Veterinary Care for Backyard Chickens, a Dialogue that Must Begin

After having had three extremely ill chickens in urgent need of medical care recently, it has become painfully apparent to me that finding trained medical professionals who treat backyard chickens is difficult at best.

After having had three extremely ill chickens in urgent need of medical care recently, it has become painfully apparent to me that finding trained medical professionals who treat backyard chickens is difficult at best. If and when we are able to find any veterinarian willing to treat chickens, we consider ourselves lucky. Once past that hurdle, we just hope that they do the right thing from a treatment perspective, knowing that most vets do not have any significant formal training in poultry care. A 2013 study published by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Monitoring System projecting an increase in urban backyard flocks of over 400% in the next 5 years, it is time to discuss our expectations for medical care of our chickens among ourselves and with our veterinarians.

 I have had chicken-care conversations with nearly a dozen vets over the past year, one of whom emailed me last autumn with some questions about starting her own backyard flock. I mentioned the dire need for chicken veterinarians across the United States and she indicated that she “...would like to feel educated on the basics of chicken medicine.” I encouraged her to seek formal education in the field not only for her own future flock, but to help bridge the gap between sick or injured chickens and caregivers. I was heartened to know that she completed some online education this past winter.

I have had chicken-care conversations with nearly a dozen vets over the past year, one of whom emailed me last autumn with some questions about starting her own backyard flock. I mentioned the dire need for chicken veterinarians across the United States and she indicated that she “…would like to feel educated on the basics of chicken medicine.”  I encouraged her to seek formal education in the field not only for her own future flock, but to help bridge the gap between sick or injured chickens and caregivers. I was heartened to know that she completed some online education this past winter.

Esther had ovarian cancer, a very common condition in older laying hens, which required putting her down. Stella was also euthanized when it was discovered that she had a severe case of egg yolk peritonitis. Both conditions were confirmed by necropsies.

Esther had ovarian cancer, a very common condition in older laying hens, which required putting her down. Stella was also euthanized when it was discovered that she had a severe case of egg yolk peritonitis. Both conditions were confirmed by necropsies.

This subject hit the front page of The Wall Street Journal after reporter Jon Kamp contacted me to discuss an different topic, piquing his interest in the lack of trained, experienced poultry vets for backyard chickens.

After having participated in a public forum on backyard chicken-keeping recently, this particular veterinarian’s feelings were that: “chicken people complain that vets don’t know anything but they also are willing to pay nothing to have their animals taken care of properly.  It’s a bad cycle of bad feelings. I hate for (animals) to suffer with a treatable problem. I could use some guidance regarding charging for treatment and an approach to dealing with the notion that vets don’t know anything about chickens.” She and I have had several discussions about veterinary care for backyard chickens. I admire her candor and willingness to discuss these issues and while I am happy to share my opinions with her, I believe these important topics ought to be discussed within and between the chicken-keeping and veterinary healthcare communities generally.  Only by fleshing out these issues collaboratively, nation-wide can we eventually come to a place where we are comfortable discussing our birds’ health with our vets, comfortable with the care our chickens receive and where vets are comfortable including chicken-care as a component of their practice.

Some of my flock members on 9/14/13. photo credit: Jon Kamp, The Wall Street Journal
Some of my flock members on 9/14/13. photo credit: Jon Kamp, The Wall Street Journal

Edited to add: This subject hit the front page of The Wall Street Journal after reporter Jon Kamp contacted me to discuss an different topic, piquing his interest in the lack of trained, experienced poultry vets for backyard chickens.

 DO feel free to share that you view your chickens as livestock and if they are sick, you cull them. DO NOT share that you believe anyone who takes their chicken to a vet is wasting their money.
 DO feel free to share that you view your chickens as livestock and if they are sick, you cull them. DO NOT share that you believe anyone who takes their chicken to a vet is wasting their money.

I invite you to share your thoughts on some, any or all of the questions below. Please limit your comments to constructive input regarding your own thoughts, feelings and decisions you would make for your flock. Please refrain from passing judgment on the decisions another chicken-keeper may make for their flock or engaging in debate with another reader. Comments will be moderated to ensure compliance with this request for a judgment-free dialogue. 

For example: 
DO feel free to share that you view your chickens as livestock and if they are sick, you cull them. 
DO NOT share that you believe anyone who takes their chicken to a vet is wasting their money.
Some of the issues you may wish to address are:

  • Do you view your backyard chickens as livestock, pets or something else?
  • Is it important to you to know that there is a veterinarian available who will treat your chicken(s)?
  • Would you bring a chicken to see a vet if they did not have chicken training/experience?
  • If a chicken vet practiced medicine in your community, would you bring your chickens to them for well-patient visits?
  • Are you willing to pay the same exam and treatment fees for your chickens that you would pay for your cat or dog?
  • Do you believe that the negligible cost of purchasing a chicken means that vets should discount their fees?  If so, is that fair to the practitioner?

Please feel free to share any other thoughts you may have on the subject of chicken medical care in the comments below.

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Jean
Jean
7 years ago

I would seek care for chickens from a vet. I would not bring them for well-pet visits. I am conflicted about pricing. Veterinary care has become so out-of-control expensive in recent years that I feel all of it is unfairly overpriced, so to say that I feel rates should be discounted would really not apply only to chickens, but across the board (e.g., my vet's office charged FIFTY DOLLARS to have a TECH do an anal gland expression on my dog. A TECH). BTW, I live in rural NH. There is one vet here who treats chickens. One. And he's… Read more »

Jennifer Thompson
7 years ago

I'm very new to backyard chicken keeping but, after searching my area for poultry veterinarians in advance of getting my chickens, I realized that I will probably be on my own for their medical care. As such, I've been reading as much as I possibly can (including your very informative blog). I have four dual purpose birds that I got primarily for eggs. I have also named them and feel very fond of each of them (also, I resent how some chicken keepers make fun of people who name their chickens…. sure, when discussing an individual chicken with someone, I… Read more »

Lorraine 'Wolowicz' Wood
Lorraine 'Wolowicz' Wood
7 years ago

I'm so glad that you started this blog! I raise both chickens and ducks for their eggs, and so I view them partially as livestock. However, we aren't looking to eat them, so they're partially pets, too. So we consider them "pets with a purpose"! 🙂 While I live in KY, and thought that there would be more knowledgeable vets here with regards to our flocks, that has not been the case. I've learned a great deal through books and this set of blog posts as a result. Having a small flock, I really don't want to cull our birds… Read more »

jackie
jackie
7 years ago

I love my chickesn….they r like family and i would pay to get them the right care

S. Hammer
S. Hammer
7 years ago

Well, we have a good sized flock, so our chickens are considered livestock. If they are sick or past age 3, they get culled. We would not call out a vet, or bring a chicken to the vet… not because we do not value them, but because it is impractical for our budget. I think there are a lot of things we as owners can do to protect our chickens health, and if someone wants to take their chicken to a vet – by all means do so :). However, I would NOT expect the vet to give a better… Read more »

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