We had high hopes for our dog, Pip. She is a large, mixed breed dog, and is well-behaved and sweet. She also has a real killer instinct when it comes to things coming into her yard (i.e.: rats, possums). So when we got our 18 baby chicks back in February, we’ve worked hard to acclimate her to these tiny things so that, when the time came to move them to the coop and chicken run, she would view them as her charges rather than her afternoon snack.
All went fairly well until about two weeks ago, when I went to go check on the chickens because we were having some really unbearable heat. Turns out I shouldn’t have been as worried about the heat. As I walked out to the coop, I saw one of the chickens outside the run, hovering around the coop door. Not unusual — the girls sometimes fly out, over the fence, then can’t quite figure out how to fly back in. So I prepared to have to run Minnie down, but instead, she came over to me immediately. And here’s what I saw:
I knew immediately that she’d played a game of tag with Pip and lost. Her tail feathers were all pulled out, as were some wing feathers, and she had some obvious puncture wounds on her back (above). I brought her in but didn’t quite know what to do. I called some friends (BIG thank you to Annie and Terri!) and posted a pic on a chicken group that I’m a part of on Facebook. Here’s what I did:
- My friend and neighbor, Terri, gently cleaned off Minnie’s back while I held her. Terri used some gentle liquid soap and a soft wash cloth.
- Minnie appeared to be fairly stunned. How do I know this? Usually the hens will let us hold them for maybe 5 minutes, some much less. Minnie snuggled up in my arms on the couch for 3 HOURS.
- We kept her inside at night only, in our little dog’s crate, so we could keep an eye on her.
- Every morning, we took her out to the coop. We kept the other hens in the chicken run with the trap door closed, so that Minnie and the girls could still be “together but separate.” Why? Because hens will go after a chicken that is hurt or appears weak, sometimes pecking them to death.
- We did this for 3 days, each day gently cleaning Minnie off and watching for any signs of infection.
- On the fourth day, we let Minnie mingle with the other girls while we kept a watchful eye on any bullying behavior. A couple of the other hens did chase her around and would try to peck at her backside where she was injured, but we shooed them away.
- 5th day — everyone is back to normal, no weird behavior at all.
Ten days later, Minnie’s tail feathers are now growing back. I’ve heard stories of pretty grisly dog attacks where the chicken’s skin is splayed open, and the chicken lived to squawk about it. Minnie’s injuries were not life-threatening, but ensuing infection could have been, so it’s really important to keep an eye on that. Don’t cover or bandage a dog bite — both doctors, vets and chicken-raising friends have all told me that dog bites are notorious for bacteria, so you don’t want to do anything to “hold it in.”
We were lucky that Pip didn’t have a Minnie snack that day, and that we have good friends who are knowledgeable about chickens and could guide us. Since that day, we have begun to put together a First Aid kit like this one from Backyard Chickens just in case — we live on a full acre that has a lot of potential predators, and we want to be prepared. If you have chickens, it really does pay to think through how you would handle a possible injury to one of your girls. Some people view their chickens are more of a means to an end (food), and might opt to cull that injured girl from the group — a valid option. We view ours as pets and wanted to do what we could (within reason) to save her. Whatever your view, it’s never a good idea to wait for an injury to happen before you figure out what your response would be. We weren’t fully prepared, but luckily, we had a happy ending.
I’m not a vet or even a chicken expert. I’m learning as I go, and any information you read here should not be a substitute for advice from a small animal vet or farm vet. I simply want to pass on what I’m learning and encourage you all to be responsible chicken owners — be prepared in case of a chicken emergency, know what your options are, and how you will respond!