By Susan Burek, Herbalist Moonlight Mile Herb Farm Michigan
When we think of the poultry immune system, we probably think of it being an internal function in the body, yet the skin and mouth are also considered part of it. In fact, it is the first defense of the immune system as a barrier against bacteria and other pathogens. We may think of a tiny cut or peck on our bird to be a non-issue, yet it creates an open door for germs to enter into the blood stream to create havoc. Another hazard for creating wounds in our poultry is of the predator kind. I know most us dread the thought of a predator attacking one of our birds, but it is a common reality that happens sooner or later. Even if your flock is mostly secured or protected, it may sometime happen that two male birds may fight fiercely (to the point of horrific bleeding) for pecking order dominance.
The good news is poultry seem to possess a great capacity to heal wounds, no doubt due to their high metabolism. But there are times the wound may need some assistance to heal, and this is an area where herbs can excel. The beauty of using herbs for wounds it that the same herb can help both the external wound to heal, along with helping the internal immune system by aiding the blood, along with offering anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. There are many options and applications that give caregivers a versatility that make using herbs easy and effective. Making these herbal treatments standard fare in the emergency kit is my practice and should be in yours too.
Types of Wounds
I put wounds poultry can have into two kinds of camps: Those superficial, which consist mainly of minor pecks and surface cuts. Then there are those that are more severe with deep, large area wounds. Minor wounds may only need to be cleaned, with lots of air to dry them out to heal. Deeper wounds need to heal from the inside out, and will take longer and needs some management to keep the wound area clean and moist until a scab forms. These kinds of serious wounds can also include management of shock and heavy bleeding, especially when caused by a predator attack.
Types of Applications
I like to use herbal powders or herbal alcohol tinctures put into spray bottles for external treatment. You can make your own tinctures or buy them ready-made. Wounds covering a large skin area will need an initial ointment covering. Herbal salves are excellent ointments and may be made ahead of time or purchased. An exception to that is raw honey, which is good to go as a natural ointment! Herbal pastes can be made by blending fresh herbs in a blender with a little water to make a paste if you have no salves on hand. Herbal powders are really easy to make, but something you need to do ahead of time and keep on hand. You simply dry the herb tops and stems, and grind the dried plant material up in a food processor, blender or grinder into a fine powder. Store the powdered herbs in an airtight container for up to one year.
One wound you are sure to encounter are peck wounds, and cuts on the feet and sometimes the wings. It just comes naturally with owning chickens. They are constantly enforcing the pecking order, and they are very active animals.
I will tell you honestly that most superficial wounds do not need any treatment at all, and most healthy chickens can heal them without any help. But if the cut is on the bottom of the foot, you will want to clean and wrap it since bacteria entering that way can cause bumblefoot. However, sometimes even small cuts and pecks may need to be addressed because the red from the wound may draw attention from other chickens to peck at it. We know this can cause more damage to the wound, and even eventually death if it progresses to cannibalism. So, I don’t want to scare you too much, but it does need attention if you see other birds pecking at another’s wound!
With that in mind, one of the best superficial cut remedies I know if is propolis in the form of a tincture. Propolis is the sticky, resinous substance that bees line the inside of their hives with to keep it antiseptic and free of bacteria and other pathogens. Because it is resinous, or oily, it is best used tinctured into alcohol. The great part is that not only is it antibacterial and antiseptic, it will create a nice film that will dry and stick to the wound like a liquid bandage, and dry to a brown film which will help camouflage the red color of the damaged skin! Truly a nice solution for minor peck wounds.
Another herb for excellent external application is plantain. Plantain is widely known for drawing poisons and toxins from infected wounds, but it is also effective at stopping minor bleeding. It can reduce inflammation and is considered a pain reliever as well.
Further, plantain has antibacterial properties which can help with a cut that had gotten dirty and exposed to germs. Since it is also a common plant found all over the country, it can be very useful in an emergency. Many times I have run out to my yard, picked a few leaves, mashed them up a little or mixed them with a little honey to stick it to a cut. This plant is best used fresh. I would use this for bigger cuts.
Severe wounds usually happened when a predator attack occurs. We may see gaping holes in the flesh covering a large part of the body, and it can be very distressing to see and cause you to assume that nothing can be done.
Indeed, that might be the case, but I have heard anecdotal stories for many years of birds recovering from horrific wounds. Unless the bird is suffering and truly gravely hurt, in which case putting it down is humane, I would try to work with the bird to see if you can’t help it recover.
First you will need to address shock and blood loss, which I will discuss shortly how to do. After your bird is stable after the shock passes, you can begin treating the wound.
The wound will need an ointment covering for one to three days or until you see a scab starting to form at the edges of the wound. This means the wound has drained enough from the inside and needs air to dry to finish healing. At this point you can switch from an ointment to an application the same as for a minor wound using a powder or tincture spray. I would keep your bird isolated until a good scab has formed. Although some people may want to apply a gauze bandage, I leave the wounds open to heal and let the bird groom around it.
Severe wounds and the stress of being attacked can cause your bird to go into shock. I would immediately isolate the bird and keep it warm and on clean towels. Make sure the bird is away from other stressors like other birds, loud noise, bright lights and insects that may bother the wound for the first 24 hours, or until the bird recovers from the shock. The only oral remedy I would give immediately is the flower essence Rescue Remedy that is made to treat severe trauma.
But administer only if it does not unduly stress the bird to do so. Keeping the bird from further stress until it recovers from the shock is very important. Added stressors can overload a severely taxed body and could be fatal in what otherwise would have been a recovery. I would apply a tincture spray to stop bleeding if that is an issue since that can be easily done without handling or stressing the bird at all. Leave the bird alone until it starts moving around on its own, usually within 24 hours.
Blood Loss Management
Wounds that keep on bleeding will need some help. Although the immune system can eventually produce enough blood cells and platelets to coagulate to stop the bleeding, it will need help if the wound is large and deep.
There are a lot of herbs that excel to stop bleeding almost immediately. My favorite herb is yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which grows throughout the northern hemisphere. It is a perennial and the plant parts used are all the aerial parts of the plant. It is not only antiseptic, analgesic (pain killing) and hemostatic (stops bleeding), but is also an insect repellent and can keep flying insects away from the wound.
Adding such an insecticidal herb (or others) to a wound mix would be a good idea for those birds that need to remain outside to heal. Taken internally, it works with the blood increasing circulation and acting as an anti-inflammatory.
It works really well in tandem when used both internally and externally at the same time. Another herb you can use in a similar fashion is cayenne (Capsicum spp.), which is commonly known as hot peppers. Cayenne is also hemostatic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory as well. It can stop bleeding immediately and it doesn’t hurt very much on an open wound. Both of these herbs can be used as an herbal tincture spray or as an herbal powder.
Immune System Building
The holistic approach to help heal a wound, is both internal and external. It will help your chicken to boost their internal immune system to fight off any germs that did get into the bloodstream. The bigger and more extensive the wound, the greater chance for infection to set in. Especially for your bird that has been attacked by a predator, the stress is enormous and can take a lot of internal resources from the bird to get back on track. If your bird was not the best of health to begin with, the stress could give parasites and other pathogens a toe-hold on top of the traumatic injury that has occurred.
I have written about garlic (Allium sativum) many times and because it so accessible and easy to apply it would be first choice for me to add to the water or feed it raw to the injured bird for a few days while the bulk of the healing is occurring. Garlic or its constituents activate phagocytes, B-cells, and T-cells which are all three levels of the cellular immune system.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is also another herb that is a superb immuno-stimulant and can be found or grown easily in most environments. The root is usually used, although the aerial plant parts can be used with lesser effectiveness. Echinacea stimulates the immune system at the blood cell level.
It also increases blood flow to the tissues. It uses its own delivery system to get its healing properties to exactly where it is needed to fight infection. This makes Echinacea a great herb to get help right to the wound.
I would use the root and make a tea to be added to the water. The dried root can also be ground up and added to the feed or other foods.
As you can see there are a number of herbal options available to help when a wound needs treatment. Sometimes an injury is superficial enough where no help is required. But it is good to know that herbs excel in treating wounds and you can rely on them to help your bird recover.
Susan is an herbalist who advises on Poultry Natural Living & Herbal Care on Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/herbalpoultrycare). Susan also is the owner of Moonlight Mile Herb Farm in Willis, Michigan, where she lives with a variety of critters, and is a chicken, guineafowl and peafowl breeder. She also grows native and cultivated herbs on six acres of land, and sells her own formulated avian poultry products at www.moonlightmileherbs.com.