We recently had our first chicken illness.
Or so we thought.
Turned out it wasn't a disease after all, but the whole process was an eye-opener for us - and more than a little stressful. And it got me to thinking - how many people add livestock (or even pets) to their homesteads without having a place set up and all the supplies to care for them should something go sideways?
Now obviously I'm a newbie at this, so what I'm going to share with you is simply my own experience - and some of the great tips that were offered up on our Facebook page, as well as via all the forums I visited as I attempted to figure out what was wrong with one of our hens. I make no claim to be an expert, and I'm not dishing up medical advice. Just some good common sense. And a few resources you'll find useful.
It Pays to be Prepared
I'll start this way - the time to prepare for pet and livestock emergencies is not when they fall ill or get injured, but that's exactly what usually happens. Or rather, that's what happened to me. One of our hens was making this weird moaning noise, standing in a corner of the coop like she was having trouble breathing. We went through all the checks suggested in the forum I frequent, and on our Facebook page, and could find nothing obvious. So we isolated her from the rest (in case it was something contagious) and proceeded to support her as best we could while we watched. And waited.
There was nothing else we could do, because we didn't have any supplies set aside. We were lucky it turned out to be nothing - or rather not a disease of any sort. In the end, we think she either ate too fast or swallowed a bee or something that severely irritated her throat, hence the funny noise and movements. She was fine within a couple of days, but the process was a stressful one that involved many hours in front of the computer and the crazy-making that comes with not being prepared.
At that moment, I decided that next time one of our animals required extra care, we'd be ready.
Livestock Health Emergency Preparation Checklist
In order to get ready for a livestock emergency, you really have to do the research so you know what common illnesses can befall each individual species in your area, and then prepare medicines, supplies and space so you're ready. Add to that the fact that animals will often hide the fact they are ill til they are very ill (think about how an animal acting ill would fare in the wild), and you'll understand why it's critical to be all set up before something happens.
We've put together some wise suggestions I gleaned from one of our amazing Facebook friends (thanks, Jan!), as well as my own research and preferences for solutions that are more natural than pharmaceutical:
- Basic first-aid kit stocked with the standard veterinary supplies such as Vetericyn VF or tetracycline or alternative, Betadine (an iodine disinfectant), Gentian violet, triple antibiotic ointment (or natural alternative), electrolytes, scalpels, non-stick gauze pads, Vetwrap, tweezers and gloves, Epsom salts, sterile water, tweezers, scissors, and various syringes. These supplies may be available from your local veterinarian, farm supply store, or even drug store for some things, but if you're like us and don't have access to vet medications in your community, you can find many of them online. Keep these supplies in a waterproof, pest proof case that you can easily access or grab and go when you need it.
- An herbal first aid kit, including therapeutic grade essential oils (and knowing how to use them). Melissa Shelton, a holistic veterinarian and expert in using essential oils for animal health, disease and first aid offers a wide variety of resources on her website, including a free 'basics' webinar, a how-to book and an educational membership program that would seriously pay for itself by helping you avoid a single vet visit. You might also want to check out this book: The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. In my opinion as a former Registered Aromatherapist and someone who has used herbal medicine extensively for myself and my family, I'd choose essential oils over dried herbs or tinctures for a variety or reasons, mostly related to portability and shelf life.
- A 'hospital pen' away from your other livestock for isolating the sick critter. Make sure you locate this isolation unit either close to your house or in a building with electricity so you can heat, cool and light it as required. It can be a stall, a penned off corner of a room, or even a pet carrier with a removeable top (for chickens, ducks, etc.). Best if it's in a quiet location, secure from predators and free from cold drafts.
- Research some of the most common illnesses or injuries that your livestock may come down with and know what to look for so you don't waste hours doing research when you have a very ill animal - it could be the difference between life and death, especially if you live in a rural area away from emergency veterinary care, or you're in the midst of a larger emergency and no outside care is available. It's the way our ancestors did it.
- Practice prevention by providing everything your livestock require to remain healthy and avoid injury: clean water, good quality, non-GMO feed, adequate space to move around as they wish, eliminate the use of toxic cleaners, protection from predators, and regular observation to see how they're doing. Examine them often and gently feel their bone structure, muscles, etc. so you know what normal and healthy feels like. Find out what is 'typical' for the species and what isn't so you can act when you need to - not when it's too late.
That should have you covered for most minor emergencies or for observation of an animal you believe might be ill or injured. Of course, you'll still want to contact your vet as required, but the more you can do for yourself, the higher the likelihood your animal will pull through, and the more self-sufficient you'll be.
Do you have a first aid kit for your livestock? Did we forget anything? Victoria Gazeley would love to hear what's in your livestock first aid kit - please share in the comments below. We can all learn a lot from each other!