Dealing with Hurt Chickens

Chickens can get hurt in a number of ways. In some cases, the chicken will care for itself or its nest mates will help out. For example, it’s not uncommon for a chicken’s comb to get a little frostbite during colder than normal weather. The damaged part of the comb will eventually die off and the chickens nest mates will pick it off. The comb usually grows back all on its own (I’ve never seen it do otherwise, but have heard of situations where the chicken needs help). In some cases, you see blood on the other chickens, which is perfectly normal. They’ll clean themselves up. The best thing you can do is observe the chickens carefully, but maintain a hands off policy unless the chicken really does exhibit a need for help (you notice an odor, the flesh is off color, or the chicken behaves contrary to normal).

However, there are also situations where you need to be proactive in helping the chicken because it’s impossible for the chicken or its nest mates to do the job. For example, one of my hens recently laid an egg so large that it caused damage to the cioaca (essentially the chicken’s anus). The cioaca actually turns inside out during egg laying so that the egg doesn’t come in contact with the intestine or any fecal matter, but both eggs and fecal matter come out of the same hole. The damage caused bleeding, which brought the other hens, who pecked insistently. If the hens had been allowed to continue, the hurt hen would have eventually died.

I check all of my hens daily, but even so, by the time I understood what was going on, the hen had also developed an infection. In order to prevent problems in the coop and for the hen, you must have a hen-sized cage available. I recommend one about two square feet in size so that the hen can walk around a little, but not too much. Line the bottom of the cage with fresh hay every day to help keep things clean (hens are inherently dirty).

To combat the infection, it’s important to keep the hurt area clean. This means cleaning the area once or possibly twice daily using a product such as hydrogen peroxide. You can use the 3% hydrogen peroxide commonly available from your drug store, but I’ve found that a 12% solution is far more effective. You must use it with care because a little goes a long way. In addition, make absolutely certain you get food grade hydrogen peroxide or you risk killing the chicken. Gently wipe the area after cleaning with a clean cloth (a soft paper towel works well). Discard the cloth afterward—you really don’t want to reuse it. You’ll need to hold your chicken firmly, but gently during this process.

Cleaning is a good first step. To help the area heal faster, apply triple antibiotic cream. Don’t even think about trying to bandage the area. All you’ll end up doing is frustrating both you and the chicken. Leaving the area open will generally help it heal faster.

Check your chicken several times a day. Make sure you keep things as clean as is possible, but otherwise let the chicken rest. Depending on the kind of injury, your chicken may spend a lot of time standing—this act is perfectly normal. Hens won’t lay any eggs when they’re hurt due to stress. Chickens generally won’t talk to you either. In fact, you know that they’re starting to feel better when they do start talking to you again.

If you find that your chicken is pecking at the wound, it often means you need to look closer. In many cases, a chicken will peck when an abscess develops. When this happens, you must carefully pop the abscess so it can drain. Use alcohol to clean the area first and make sure you use alcohol to clean both your hands and any instruments you use. Focus on keeping things open and clean.

Your chicken may not want to eat or drink at first. This is also perfectly normal. However, make sure the chicken has fresh water available. In addition, you can provide other sorts of high protein treats to encourage eating and drinking. For example, most chickens love milk, which contains protein and vitamins that will help the chicken heal faster. In addition, you can get the chicken meal worms, which are easier for it to digest and are considered a delicacy by chickens too.

The most important thing to remember is that you must wait until the chicken is completely healed before returning it to the coop. The other chickens will treat it as a new arrival and the usual hectic activity will occur while everyone decides on a new pecking order. Let me know your thoughts on helping hurt chickens at


Using a Bleach Substitute

I have become a label commando in recent years. People actually become quite disturbed waiting for me to finish my latest epic reading of a cleaning product or food label. I read everything, including the list of ingredients when I can find one. More importantly, I look for what’s missing on the label. For example, I’m surprised at how many margarine labels refuse to tell me that they don’t contain any cholesterol. Lest you think this is one of those odd fetish requirements—some fish oil tablets actually contain cholesterol. We pay the extra to buy a product that’s labeled cholesterol free (and yes, it does make a difference when the doctor tests your cholesterol).

So I was taken by surprise recently when I read a bleach label. The stuff should be labeled toxic waste and left go at that. The label told me about the dire consequences of using the product, such as permanent damage to my esophagus. Bleach is also a terrible product to use in a house with a septic system because it kills off all of the helpful bacteria in the septic tank and causes the waste to just sit there (possibly flooding your house with a really smelly mess). However, the part about not putting the empty container in the trash or in the recycle bin is what got me most. Just where was I supposed to dispose of the container? It turns out that you’re supposed to take it to a hazardous waste disposal site. A product labeled hazardous waste has no place in my house. (Just consider the fact that many of the foods you buy in the store have been soaked in bleach and you don’t have to think very long about why your food is making you sick.)

Of course, country homes require some means of keeping things clean and getting rid of bacteria, just like anyone else does. It turns out that there is a really good solution and it actually works better than bleach. Most importantly, this solution is pretty much harmless to everyone and everything. You fill up two bottles: one with vinegar and another with hydrogen peroxide. Spray a surface first with the vinegar and second with the hydrogen peroxide and you create a really effective cleaning agent called peracetic acid. The point is to keep the two components separate until you actually need to use them in order to gain a highly effective cleaner that’s a whole lot less harmful than bleach.

What impressed me most is that the combination actually works well on carpets as a stain remover. It’s also much more effective than bleach at getting bathroom grout clean and it works especially well on surfaces with small crevices. Some people do mix the two and add water for use in laundry, but keeping the two chemicals separate is the best way to avoid the potentially toxic qualities of the peracetic acid. As with any cleaner, you do want to use this one with care, but it’s frankly a lot better than using bleach. Let me know your thoughts about this interesting cleaning aid at