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Semi-impaled chicken

 
Posts: 14
Location: Craigie, Western Australia, Australia
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Hi :)

I seem to have a chicken that has managed to almost impale herself on a large-ish twig. It seems to have been in there for a few days before I noticed - the skin seems to have grown around it (I tried pulling on it a bit, but it didn't come out even a little). It seems to be just under the skin, rather than deep into her abdomen - one can see the outline of the twig clearly. She doesn't seem bothered by it at all - she's as frisky as ever.
Given that it seems to have healed around the wound, pulling it out isn't an option (it'll rip her skin badly and she'll definitely bleed to death). I'm wondering if I should try to cut around it, and pull it out, risking the bleed-to-death option, or (if it goes well in that regard), risking infection as a large patch of skin will surely be missing (and even multiple salt baths a day will be difficult - she resents being picked up at the best of times).

Has anyone else experienced anything like this? Any suggestions if this were one of your chickens? (Kept for eggs, gardening skill and company, so killing for food not an option unless it's the kindest action to take).

Thank you in advance!
Aula
Pickle-the-chicken-s-creative-injury.jpg
Pickle the chicken's creative injury
Pickle the chicken's creative injury
It-seems-to-be-just-under-the-skin-rather-than-deep-in-her-abdomen.jpg
It seems to be just under the skin, rather than deep in her abdomen
It seems to be just under the skin, rather than deep in her abdomen
 
pollinator
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Hi Aula,

I dunno, if that was me, I'd feel that it was pretty much a full-on impale job

I'd try to cut/work it out asap, clean the wound, and give it some Blu-Kote or other antiseptic.  Keep her away from the others until it heals over.  Hopefully you've got someone to hold her while you do that.

Good luck!
 
Aula Seiler
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Thanks for your comments, Timothy. And yeah, you're right: it's pretty much the definition of impale!

I'm thinking the main risks of leaving it in (but trimming it down, so she doesn't get it caught on anything) are infection as the wood breaks down. Anything else that could be problematic? I know I've had wood splinters too deep to comfortably take out, that have over time worked themselves free. That said, I'm not a chicken and they were splinters, not recognisable parts of a tree...!
 
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Yeesh, that's a hell of a splinter.  I can't imagine it will heal any better with the log in her belly than it would if you properly remove it.  But I don't really know...
 
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I've had lots of chickens and they've had lots of injuries and their ability to heal with minimal care and no antibiotics is amazing so long as it has *not* punctured through to their abdominal cavity. Bleeding to death has never been an issue.

If it were my chicken:
1. I'd give a little arnica in water - my friend would give 'rescue remedy' which is a variation on a theme but will help her to stay calm.
2. I'd cut the skin over the stick to see how far in it goes. If it's definitely outside the abdominal cavity, I'd remove it. Then I'd put her in a clean, warm, safe spot until it stops bleeding. Then I'd consider using a little Calendula Gel on the wound which is a *very* mild antibiotic. I'd also consider trimming feathers around the wound to allow air flow and help keep it clean.
3. If it did go through the cavity, I'd try *very* carefully to cut the stick off as close to the cavity as possible without letting air in and see if she will sequester it with tissue without getting an infection. At this point it's a "live or die" situation based on fate. If she starts to suffer, I'd humanely put her down, but I really have been amazed at how chickens can heal amazing wounds. You'll still have the outer wound to worry about, so the things in "2" still apply.
4. I'd report back to this thread so we know how things go. A chicken's instinct is to act as if nothing's wrong as long as possible, so she may already be in trouble even though she's bouncing around. I'm going to hope she will heal up just fine.
 
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It looks like it's stuck under the skin which is better than going through the muscle. It should be a simple surgery to take care of and a full recovery is likely.

Start by preparing a recovery ward for her. This just needs to be a smaller space where you can keep her for a few days to monitor her healing. I use a dog crate for this.

Gather & prep your supplies. I would use a very sharp knife sanitized in rubbing alcohol, a large towel, a clean rag, saline, and iodine. Also potentially gauze, vet wrap, and generic antibiotic ointment (without painkiller) if I felt bandaging was needed.

Wrap the hen in the towel taking care to get her head and wings covered. Chickens don't like to move if it's dark. With her wrapped up like this, set her down where you'll be doing the surgery, and lay one arm over in such a way that your hand is free and by the wound.

Take the sharp knife, slice the skin where it's taut across the stick. Start with a short cut, maybe 1/4", and only cut more if the stick won't slip free. Use the clean rag to wipe away any blood.

If the stick comes out, rinse the wound with saline in case there is any debris. Then flush with iodine. You can bandage at this point if it looks needed.

If it becomes obvious that the stick has gone into the muscle you'll have 2 options: remove it or cut off the excess and hope the body encapsulates it. I would personally remove it, but I also think it won't come to that.
 
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Since you are asking for thoughts, I suppose taking the chicken to the veterinarian isn't in your plans. What do you say?
 
Aula Seiler
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Hi everyone,

Thank you all for your very helpful (and detailed) advice. I can't do this myself, so am just trying to find someone who can help with something rather bloody (no fainting!). I will update as soon as I have something to report.

Sarah, I did think about the vet, but I know birds are notoriously difficult to treat, so I figure if I can try it myself (someone she trusts and knows) in an environment she trusts and knows, there's a better chance of her not up and dying of a heart attack (also, I think the vet will be very pricey). Besides, I figure if I want to keep chickens, I need to learn how to deal with these things if at all possible.

Last thing: can I use warm salt water (boiled to sterilise) to wash out the wound in the time after I've (hopefully) cut out the stick?

Many thanks,
Aula
 
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Aula Seiler wrote:
Last thing: can I use warm salt water (boiled to sterilise) to wash out the wound in the time after I've (hopefully) cut out the stick?



Recipe for normal saline, (0.9% saline, similar to tears and blood that won't sting), from http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/PedSurgery/ColorectalProgram/SalineSolution.pdf

If you use well water, boil it for ten minutes, let cool for one hour, and then boil
another ten minutes before mixing with salt. Normal saline solution can be
stored at room temperature for three days in a closed container.

How do I prepare saline solution?

 Wash your hands well and rinse them with warm water.
 Pour 1000 mL (4 cups) of warm water
 Add 2 teaspoons of table salt into your container. Measure exact amount of salt to make sure it is correct.
 Mix until salt is completely dissolved.
 Label your container.



Goo luck!
 
Aula Seiler
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Wonderful, Amy: thank you!
 
Sarah Albright
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Aula Seiler wrote:

Sarah, I did think about the vet, but I know birds are notoriously difficult to treat, so I figure if I can try it myself (someone she trusts and knows) in an environment she trusts and knows, there's a better chance of her not up and dying of a heart attack.


Ah, this is something I didn't know about. You mean they get too stressed at the vet? Do they literally have heart attacks?
Still, treatment sounds like the bird must be very still and calm. Is there anything a vet could prescribe to calm for you to treat at home? I don't know if a vet would do that, but it seems worth a try. I can imagine the bird bleeding worse when stressed and held down.
 
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Hi ..... This discussion was being to my attention. I'm not a chicken expert by any means, but I have spent most my life in veterinary medicine (mainly cats and dogs).

The fact that you say that this hen is acting normal, I'm assuming that means that she isn't limping or dragging a leg. Plus the fact that you report that you seem to see the outline of the embedded twig tends to imply that the stick is mainly just under the skin. But the fact that you cannot pull it out easily suggests that there are rough spots along the twig or even a section acting as a hook, or perhaps the tip stuck in a muscle layer. But a worse case scenario could exist because of the location. It looks like the impaled stick is at the edge of the hen's brooding patch, which means that the tip could be into the floor of the abdomen, but one would expect the hen to be quite sick by now if that were the case.....not always because birds are incredible at masking distress, but you would think that an abdominal puncture wound slow them down. This all sums up to the conclusion that it would be reasonably save to remove the stick yourself. Besides, a large veterinary bill for a chicken simply isn't financially a sound decision for someone who has "production" chickens vs a pet bird.

Katie pretty much describes what to do. I'd use a new razor blade (such as a box cutter, utility knife, exacto knife, etc) to cut the skin along the length on the twig. A single line cut is fine. No need to go around and make a circle around the twig. No need to sterilize it because the wound is a dirty wound already. (No need for sterile saline, again because the wound has been dirty for several days already. Simple soap & water will do. But saline would be nicer for the bird...less sting.) If there are feathers or leaves inside the wound, remove them.  If you see a hook on the twig, now that the twig is visually exposed, you may need to push it forward a tad before pulling it out in order to release the hook. If the hook won't release, then use the razor blade to cut it loose or pull it harder. The twig needs to be fully removed because it will act as a septic causing foreign body, meaning that it could kill the hen down the road once the wound closes over.

If the twig has gone into the abdomen, it still needs to be removed. If this is the case, the hen should be confine in a box for a few days so that she cannot fly, putting pressure on the abdomen. The hole should seal over in a few days.

The hen should be separated from the other birds for a few days if they show any signs of noticing her wound. Otherwise they will fixate on it and peck her to death. Blood and wounds draw their attention. Just watch over her when she is reintroduced because they will treat her as though she were a new bird, and try to peck and bulky her.

Personally I've never tried to fix this type of injury. Being of a farming mentality nowadays, such a hen would simply be used for food. But I do wish you and the hen the best of luck.

 
Aula Seiler
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Sarah: yes, birds in general are quite higly strung (to be colloquial) - they have heart attacks quite easily when their adrenaline is up. Not sure if that includes chickens, given they've been domesticated for quite a while, but rather safe than sorry.

Su, thank you for your detailed and helpful post.

So, I'm happy to report that the operation was a success (with my most grateful thanks to my partner and mother for their calming assistance).

We pinned her wings down as best we could with a rag (wrapped around her), then covered her head with a small cloth bag (big enough for her to breathe, but small enough to keep her head in the dark). We made sure to keep her legs in hand, as she was kicking around a little (my partner held the wings, my mother the feet, I was the worried surgeon).

I trimmed the feathers that were in the way of the wound and sprayed the area with Betadine (antiseptic spray). I used a razor blade (initially I tried a Stanley knife with a new blade, but that needed far too much pressure to cut the skin). I cut along where the stick was under the skin - which didn't cause much of a reaction from Pickle. However, when I tried to flush out some of the blood with the saline, she wiggled around a lot.

The stick was just under the skin, but it was attached around the entry point, where the skin had grown around it already. I cut around that as best I could, and was able to remove the entire thing. I flushed the wound again with saline - this time Pickle flipped out, lost her hood and nearly went off the table. We managed to calm her down again, and after a minute or so of keeping her still, we realised the bleeding was already slowing down markedly.

I specifically planned to operate an hour or so before sundown, so she'd basically spend only a very short time moving around before settling down to sleep and thus let the wound clot and heal a little. I'd set up a space for her that was clean, with food and water, away from the other chickens.
I put her in her temporary space, and 20 minutes later got called over by my partner to find that she'd escaped and was digging around in my garden, while trying to get to the other chickens (we only have four, including Pickle, who's the escapist of the group). So I let her into the coop, where she spent the hour or so before sundown acting as if nothing had happened. The wound isn't visible at all - it's covered a little by her breast feathers as well as being quite low on her chest.

She was up and running around the next day - as chatty and mobile as always, and the other chickens didn't seem to realise anything had happened. I picked her up to check the wound today (just over a day after the 'operation') and it seems ok. It's hard to spot - she's a wriggly chicken at the best of times and she's wary of me at the moment, rightly so.

Thanks again to everyone who weighed in with their knowledge and advice!
Pickle-s-Impalement-Stick.jpg
The end of the stick that was under her skin
The end of the stick that was under her skin
Pickle-s-Impalement-Stick-II.jpg
Same stick, other side
Same stick, other side
Pickle-s-Wound-(ust-over-a-day-after-surgery).jpg
Pickle's wound just over a day after the 'operation' - it's hard to spot, unfo
Pickle's wound just over a day after the 'operation' - it's hard to spot, unfo
 
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Yay for Pickle! good job!
 
Jay Angler
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Well done, Aula! I can appreciate how scary doing something like this for the first time is, and having to do it on a "friend" makes it even scarier. I also don't blame Pickle for being a little wary of you, but if she has some favorite foods, I'm sure you can get back on her good side soon enough. Taking the cue from her and letting her back with her friends was the right thing to do also.

I don't think we have a "badge bit" for doing scary surgery on a chicken, but I will also point out that you've just practiced an important life skill. We tend to be used to taking problems to a doctor, but there are times when we can't and although humans need more after-care than chickens do, the same principles of "clean the area", "use a new sharp tool", "rinse well with saline", "cover and keep clean" etc apply just as much to humans. The scariest time I treated a human was on a bus trip and a fellow got a shallow but very long gash on his upper leg at least 9" long. I used steri strips to close it being very careful to line up the wound (it wasn't a straight line but a fairly gently curve) so the skin was joined to its original mate. By the time the fellow got home, to emerg, and his doctor arrived to see him it was over 12 hours. She told him she didn't want to disturb the wound to put in sutures because it had already started to heal and I'd done such a good job!

So congratulations again!
 
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I would remove the stick, clean the wound out and apply RAW honey to the open wound. Keep the bird in a confined space (sounds like a dog kennel is a great idea) with towels on the bottom. Other bedding will attach itself to the open wound. Change towels daily. Feed high protein foods (small pieces of raw meat is good, hard-cooked eggs also) along with regular feed. Re-examine the wound twice daily for several days to check on healing. RAW honey has antibacterial properties and will assist healing as well as reducing pain. Don't use hydrogen peroxide other than to clean the wound initially for it inhibits regrowth of new flesh.

Be sure the bird doesn't have any lice or mites. Collect eggs promptly to prevent egg eating.

I had a pullet who was hawked on her head, completely exposing the skull. I thought she was done, but applied RAW honey to the open wound, confined her for several months. The wound healed and she went out with the flock in a few months. She laid her first egg before the wound was totally closed. It seemed that the torn-away flesh grew up her skull as time went by. The honey became solid, almost like a helmet over the open wound. It was quite amazing!

Offer treats, cut into small pieces of any greens you have available. The most important issue is to keep the open wound clean and hope that the wound heals from the inside out and not close up before the wound has a chance to close from the inside out, preventing infection.

Good luck!

The Chicken Guru
 
Jay Angler
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Just curious - did Pickles continue to thrive and act like nothing happened?
 
Aula Seiler
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Yes, she's doing fine 🙂 I managed to get a good look at the wound a while ago, and it's healed beautifully.
 
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