Caring for Ailing Chickens

By Kelly Klober

Simple Poultry First Aid

Consider having a few of the more common first aid and medical treatments for your poultry. The following are from our playbook.


For scratches, cuts, tears and fighting injuries it is hard to beat a simple cleaning of the area and regular applications of Neosporin, Triple Antibiotic or other common wound ointment. Deep wounds can be a special problem, so clean them with hydrogen peroxide and then use a good ointment. These ointments seem to promote healing from the inside out.

Respiratory ills may appear after sudden cold snaps, in very damp weather, following transport, and may even be triggered by heat stress. They can be accompanied by nasal discharge, swelling of the face and around the eyes, gaping of the mouth, and gurgling breath sounds. In treating these symptoms an inexpensive product called VetRX has done a good job for us. We open the bird’s beak and send a few drops down its throat, apply a coat of it around the beak and eyes, and then drizzle a few drops to form a reinforcing film atop the bird’s drinking water.

There should be results seen in one to three days. We also apply Vicks or Mentholatum to the bird’s face and around the eyes being careful not to clog the nostril openings.

ill cockerel
Organic farmers need to be sure to check if products are certified organic before use.

Quickly launch support therapy with sugar and vitamin/electrolyte in the drinking water. Use cage covers to keep chilling drafts off of the birds. Old feed sacks can be stapled to cage fronts for this purpose and then be pulled down and burned for sanitary purposes when no longer needed.

There are a number of oral antibiotic products that can be mixed with drinking water. Their drawback is that most are created for large group treatment and must be used quickly after opening. Placing them in a sealable plastic bag and storing them in a refrigerator may prolong their shelf life a bit.

Do not change rations on an ailing bird.

Most have done an off-label use of a health product or even tried a human health product on a sick bird at one time or another. This cannot be recommended and all health product labels should be followed scrupulously. Especially note and follow all withdrawal recommendations. Some health products must not be used with birds producing table eggs.

Thoroughly clean and disinfect the isolation pen with a strong chlorine bleach solution between uses.

In no way can all of the ins-and-outs of detailed poultry health care be outlined here, but the following are some measures and practices that have worked for us.

Basic Poultry Health Care Tips

  • Have a pen or cage at least several hundred feet away from other birds in which to quarantine ill appearing or injured birds.
  • Care for them last each and every time you tend your birds. Remove any birds from the group at the earliest sign of problems. Others in the group may turn on them.
  • Applying supplemental heat will do much to make birds feel better. I’ve seen chilled chicks bounce back from a near flat state when their body heat is restored. Heat will help birds that aren’t eating well to maintain some condition.
  • Give birds full attention while working around them. Listen for sounds arising from respiratory ills, watch for unusual behavior like gaping, check for blood or injury, look for fecal irregularities, and be alert for anything that just doesn’t seem right.
  • Oral antibiotics and their use and storage were discussed earlier. There are also injectable products that can be used with chickens and homeopathic remedies. Yes, you can give a chicken an injection, generally in the breast muscle. Follow all instructions fully, store properly, fill syringes through a separate needle than the one used to give injections, and note that products in dark colored bottles are light sensitive.
  • Don’t wear chore clothes and footwear off the farm or around other birds and livestock or to areas where other producers may be encountered.

The birds that survive stressful times in the best condition, that grow well despite being a part of a late-hatch, that reach maturity with the least amount of tweaking are the birds from which producers should be breeding. Death is nature’s way of removing the poor performers from the flock before they can draw down the overall health and well being of the group.

It is our consensus that flock health is sometimes built by the subtraction process. Death loss can have a plus side. It is how Mother Nature manages her herds and flocks for improved vigor and the will to thrive.

Upon occasion some birds appear to come undone for no real reason. They go light, fall behind the group or just fail to thrive. Some even seem to defy medical and health treatments. Those given a treatment with antibiotics may need to rebuild the good flora in the gut with a probiotic product. Still, it must be accepted that some losses will occur and in the long run, some of those may be for the best in the endeavor to improve hardiness and durability in an heirloom breed flock.

There are no magic bullet health cures and part of your task as an heirloom breeder will be to become a discerning user of the products that come available. Do not invest heavily in anything until proven that it will really work in your pens. Run your own trials and do so only on very small numbers at first.

Source: Talking Chicken