up and headed into the house. after looking more closely, the would was maybe a week old. feathers were all stuck into the wound. it looks like the skin split and tore with about an inch to inch and a half apart and has already started healing. the very thin membrane looks like it is still intact with little feathers all melded and stuck into it. at the very top is a bluish bulb of possible puss. last night i stuck a little tylan 50 into it and today it looked quite a bit bigger and darker. as soon as i get the pics out of the fone i'll attach them. I noticed a little patch of feathers last week in the back of the coop door and didn't think anything of it until today. it was a downward bent nail holding a lot more neck feathers then it looked from afar. so probably not a possum. i think she was pecking the ground, got up quick and got caught by this stupid nail. She was a real trooper while i tried in vain to clean the feathers out of the wound. Almost 2 hours of keeping a water/iodine soaked wash cloth on it and i was able to get very little of the feathers out of the mess. i was afraid to get too aggressive as i didn't want to tear the membrane. i don't have any suture material and didn't want to risk hurting the membrane so i stopped when she had enough, covered it with triple antibiotic ointment and brought her back to the roost. The biggest worry is the abcess right now. i have no idea what it is or even how it formed. I'm just stumped. i already lost 4 birds since feb and i really don't want to loose any more. She's a good gal.

Thanks for reading.
As a rule, stitches are best done within the first 4 hours or so of when the wound happens. After that, it is best to let them heal by what is called secondary intention, which simply means they heal from the outside in, forming scar tissue to cover the wound. This way you don't sew germs into the wound, making abscess formation more likely. Clean a really dirty wound the first time with dilute Betadine or dilute hydrogen peroxide. Don't keep using these products unless the wound is still dirty because they kill some of the new cells as well as germs. Pick foreign matter out of it with tweezers if necessary. Then use Neosporin or a similar antibiotic ointment once or twice a day til healed. They do better if indoors, to prevent dirt getting in the wound and flies laying their eggs in it. They also usually do better if isolated so the others won't pick at the wound. If outdoors, there is a product sold for horses that deters flies that should help. Sometimes isolating them with one companion works well. If an abscess forms, you will need to drain it with a sterile needle, but if you catch wounds early enough, you may be able to prevent this from happening.

You can basically use human meds and methods on wounds, with one exception. Never use a product that contains a "caine" drug, used for pain relief, such as benzocaine, cetacaine, etc. The reason is that chickens are extremely sensitive to these drugs and can actually die from ointment on a wound. In general, don't try to dress a chicken's wound.

You can always come here with questions if needed, of course! This website contains info on fractures, fowl pox, and all sorts of other things. Try the search function, or just make a thread and ask.

There may be one good book out there hat covers these things, but I'm sorry, I wouldn't know.
If you think there is an abscess, you may want to lance it, and take some gauze and squeeze out the drainage. Many times these will open and drain on their own. Whenever there is a dirty wound, it is best to not stitch it. Actually, keeping it open for two days with peroxide or weak betadine and a Q-Tip, and applying antibiotic ointment, may help prevent these abscesses. That doesn't work when you don't know it there, though.

It does sound like you may need to look around for other nails or possible problems so they won't get injured again. Chickens are the nosiest little creatures, and anything that can be knocked over, stepped on, eaten accidentally, or cut them must be removed. It's kind of like baby-proofing your coop and run, LOL.
On your broader question of learning to be self-sufficient with home vet care, I wonder if an avian vet would let you "intern" (for free) with them for a few months, so you could be exposed to enough of the common problems that you develop your own set of skills? I'm sure there are insurance/liability considerations for them, but I think I'd ask (assuming your personal work schedule allowed you to do that). Also, I wonder if a 4-H poultry club might be a place to learn, maybe if you're volunteering to help the group you would also get the side benefit of picking up the knowledge the kids are learning?

I often ask myself this same question. I've picked up a lot over the years about doing basic first aid stuff for dogs and horses just by hanging around barns and having animals long enough. But I'm pretty new to chickens- have had a small backyard flock for going on 3 years now. I don't have any kind of "poultry mentor" in my network and feel like I am often just making my best guess about what to do for my girls based on what I know about dogs and horses, and then whatever I pick up from internet sites like this one. It's certainly not perfect, but it's the best I can do.

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