I first started to become interested in keeping my own chickens in my backyard while I was in college. I spent a summer nannying for a family who had two hens of their own, and I quickly realized how fun chickens were.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of owning several chickens of my own, and I have learned many valuable lessons when it comes to keeping them. Some of the most important lessons I have learned came from my experience caring for a disabled chicken.
A couple years ago, a neighbor and fellow chicken keeper of mine was forced to move out of state to care for her aging parents. She had been able to arrange new homes for all of her flock members but one, a Silver Laced Wyandotte with one badly broken leg. Being the animal lover I am, I quickly volunteered to adopt the handicapped chicken. Although the sweet hen has since passed away, my time caring for her taught me more than I could’ve imagined.
Here are just five lessons I’ve learned raising and caring for a handicapped chicken
It's Not the End of the World
One of the first and one of the most important lessons I learned from caring for my handicapped Silver Laced Wyandotte was that a disabled chicken is not the end of the world.
Immediately after picking up the handicapped hen from my neighbor, I wondered if I had gotten myself in over my head. At the time, I was still under the impression that chickens were much different than other, more common pets and were probably much harder to care for and provide medical attention to.
But I quickly learned that chickens are a lot more common than I had thought. At least in my area, I had several options for avian veterinary care. Furthermore, I was overwhelmed with the amount of support I was given by the other backyard chicken keepers in my area. Taking care of a disabled chicken was something I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do alone, and I am forever thankful that my neighbors were willing to offer their support.
I would need to set aside to care for her. I knew that I would be spending quite a bit of money on trips to the avian vet and on whatever medications the vet recommended for my hen.
Aside from extra trips to the avian vet and some additional medication, I found myself spending quite a bit of money on extra coop accessories to make my hen more comfortable. These extra coop accessories included an extra feeder and waterer, a more accessible roost, and extra bedding to protect my hen from injuring or getting an infection in her working foot and leg.
They Need Extra Space
Usually, chickens need about three to five square feet of room per bird in a coop. For the four birds I had, my coop that was 16 square feet should’ve been perfect. And yet, I was noticing that my handicapped Silver Laced Wyandotte was getting picked on. I figured that this was just because of the natural pecking order, but I figured building on to my existing coop to create more room for my birds couldn’t hurt.
It actually helped quite a bit. With the additional space, my handicapped hen was able to spread out a bit more and have her own area in the coop while still being part of the flock.
They Need Their Own Food and Water
Another lesson I learned from caring for my disabled chicken was that they automatically fall to the bottom of the pecking order. Even though Silver Lace Wyandottes tend to be dominant birds in a flock, my handicapped hen was very clearly at the bottom of the pecking order.
This was something I had to learn the hard way. I knew that, typically, one feeder and one waterer will suffice for a flock of about eight birds. I only had four birds of my own, including my disabled bird. However, after observing my flock and the behavior of my handicapped bird, I realized that she clearly wasn’t getting a fair shot at the feeder or waterer and was being pushed aside by my other birds. I ended up purchasing a separate feeder and waterer for my handicapped hen and arranged times for her to be alone in the coop to eat and drink.
They are More Prone to Disease
Because my Silver Laced Wyandotte had a badly broken leg, she was far less mobile than my other chickens. I initially thought her decreased mobility wasn’t that big of a deal, but a neighbor and fellow chicken keeper informed me that decreased mobility in chickens can actually lead to foot issues like overgrown toenails and bumblefoot.
And aside from foot ailments, my particular breed of chicken was even more prone to other health issues. Silver Laced Wyandottes’ feathering can make them especially more prone to lice, ticks, and parasites. Being disabled, my hen was not only more prone to these things but also less able to effectively fight off resulting illness.
Although caring for my handicapped Silver Laced Wyandotte was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I have no regrets about it whatsoever.
Above all, my experience caring for a disabled chicken taught me three lessons that I will carry with me throughout my life: To be attentive, to be patient, and to always be loving.
Written by guest author, Chris Lesley editor-in-chief at Chickens and More, a backyard chickens magazine.