At Red Gate Farm, we value every single life. We treat our animals with love, respect, appreciation, and stewardship. Even those designated to be our dinner one day are given the best life we can manage to ensure their health, happiness, and allow their instinctive behaviors. That being said, we are also a practical, frugal farm. From that perspective, everything must be designated a monetary value that helps determine it’s value to us. This helps in the rare times a medical situation arises. If a vet bill would cost more than that animal’s designated value, then we don’t call the vet. I either use home remedies, or we put the animal down humanely to eliminate suffering.
Recently, we were losing some of our chickens–both big layers and our smaller replacement pullets. Leftover feathers suggested they were being taken when they ducked under the fence to forage in the woods, and the dogs can’t protect them out there. One day, I walked into the barn to discover Iris, our livestock guardian dog, with a young pullet between her front paws. The pullet was just laying there, and looked as though it had been licked a few times, but as soon as I called Iris off, the pullet ran off and began acting like a normal chicken. Upon closer inspection, however, we discovered the skin covering the pullet’s entire breast was ripped completely open, leaving her crop and breast muscles totally exposed. There was no blood, and nothing hanging out. It was like a skilled surgeon had sliced open the skin from top to bottom, an incision about 3 inches long, gently peeled the skin back to each side, and there was the breast bone, muscles, and crop all sitting there, ready for the next step. It was completely bloodless. My first thought was that we were down another chicken, as there wasn’t much I could do for such an injury. Around our farm, as much as we like our animals, a chicken is valued at a maximum of $20 (what we sell good layers or meat birds for). Seeing as our vet charges almost $50 just for the farm call, we don’t call a vet for a chicken. Instead, I stood there watching this pullet for a bit, as she ran around the barn, pecking for food, drinking water, and acting completely normal. It didn’t look like she was suffering at all. I knew such a wound was wide open to infection (literally), so even if the injury didn’t kill her, the infection would. I also had trouble with the idea of dispatching her since she seemed fine otherwise. Then, I remembered some stories I had read years ago in the James Herriot (a British veterinarian) books about crude home treatments that had worked. I figured I had nothing to lose but a chicken, and it could be invaluable learning experience.
Now, mind you, I believe God blessed chickens (and a few other animals) with fewer pain receptors than humans. I’ve never read anything to support that, but chickens seem far more vulnerable to having a heart attack from fright than reacting from pain. I went into the house and got a sewing needle and some cotton thread (in the hopes cotton would be easily dissolvable by the body). I got some Scarlet-X antiseptic spray I always keep on hand for injuries to the larger animals. JR held the chicken, I cleaned all debris out of it’s open chest, sprayed the muscle with the antiseptic spray, pulled the skin together, and proceeded to sew it up. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take any pictures until after I was finished.
Amazingly, the pullet just layed there for the entire procedure–never struggling once. I thought sure she’d be dead by morning. Nonetheless, as a precaution, I sprayed a bit more antiseptic on her wound after I finished suturing, then turned her loose to run with the other chicks. Roughly 3 weeks later, the pullet is still foraging happily in our fields. Only the closest inspection, in just the right spot, will reveal any sign of what she went through.
I am still puzzled as to what transpired the day of her injury. Although Iris looked awfully guilty, she has never killed, or even played with one of our chickens before, and I know we were losing them to something in the woods. We have had one other episode where a full-size hen was attacked by something (again no marks, but lots of feathers on the ground indicating a struggle) outside the fence, ran back into the pasture, and died. All I can figure is one of two scenarios. Either Iris decided to play with the pullet, and possibly ripped the skin with her dew claw, or perhaps the pullet was attacked by something outside, ran back into the field, and Iris found it and was protecting it when I found her. I guess I’ll never know, but I can’t believe my home treatment actually seems to have worked so beautifully! I think I will be ordering real suture material if possible with my next supply order. You never know what might come up!