Friday, April 5, 2013

Stitchin' Chicken in the Kitchen

I was at our neighbor’s barn as I am every weekday afternoon, taking care of the two Appaloosas, Nick and Takoda, when Kelsey called on my cell phone to ask when I was coming home.


“Because a hawk came after the chickens and one of them was fighting it. The dogs chased it off. I don’t think it got anyone.”

As I quickly walked back down the hill, I thought which of the chickens I valued the most. Certainly Buffy, our friendly Buff Orpington, is a family favorite. NestlĂ© lays dark chocolate-brown eggs; I’d driven to a poultry show specifically to get a Copper Maran pullet so I’d hate to lose her. I went through the 16 chickens in my mind and concluded that the ones I would miss the least would be the two Silver Spangled Hamburg hens. The Hamburgs are small and flighty, not very attractive physically, skittish. I’ve never been too attached to them. Our Hamburg’s names are Righty and Tighty, so named because Righty’s tail sticks up like a sail, but angles to the right. Tighty got her name by default. We do have a Lucy, the Rhode Island Red, but no Lefty. And yes, all 16 of our chickens have names.

As fate would have it, Kelsey and I found black and white spotted feathers where she’d seen the hawk on the ground. I recognized them as those of a Hamburg hen. Kelsey happened to be seated near the window when the attack occurred, but didn’t realize the hawk was actually a hawk because it was so small, smaller than many of our chickens in fact. Fortunately, our dogs, Chardonnay and Coraline, raised the alarm, causing Kelsey to look up and see the hawk struggling with a hen while the rest of the flock ran for cover.

She let the dogs outside and the hawk flew to a nearby tree and perched there, watching and probably a bit miffed. The chickens all scurried under the deck and Aslan, our rooster, placed himself between his flock and the entrance. Too bad Aslan wasn’t with those particular hens when the hawk came down, but I imagine the hawk planned it that way; attack the smaller hens who were by themselves, away from the rooster. Roosters are wonderful flock protectors and Aslan was purchased over a year ago specifically because he is the size of a large hawk. He also happens to be a beautiful bird and a real gentleman toward his girls and his humans.

I threw scratch on the ground and called the chickens out from hiding so we could count them. We were missing a Hamburg hen. Kelsey spotted her under the bush by the deck, alive but obviously not herself. It was Righty. Nervous when I got closer to her, Righty walked gingerly under the deck, and planted herself next to the house, far out of reach. She didn’t respond when I tossed food her way. Not good. I figured we’d stress her out totally if we tried to flush her out and catch her. Catching her would be nearly impossible given her skittish nature to begin with.

So we watched and waited until the sun started to go down and the chickens came home to roost in their coop. Righty was able to jump up on a perch where she was easy to catch. Once I had her, Jay and I examined Righty’s body. Initially, she seemed fine; some feathers missing, wings okay.

“She’ll be fine. She’s just traumatized,” Jay proclaimed.

“Check her belly” I said as I tipped Righty over. “Uh oh. He got her good.”

I brought Righty in the house where we had better light. There was a wound about one-inch in diameter which ripped her lower abdomen clear open. We could see body parts in there. I’m not sure what I was looking at, but Jay said the yellow stuff I saw was fat. No blood though. Even though I wasn’t sure that her organs weren’t punctured, I knew we needed to do something. It was 7:30 pm and the vet I’d taken a chicken to before would be closed. Kelsey came in, looked at the gaping hole in the bird and freaked out as only a teenage girl can do. Still holding Righty upside-down in a tight grip, I calmed Kelsey down and instructed her as our assistant.

Next thing you know, peroxide has been poured over the wound, feathers have been clipped back, and Kelsey is keeping Righty and herself calm by keeping both of their heads in the dark. After a false start with a dull needle and fishing line, Jay stitched her up with teal blue thread (easier to see to remove later) and a new needle from my sewing kit. Antibiotic ointment was applied, a chicken’s dosage of amoxicillin was syringed into her beak and Righty was put safely back outside on the perch in the coop.

After the surgery was over, Kelsey headed upstairs to her room, “Well, that’s enough adventure for now.”

Two days later, Righty seems sore, but is eating, drinking and getting around well. There is reason to hope that she’ll be fine.

Righty, Hawk Attack Survivor


  1. You coulda/shoulda/mighta been a vet! Had me caught up in the story. Given my ignorance about chicken blood and nerve systems, I have two questions: 1) Why was there little or no blood? (No blood vessels near the skin?); and, 2) Was it painful for the chicken? (Both the original cut and the surgery - not to mention the peroxide.)

  2. I'm not sure why there wasn't any blood, but there wasn't. The wound was located pretty far down, right around where her pelvic bone would be. Righty also had a puncture wound on her chest which had dried blood on it, but that wound was more superficial.

    Hydrogen Peroxide doesn't burn which was why we used it. Rubbing alcohol would hurt. By the way Righty was walking, I assume she was in pain. And yes, suturing her hurt, but hopefully since there was no blood, there were few nerve endings also. She jumped when we first started with the needle, but after Kelsey kept her head completely covered (the chicken's, not Kelsey's), Righty was very still and cooperative. Darkness quiets them down immensely. The stitches come out tonight.