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Good Thing You Had Another Basket To Put Your Eggs In

, , , , , , , | Healthy | November 27, 2021

We keep backyard chickens. One day, we find that our hen Emma has been savagely attacked — we believe by a raccoon — as she was brooding on her nest. Emma is a big chicken; she probably got the injury because she stood her ground and fought the raccoon rather than letting it have her eggs. And since two small Silkie hens have disappeared, presumed dead, we credit Emma with saving the lives of the other two hens that are still safe.

We take our war hero to a vet that we use a lot, not because we like them, but because they are close by, open twenty-four hours, and treat birds. Emma is indignant and unhappy and obviously in a lot of pain, but she is feisty and pretty energetic for a hen with a giant piece of flesh torn out of her backside.

Immediately, I start to see red flags. They warn me that Emma might have to be put down because, if she was bitten by a raccoon, she might have rabies. Chickens get rabies so rarely, I don’t believe it’s ever happened in the US; the CDC claims chickens can’t get it. Because they don’t have saliva, they can’t transmit it if they do get it. Then, they tell me that there is nothing they can do. They can’t stitch her up. They strongly recommend that we put her down because chickens don’t survive injuries like this. They tell me she is “dumpy” — meaning withdrawn and low energy, seen in dying birds but also in ones that are just in a lot of pain — and that she cannot recover from this.

I have seen many chickens die. Emma does not strike me as a dying chicken. My husband and I agree that we cannot leave Emma with this vet. They’re quoting me $1,400 for an overnight stay, which is bad enough, but they’re recommending euthanasia so strongly that they make me sign paperwork saying that I am refusing the recommended treatment against medical advice. We both feel that if the vet there feels so strongly in favor of euthanasia, Emma will not survive the night.

There’s another vet that takes birds forty-five minutes away from my house and they’re not open twenty-four-seven. I demand my bird back. She has had no treatment aside from her wound being washed. They give me antibiotics and painkillers to give her but they have not given her anything for pain or wound treatment themselves. And by the time they finally hand her over, it’s fifty minutes until the other vet closes.

I drive like a bat out of h*** to the other vet and show up minutes before closing. They check her in and take her back immediately for wound care and painkillers. After about half an hour, the vet comes to see me. He wants to do surgery on her in the morning. He says that chickens are one of the toughest birds out there and he’s seen chickens live through worse. And the cost of surgery and an overnight stay is going to be like $350.

Emma has a long and tedious recovery, penned in our house because other chickens will attack a bloody wound. We have to give her antibiotics and painkillers by hand for twenty days, and she has to go back three times for dressing changes and once for an additional surgery, but for a sum total of around $600, I end up with a healthy if cranky chicken whose feathers have grown back so you can’t even see her wound, who is still laying eggs despite the injury to her butt, and who is once again Top Bird in the pecking order around here.

I’m never taking a bird to the first vet again if I can help it.

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