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Sweetie and frostbite

Chickens Just Want to Be Warm


By Melanie Moonstone.

Melanie is the founder of Rooster Redemption, a non-profit 501(c)(3) animal sanctuary located in Skagit County, WA. You can follow Rooster Redemption on social media @roosterredemption.

 

As humans, we have all experienced being cold at some point in our lives. It’s miserable and we just want to get warm as soon as possible. Many of us are lucky enough to have access to warm homes, whereas many humans don’t have adequate shelter due to homelessness, poverty, or economic hardship and they struggle to stay warm. I have always tried to imagine being in their shoes, unable to see warmth at the end of the tunnel. After all, we moved to Washington from Minnesota in 2022 and we are no strangers to sub-zero temperatures. Unfortunately we all know that non-human animals experience the cold, and I am here to share Sweetie’s story in an effort to help chickens all over. 


On January 7th, 2023 we received a message from Adopt-A-Bird Network about a hen in Montana with severe frostbite on her legs and feet. We attempted to find a sanctuary in Montana who could take her in as a special needs bird. Sweetie was undoubtedly going to lose her feet and part of her legs. Frostbite kills tissue and once the damage is done, there is no reversal. We did not find a sanctuary and our hearts had no choice but to drive to Montana as soon as possible because we knew time was of the essence for her to access proper care. We left at 10pm that night with 4 dogs in tow, driving 10 hours through the night, switching off for naps. 



Sweetie was part of a flock of other hens and roosters. The person who obtained these chickens had never cared for birds before. There was a drop in temperatures in December and January, Sweetie was being picked on by the flock and was not welcomed to roost with them. When the person noticed the frostbite, they brought her inside. They asked for advice on social media in backyard poultry groups and were horribly misguided. For three weeks Sweetie dealt with pain and was treated with ibuprofen and Tylenol (this is not adequate treatment and can kill birds). She was not eating on her own and was being force fed, at the recommendation of a backyard poultry group. This is another reason we needed to act urgently because we knew she wasn’t eating because she was in so much pain.


When we picked her up, the person cried and was very sad that Sweetie was leaving, but they knew they were doing the right thing by surrendering her to a sanctuary who can meet her needs. We administered proper pain medication immediately and within an hour Sweetie was eating on her own. We drove the 10 hours back to Washington and hit the ER clinic on the way back. They prescribed antibiotics as well as medication for nerves and pain. There was an option for surgery, but we were not set on that route yet. We knew there were two options: surgically remove her feet or allow her body to naturally amputate them. There are pros and cons to both.


We contacted over 13 veterinarian clinics in Washington with photos of the damage to her feet. At least 7 clinics recommended euthanasia without even seeing her for an exam because “she will not have a good quality of life without feet.” We 100% disagreed and knew that Sweetie would live an amazing life and thrive.



Over the next week we went through the trauma with Sweetie, while she lost her feet. We were relaxing one evening and all of a sudden she started screaming. We ran to her and there was her foot, detached from her body. The next day her other foot detached. It was an experience I will never forget, something a bird should never have to go through. 


Fast forward to now, she is 100% thriving and a very happy chicken. She walks, runs, jumps, hops, dust bathes, forages. She does everything a chicken with feet would do. We wrap her stumps every few days with cushioning and she is good to go.



Let’s go back to the beginning of the story, where we talked about humans desiring something so basic: warmth. Animals do too, and they deserve it. And I can’t help but picture how many humans sit in their homes warm, while their chickens suffer greatly in the cold. Frostbite is preventable and unacceptable for any species being cared for by humans. We have been met with statements from the very people who were giving advice in the backyard poultry groups including “shit happens, they don’t come with an instruction manual.” Unfortunately, the root of the problem is hatcheries, feed stores, and backyard chicken keepers sharing the myth that chickens are “cold hardy” and do just fine in below freezing temps. In our opinion, it is common sense to not allow domesticated animals to be kept in freezing temperatures, ever. Chickens are descendants of jungle fowl, not penguins. Thank you for reading Sweetie’s story, frostbite is more common than you think and we aim to educate to help more chickens.


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