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 [email protected].