The Chicken Medicine Cabinet

Chickens are fairly simple animals to take care of. The day to day flock management takes only a few minutes. Overall good health can be maintained by keeping the coop clean, dry and well-ventilated, and by giving your hens plenty of space, good food and clean water. Enclosures should be as predator-proof as possible. Still, birds get injured, they get attacked, and they get sick. When that happens, you want to have the tools at hand to care for them.

It’s always useful to have scissors. You never know when you’re going to have to cut off a tangled string, trim some feathers, or cut a piece of duct tape. I also keep a pair of sturdy gloves within reach.

Almost everything else in my coop emergency medicine cabinet fits in this case. I keep it in the barn.

Rubbing alcohol, gauze, and vaseline have a multitude of uses. Disposable gloves not only protect you from handling gross stuff, but they help to prevent the spread of germs. Duct tape is essential! Among the many uses, I’ve made it into hats to protect pecked-on heads, and fashioned sturdy band-aids out of it to cover wounds.

Two other essentials are blu-kote (gentian violet) and povidone. The povidone is the expensive version of betadine. It effectively kills germs and does wonder on red, irritated bottoms. The blu-kote, also a topical antiseptic, (though not as powerful) has the added benefit of darkening red skin which reduces pecking. Both are permanent stains, which is one more reason to have those disposable gloves on hand.

If you do have a chicken with a wound, then topical analgesic and antibiotic creams can be used. The other product that you should know about is the calcium alginate dressing. If your chicken gets a puncture wound (a dog will do this) then you can pack the wound with this dressing. Don’t buy these items ahead of time, as they have a limited shelf-life, and storage in a hot and/or freezing barn limits their effectiveness. But, once you do have them and use them, don’t put them back in the house with the products you use on yourself!

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know how much I believe in epsom salts, which can be used both internally and externally. The “spa treatment” of a warm epsom salt soak helps with laying issues, abdominal swelling and irritated skin. (Follow the package directions.) Epsom salt, when ingested, can neutralize toxins, help get the intestinal tract moving, reduce runny poo and treat vent gleet.

Olive oil is also one of those cure-alls. When a hen looks poorly and isn’t producing manure, I want to get things moving. A dose of a tablespoon, poured down the throat, can sometimes loosen blockages and help.

Lastly, there are times when the only thing that will save your flock are antibiotics. These can be purchased online, at feed stores and from your veterinarian. There are many on the market, and you’ll read that some are better for certain respiratory diseases than others. This is true, but unless you take your chicken to a vet and have blood work done, you won’t know what you have. Symptoms can be deceiving! I dose with what I have, and if symptoms don’t improve in 24 hours, I reassess the drugs that I’m using. Don’t purchase ahead of time as they have a limited shelf-life. But, once you have them, store in a safe place (preferably with a cool, steady temperature) and use when you need them.

It’s a simple medicine cabinet. It’s most effective is you know your animals, thoughtfully observe what’s amiss, and use the products with common sense.


  1. What a wonderful post for first time chicken mommas like me. We’re waiting on eggs to hatch and I am nervous about all the things that can ail them. Thanks for this list.

  2. Great advice as always.
    I walked around for weeks with blue fingers as I wasn’t smart enough to use rubber gloves when using Blu Kote.

    Also, love the square headed nails, the first thing I spotted.

    • The first time I used that blue stain got my fingers and clothes. But I’ve learned :)
      Yes, I use square nails – the small details make me happy.

  3. Thank you Terry..I am printing this and hanging it up in the coop for reference…you are a gem!

  4. Thanks for the list. So helpful. I also just finished reading your article in Backyard Poultry, great article with some really good and practical information.

  5. Great information, and I am so proud I have more than half of them on hand, however not so nicely put together. You caught my eye with the hat out of duct tape can you show us one sometime? I’ve tried in the past with no success.

  6. This is the best! Whenever I have problems with my flock your site is my first line of action. My Vet has put you on his resource list.

  7. So much great info, I check in every day! I am prepping to have chickens next year but I have to say…I’m nervous now. So many ailments to know about…so many dangers…ack!

    I have rabbits/birds/cats/dog and feel secure that I can care for them (with the help of my vet) but I’m feeling like chickens maybe too fragile. Am I wrong? I hope so :)

    • Chickens are quite sturdy. The difference for backyard poultry keepers is that few of us have vets to turn to, or others with years of knowledge. So, we talk about the problems – in disproportion to the no-problem times. Hens are easy compared to the animals you already have.

  8. Very helpful advice, Terry. I need to pick up some supplies today. And since I no longer have horses (at home), I think I’ll store things in my former horse medicine kit which was originally a tool box:-) Reuse, recycle!!
    Does anyone out there in Chicken Land know someone who makes and sells chicken saddles?

    • check out the website They have all kinds of handy links and I remember seeing one for saddles….

  9. Thanks for this informative post Terry. I have never heard of povidone,calcium alginate, or vent gleet. What is vent gleet?

    I have a Silver Laced Wyandotte hen that has a very red and irritated bottom. I have treated her with a number of things including treating my whole flock for mites but nothing has helped her. Sounds like the povidone would help maybe? I have no idea what is causing it other than night picking on her. Poor thing always looks sore.

    Love your blog I always learn something new here.

    Cresca in NH

  10. Thanks so much for this basic info. Amazingly enough, I was able to use it today (I only got caught up on your blog post several days ago). Had an unfortunate break in by a couple of small dogs who found it amusing to chase, and eventually kill, all but one of my silkies, several of my chiks and injure a duck. I remembered having seen this post and hurried to the store to by some packing and prodine. I hope this and some tlc will help to save my duck. Thanks again!