Ocean (my daughter named her) got her leg caught in the tree the other day, as she was getting down in the morning.
Our current flock of chooks decided to forgo their lovely house and sleep in the lemon tree, which has always seemed quite natural as well as beneficial to the tree, but in this case it turned out to be a problem.
When we found her she was hanging by that one stuck foot, almost upside down.
That was a little over a week ago. At first we hoped it was just sprained, not broken, but on inspection the angle definitely suggested a break, and more than a hairline fracture too.
So what to do? We decided a while ago that we will not be taking our chooks to the vet. We simply can’t afford it, so we take a pragmatic approach, loving them as pets as well as producers, and caring for them as best we can ourselves, including growing some of the useful herbs and plants for backyard chickens.
In this case, the useful plant is comfrey. I’ve read that you can use plantain as a substitute for comfrey for helping broken bones, which is a common enough weed around here, but we have stacks of comfrey, so that’s what I used.
I made up a comfrey tea by soaking comfrey in boiling water until it was the colour of tea, then I cooled it down with some ice cubes.
When the tea was cold I took some out to use internally, then we carefully held her and soaked her leg in the remaining tea for a few minutes. To be honest, we could probably have done it for longer, but she was not very impressed.
In Backyard Poultry Naturally, Alanna Moore recommends soaking a broken leg in comfrey tea two to three times a day, and giving a teaspoon of the tea internally at the same time.
I have to admit, we never managed three times a day, and by a week in, it was once a day if she was lucky. But it seems to have helped all the same.
We didn’t have the know-how to reset the bone without potentially making things worse, but it’s important that the break is given a chance to heal – even if it’s not perfectly straight anymore. So we splinted her leg too.
To do that, I used two short plastic splints and a length of old pantyhose. I made the splints out of my daughter’s craft set, using three different widths of straw, one inside the other, inside the other, to get a strong enough splint that was also easy to chop down to size. I used a little blue tack in each end to hold it together, and also to ensure the ends weren’t sharp.
I first wrapped a cold comfrey leaf around her leg (one that had been soaked in the tea and wasn’t prickly anymore – I’m not sure if that would matter to a chicken, but it sure felt better to me), then I wrapped a layer of pantyhose around that. That held the comfrey in place and also protected Ocean’s leg from having the splint dig in to it.
Then wrapped the rest of the pantihose around, placing a splint on either side as I did so.
As soon as we put Ocean down, we could see the splint had improved things for her. She could now put a little weight on the leg for balance, where before it would just immediately collapse under her.
We have also been adding apple cider vinegar to the chooks’ water, to improve immune function, and adding milk powder or yoghurt to some mash made especially for Ocean, for the extra calcium and protein.
We have re-done the splint and banaging once, after a week, to take out the comfry leaf. I figured it could potentially become irritating.
One week on, the break is not healed of course (that will take weeks at least, I guess), but Ocean seems much improved, morale-wise. She’s not walking on the leg, which I take as a good thing for the healing process, but she will use it for balance when she bends down to eat or drink.
She’s also gotten very good at hoping – she’s really very fast – so she gets around okay. She can’t get up into the tree, or onto a roost in the house, so she’s just sitting on the floor in the house at night, but that seems okay for her. And we’re still treating her with the comfrey tea – I made a fresh batch just today.
Edited to add: At break-day plus 3 weeks, Ocean is now putting a little more weight on her foot and doing well. (Note: in the comments, a reader has said bird bones should heal in 2 weeks – I guess it would have healed more quickly if we had been able to set the bone properly.)
Edited again to add: It’s around one and a half months now since Ocean broke her leg, and she is virtually as good as new, and happily keeping up with her flock mates, like she’d never had a broken leg at all.
Note: Here’s a resource offered by a reader (in the comments below): To find a bird vet in Australia, see http://www.aavac.com.au/.