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Veterinary Care for Chickens

The biggest challenge we've faced as a sanctuary in our first nine months of operations has been securing veterinary care for our chickens. There are over fifty veterinary clinics in Ottawa and surrounding areas. Only six of those will see chickens, and of those six only three are accepting new patients. Of those three only one has been available for emergency veterinary services. Of that one, only once have they had adequate staffing to see us on emergency. (This is not their fault, we have immense respect for veterinary professionals.)

Most often, after hours or on Sundays there is no place to bring a chicken for emergency medical care. Oh, unless we drive to Sudbury, 6 hours away. So like the alternative title says, this is the wild west. This is a big problem for sanctuaries and rescuers. Imagine your cat or dog was sick and you couldn't bring them anywhere at all and just had to wait and hope you could piece together information to provide enough care to get them through for just *a little bit longer*.

Chickens are treated like commodities but that does not mean that they are. We believe chickens have value beyond what they offer to humans. However, veterinary medicine has been focused on treating chickens as poultry and thus, there has been little researched on how to prolong a chickens life. "Meat" or "Broiler" chickens have been bred to live 30 days, turning feed into fat as soon as possible to save processing times. Egg-layers will lay eggs for 2-3 years, but the majority of their health care focuses on increasing their production. Those who are exploiting these animals can't see the point in saving one's life if they can simply buy a new chick for $2.50 versus the $800 bill to intervene. Veterinary care hasn't been able to focus on keeping chickens healthy and prolonging their lives because consumer demand has been on using them.

From the six chicken vets we've been told:

  • we could learn how to snap their necks, "just in case",

  • at a euthanasia appointment, "well, I don't love my chickens that much" (as I'm holding a lifeless body of what was one of our beloved rescue),

  • crematoriums won't cremate chickens (we've had to take time off work to drive chickens ourselves for post-life care),

  • implants are illegal (they're not),

  • you can't give subcutaneous fluids to chickens (you can),

  • that I know more than they do (in this case, yes, but not enough to save a life).

These are our experiences as sanctuary owners who run an operation rescuing chickens. We spent 60 days between the close of our house and owning our abandoned chickens educating ourselves with Open Sanctuary resources, surrounding ourselves with fellow sanctuaries who have experience and knowledge, and pre-arranging a veterinary partnership (which sadly, the vet became unavailable).

This is part of why we're against the keeping of backyard chickens where veterinary care is not readily available.

There are no regulations requiring people who have backyard chickens to educate themselves on caring for chickens. Normally pet owners can rely on veterinarians for medical advice, but as we've shown above, what does someone do when there is no care available? What happens when someone's bird starts sneezing or exhibits signs of Avian Flu and they're not educated or unaware on how to handle the situation?

For another blog - something to ponder on is what happens when veterinarian care is not available and vets cannot intervene to inform owners of potential neglect they are causing? As a sanctuary we have build a 25 page operations manual reviewed by other sanctuaries. We have built our coops with medical needs and biosecurity measures in place. We have a list of veterinarians and which of them are available during which times and for which procedures. We have an emergency medical fund. Most backyard chicken owners do not prepare these things.

I can say this because I am a part of several backyard groups and have seen the questions. Like these:

*Clipped wings can be seen as an abnormality by flock mates who can see it as a sign of weakness and other hens may begin to attack one another if their wings are clipped.

It is out belief that it is inhumane to breed or purchase backyard chickens knowing there is a lack of veterinary care and ability to prepare for medical emergencies which would allow the chickens to suffer.


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