Monday, August 19, 2013

Homesteading University

Kim has had her hands full this summer with all things chicken related, much of it good and some of it challenging. And then this weekend, something new: bumblefoot.

Bumblefoot is an infection in a chicken's foot, caused by anything from a cut or scrape to a splinter from a roost or damage done by jumping down from a roost that's too high. If the infected tissue is cut out and the foot treated with antibiotics the chicken can go on to lead a long and happy life, but if left untreated bumblefoot can eventually spread to bones and other tissues and be fatal. The surgery is usually an at-home affair because (1) it's easy, (2) most vets have no idea about chickens in general and bumblefoot specifically, and (3) even if they did the cost would be prohibitive.

Kim noticed one of her hens limping on Saturday, had a look at her foot and found the tell-tale black scab. As luck would have it our friends Toni and Steve had been telling us about treating their own chicken for bumblefoot just the week before, and even luckier, they were willing to come to Mucky Boots to give Kim a lesson.

Here's the process:

Step 1: Spa treatment. Ms. Bumblefoot was treated to a warm epsom salts soak. Yes, that's our kitchen sink. And yes, we disinfected the heck out of everything when we were done.

Step 2: Surgery. Steve used a small exacto knife to slice off the scab. This sounds gruesome but it was actually very straightforward. Ms. Bumblefoot, wrapped up in a towel and placed on her side, took it all in stride. Once the scab was gone the infected tissue was visible, and it was a matter of gently and carefully cutting it out while leaving the healthy tissue behind. This case of bumblefoot was caught quite early so there wasn't much infected tissue to remove, and Ms. Bumblefoot was good at letting us know when we were tinkering with healthy tissue instead by starting to struggle instead of lying quietly. Toni suggested we err on the side of removing too little tissue rather than too much; more can always be removed in the days following surgery.

Step 3: Bandaging. We daubed the wound with antibiotic ointment, covered it with a non-stick gauze pad cut down to size, then wrapped it up with stretchy self-sticking tape.

Step 4: Repeat. Every one or two days we will repeat the whole process, looking for and removing any more infected tissue until we've got it all and the wound can heal. In the meantime Ms. Bumblefoot is being housed in one of the brooder boxes, up high on saw horses so she's out of the dust of the chicken yard and can survey the goings on of her friends down below.

We were lucky to have had friends willing to share their expertise - expertise gained through a lot of internet surfing and YouTube watching, plus a large dose of bravery in being willing to translate that into practice. Operating on a case of bumblefoot is just one example of a skill that isn't generally known any more and people are needing to learn again. Wouldn't it be great to have an electronic bulletin board where people in a community could post a request ("Looking for someone who knows how to operate on bumblefoot") or make an offer ("I'm canning pickles on Tuesday between 2 and 5 if anyone wants to learn how"). Kind of like Craigslist, but for the free exchange of homesteading skills. An informal, locally based Homesteading University.

I know there are all kinds of reasons why this might not be practical, like liability, and the dangers of welcoming strangers into your home. But couldn't it be a way to spread knowledge, build resilience, and turn strangers into a community?


Shim Farm said...

Chickens in sinks!

That was the best post ever! My morning cuppa nearly came out my nose.

Being an armchair surgeon myself, this put a smile on my face.

And now, thanks to you, I need to research bumblefoot some more. Is it bacterial, fungal, viral? Inquiring minds NEED to know!

I wonder if you could have packed the wound with some sort of poultry poultice? (Like chickens in sinks, that begged to be said!)

k said...

I've been having thoughts similar to your homesteading university idea lately. I think it's a brilliant idea. I have so many things I want to learn, but I don't know anyone who can teach me. Instead, I read blogs by people who know how to do them.

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

Well, cheers for Kim and her nerves of steel. I will keep this post in mind, just in case, but I wish I could keep her on speed dial, too!
Your idea brings to mind a group I met at Maker Faire: Homegrown. They are working to build a network of homesteaders, city farmers, gardeners, and diy folks, and they collect lessons, tips, and skills to share with the community:
They even have discussions pages...

Ellen and Adrian said...

I've just finished reading through your blog after finding you linked through another blog or two (at this remove, I cannot remember).

My chickens have their Epsom soaks in the laundry room tub. Two nights ago, while eating dinner over the back of a chicken, nestled rather testily into a towel to dry on my lap, I looked at my husband's smile and asked "What?"

No sign of bumblefoot, just some lameness with associated heat and redness, but after the soak she seems much better.

Any advice for would-be mainlanders looking to transition from illegal chicken wranglers in suburbia to life on a small acreage in your area?

Best wishes as we head into the Fall.

Miriam said...

Well, Ellen and Adrian, I'm not sure I'm the best person to go to for advice! But since you asked...:)

My advice would be not to try to do it all at once. Go slowly and build up your capacity a bit at a time, so you can do it properly and not get overloaded.

Oh, and make friends with your neighbours, because our best security (food and otherwise) comes from the strength of our community!

Ellen and Adrian said...

Hi Miriam :) With the weather we're having, I think I could have put off the planting, but I never know when the rain will start in for long periods of time. My neighbour planted 10 days before me, and had her bulbs sending up shoots by the time mine were just going into the ground. We like to joke that with the price of local, organic garlic around these parts, our garlic harvest (knock wood) can be depended on to provide us enough 'income' to justify our other expenditures, even if they fail.

I've made contact with a nice realtor in the Cowichan Valley who has offered to show us about, so we will be continuing to research a move. We've been proceeding slowly for the last five years, and will continue to expand in increments rather than rush headlong. I think it's very important to establish a network of like-minded individuals for sharing of knowledge, supplies, equipment, and occasional in-person assistance. I'll copy this and repost, just to make sure you know I appreciate your response!

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