We were just about to sit down for Sunday lunch when my phone rang. I was on duty for the weekend, ever alert to the various animals and their emergencies around the county. This is something that any vet who works on call gets used to. So, too, does their family. I’m not sure mine even notice the beeper going off anymore!
There was something of an irony in the nature of the emergency that took me away from my Sunday roast – it was a chicken!
“She’s been out all night,” explained her owner over the phone.
“A neighbour’s dog got into the garden last night and attacked her. We thought she must be dead, because we couldn’t find her when we got the others in. Then, lo and behold, she appeared, just now. She’s got a big wound on her back where the dog got her. It looks horrible and I wondered if I could bring her down?”
It sounded nasty and I could tell that the bird was poorly and the owner worried.
We see quite a few ‘back yard chickens’ – the term used to describe a few hens kept in the back garden or in a paddock or stable yard. Apart from the obvious role of supplying eggs, chickens kept like this, away from huge production pressures or the influence of a large flock make surprisingly endearing pets, and form strong bonds with their human owners.
In this case, the bird was a rescue chicken, liberated from a previous life laying eggs in a battery cage. It often seems that chickens rescued like this are grateful for a second chance at life and express their gratitude with extra affection.
Hannah and her chicken were waiting for me on the doorstep of the practice when I arrived. I recognised Hannah – she was a veterinary student, back home from vet school for the holidays, and had done some work experience with me a few years previously.
This was good, because it meant that I could give an impromptu Sunday lunchtime seminar and quizzing to the budding veterinary surgeon, about the correct course of action, the most appropriate medication to give and the best route of administration. So, we examined the chicken together.
The wound was deep and nasty. I removed some feathers to get a better look, then gently cleaned off the dead tissue and congealed blood. Things quickly started to look better and the chicken did not seem to mind the intervention. The next step was to decide whether or not to suture the wound. The skin edges were quite damaged.
It is often difficult to stitch wounds like these in birds, as the skin is so delicate, so we decided that, as long as Hannah could keep the wound clean and protected, nature would provide a better solution, healing the wound by second intention.
Painkillers and antibiotics – essential after any bite wound with devitalised tissue – were the order of the day and I drew up the required doses.
“There you go, Hannah,” I said, handing the two syringes to her, “Do you know how to inject a chicken?”
Both drugs were expertly injected under the skin and, after a bit of clucking, the patient was tucked back into her cat basket for the journey home. I arranged a revisit for a couple of day’s time and waved them goodbye.
My Sunday lunchtime appointment with chicken number one had gone well. I hoped chicken number two would be just as successful, although, somehow, I had lost my appetite!
Julian’s new book, The Diary of a Yorkshire Vet, published by Great Northern Books, is out soon and available from all good bookshops.