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“Nova’s Tribulations: The Eye Wound”

It had been a cold winter.  We were lounging in the upper deck of the ‘upper greenhouse’, as we call it.  We were having a spot of sunshine and it’s always warmest at the top of the greenhouse. My cats Nochi, Nova, and Mario were lounging with me.

Without warrant, as he was prone to doing, Mario looked sideways at his sister Nova and began terrorizing her in classic cat fashion. They had a momentary brawl and both cats bolted away.

I didn’t think anything of the spat. Mario has always been mean to poor little Nova. The next afternoon I was opening a drawer in the greenhouse and jumped back in surprise- there was a big grey animal in the drawer! I quickly realized it was Nova. I teased her and greeted her but she didn’t respond. She was curled up tightly in a ball. Very unusual. So I pried her up and out of the drawer, only to find myself in a mild panic at the sight of her left eye; it was a giant mat of blood!

I rushed Nova inside, nestled her into the covers on the bed, and took stock of what needed to happen. Foremost in a situation like this, the blood needs to be cleaned up. So with many changes of warm, wet towels I washed the caked blood from her face and eye. I had no idea what I would find under her eyelid- was her eye destroyed? How bad was this? In the moment I wasn’t sure what could have possibly happened!

Once the excess blood was out of the way, I made a hot tea of holy basil (antiseptic pain relief) and usnea lichen (antibiotic). I laid with Nova and loved on her while holding the hot, juicy tea compress over her eye, making sure the tea could seep in and around the eye, which was caked shut with blood. I didn’t want to pry it open because I didn’t know the extent of the damage I was dealing with.

Nova was miserable. She slept day after day, only getting up a few times- which signaled me to whisk her outside so she could relieve herself. Twice I let her out to do her thing and she didn’t come back. It was frigid outside and I still didn’t know how bad her condition was. I set about calling her and searching high and low for her. Eventually she reappeared, waiting by the back door for me to let her in. Phew!

About a week passed before the constant daily tea soaks had un-crusted her bloody eye. She was squinting out of the eye ever so gently. Her eye was solid blood red. I was overcome with sadness for her- surely she had lost vision in the eye if it was so full of blood!

My treatment for her remained unchanged. Usnea and basil flushing and compresses to the eye. Around day 10 she was improving greatly.  It had become apparent that when Mario jumped her, he had raked his claws across her eye and actually sliced her eyelid open from the back corner of the eye up towards her ear. It was pretty gross and I was highly displeased with Mario for it. I was still unsure if Nova’s eyesight would recover.

Once the majority of the healing was complete and her pain levels dropped, Nova became restless and I evicted her once again from the house. She stayed close to home and I kept an eye on her. She seemed to be doing quite well.  After a few weeks her eye was open again fully, her eyelid had healed without the slightest hint of infection, swelling, or complication.  Her eye, however, was a deep dark brown color from all the blood, and her pupil was pronouncedly dilated at all times.

It took a few months for the dark coloration in her iris to fully disperse. I tested her eyesight thoroughly (laser pointers do have their practical applications!) and she appeared to have no loss of vision in her left eye. Phew! To this day though, her left pupil is always slightly more dilated than her right. A legacy from Mario that reminds me of him every time I look into Nova’s eyes.

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“The Boar Has What? WHERE?!”

Ol’ Spotty Wattles the Kune Kune boar was starting to move a bit stiff.  He didn’t want to move around much, and when he did, he did this funny little dance with his back legs.  I thought at first maybe he strained a muscle in a back leg somehow.  A week passed and he didn’t seem to be improving.  He ate and drank well enough, but something was off about him.
One day we’re feeding the pigs and we take a closer look at him.  His back end looked all wrong.  His testicles were bulging out unusually far.  Curious, we went in for a closer look.  To our horror we discovered that this massive bulge was not actually his testicles, but some other hard mass about the size of a softball.

I dove into hours of research online to try and discover what this could be.  Our first fear was an inguinal hernia, even though from what we read it really only happens to developing piglets.  So we called a small town vet, who doesn’t see pigs, but was happy to give some delicate advise; cut it open.  If it’s a hernia, cut the scrotum open very carefully and try not to cut into the hernia itself.  If it is a hernia, and the hernia is that big, we’ll have put him down anyway, so stand by with a pistol just in case everything goes wrong.  If it’s not a hernia, it’s probably an abscess.  Best case scenario we open up an abscess and drain it.
After much discussion, stress, and preparation for all possible scenarios, we calmly and casually remove the sows from the barn so Spot is alone with us.  Take into consideration this is a 200lb Kune Kune boar that was hand raised on our front porch.  Ol’ Spot didn’t have a mean bone in his body and he loved us dearly.  I can’t say that about any other pig we’ve kept.
So my partner gets into position with a fresh, sharp razor blade on the aft-end of the pig, and I bust out the grain bucket on the mouth-end of the pig to distract him.  Thankfully we had a best-case-scenario.  We opened up a 1″ incision on his scrotum and copious quantities of cheese-puss immediately came bulging out.  Spot didn’t even flinch, he was busy eating grain.  The smell was absolutely nauseating.  We had a tiny window of opportunity with the distracted boar to drain the abscess as quickly as possible, which involved massaging, milking, and squeezing out the rancid mass.
I’m sure initially the draining felt rather relieving to Spot.  His testicles had been strained and squished far lower than normal (which we believe ultimately resulted in infertility, unfortunately), making it painful for him to walk.  He patiently allowed us to work until most of the draining was complete- then his pain receptors kicked in.  Thankfully he was small and gentle enough to hold relatively still so I could dive in with a 20cc plunger of warm antiseptic tea.  I had preemptively brewed a strong usnea and basil tea and added a healthy splash of vinegar to the mix.  I set the nozzle of the plunger in the incision and flushed the full plunger through.  Tea belched back out of the incision mixed with blood and puss.  It was really, really disgusting.  Really.  Really really.  But it had to be done.  I flushed at least 4 full plungers of tea through his wound until it was running out clean and clear.  By this time Spot had also decided he’d had enough of whatever we were doing to his back end and became unmanageable.
For about a week I continued to visit his back side with my plunger and quart jar of antiseptic tea.  I flushed his wound out at least once a day.  Within 2 weeks it was fully healed over with hardly a scar.  Our best guess is that the big dummy was scratching his butt on a sharp stick or stump and poked a small but deep hole into his scrotum.  The subsequent puncture became infected.  It’s possible there was woody debris encased in the puss we drained out, but we didn’t rifle through it to find out.  We didn’t notice he had a problem because pig testicles normally bulge out their back side.  It took the abscess brewing until it was so abnormally large that it became obvious to us.  Poor Spot!
About a month later though, Spot went down again.  This time he seemed like he had a serious issue.  For 2 days he didn’t leave the barn.  1 day we can chalk up to his love of sleep.  2 days without food-lust is a red flag.  And on day 2 the ravens began to gather.  They always know when a critter is down for the count!
We once again shooed the sows out of the barn and locked ourselves in with Spot.  He laid listlessly on his side.  We checked his back end- no new wounds, and the old abscess was totally healed.  So we got him on his feet and I knelt down to inspect his undercarriage.  I found the problem!
Ol’ Spotty had once again been scratching on the wrong forest debris.  This time he had an abscess around his sheath that was about the size of a golf ball.  The abscess was now putting pressure on his urinary tract.  He couldn’t pee.  And he probably hadn’t peed since the day before.  This was urgent.

So we swiftly re-enacted our procedure from a few weeks prior.  A simple cut-and-drain, but this time with even more sensitivity and care due to the location.  I let my partner do this cut as well, since his empathy for the situation was extra acute…   He cut the abscess on the top-most edge, the farthest possible place away from Spot’s delicate anatomy.  And once again Spot was a gentle, patient pig for us.  Once again the relief was probably most welcome for him.

We cut him, drained him, flushed him, and got him up on his feet.  He peed.  And peed and peed and peed.  And peed some more.  And proceeded to wander down to the food trough to join the ladies, like nothing had happened.  I kept an eye on him and flushed him only a few times over the next couple weeks; this was 

a location I couldn’t easily get to.  It’s one thing to sneak up behind him while he’s eating and give him a surprise flush in the scrotum.  It’s another thing entirely to have to lie down on the ground next to him and finagle a sheath flush.  So I watched for signs of re-infection and mostly just hoped his body would be able to heal without too much help from the usnea tea.
He did great and healed from both wounds without recurring infection or complication.
We did eventually have to butcher Spot, unfortunately he had a degenerative bone disease that was destroying his mobility.  Poor boy.  Bad genetics are a tough lot in life.  You are remembered fondly, Spotty Wattles!  Attached is a photo of the big lump snoozing with some chickens.
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“A Hawk Snatched the Puppy”

I was on the phone when I heard our 5 week old puppy, Neoma, start yelping on the hill behind the house. It was the first time she’d ever ventured that far out.  I listened keenly, assuming she was simply distressed upon realizing how far she was from her mother and siblings. I listened to her come down the hill, around the cabin, and toward the front porch, whining, but not in a way that alarmed me. But when she got to the front porch she exploded in hysterical screaming. I quickly hung up my phone call and ran outside.

She sat on the front step, blood coating one side of her face. I rushed her inside.  Blood was soaking her face and my mind was racing; “What happened? WHAT DO I DO?!

 I couldn’t do anything for her, I couldn’t touch her face. She was a mess; a screaming, hysterical, terrified mess of a tiny dog.

I was genuinely worried her heart would give out from the level of her distress. 5 minutes passed, I paced the house with her, trying desperately to console her. 20 minutes had passed, still she screamed relentlessly at the top of her lungs and the bleeding wasn’t letting up. I couldn’t touch her face without cranking her hysteria up to the next level.

 

And then I had a (reluctant) revelation. How have I sedated dogs in the past? I paid a visit to my precious supply of strictly medicinal (seriously) cannabis oil. I factored what kind of a preciously minute amount would be appropriate for such a tiny dog- not that a large dose could hurt her, because it can’t, but I didn’t need her sleeping for 2 days straight. I rubbed a tiny dab into her gums and paced the house with her for another 10 minutes. Her hysteria turned to exhaustion and her piercing screams turned into sleepy crying. I paced for another 10 minutes until she was asleep.

Using cannabis-infused oils for sedation is safe and effective.  For a long time I used it very conservatively, worried what might happen if I dosed a critter too high (no pun intended).  Then, one day, the mastiff puppy Rowan got up on the kitchen counter and stole a plastic measuring spoon filled with pot butter.  The spoon contained about 1 month’s worth of daily doses for Mili the Dog, who was contending  with severe health complications (that’s another story).   So Rowan ate a month’s worth of sedating doses in 1 sitting.  He could have stolen peanut butter, or bread, or any number of things, but no, he stole the spoonful of oil, ate all the oil, and half the spoon.  ROWAN!!!
Through the next day Rowan hunkered down on a dog bed on the porch and slept fitfully for over 12 hours straight.  He barely responded when addressed, his eyes were unfocused, and everything he did was delayed, almost in ‘slow motion’.  If you cooed at him his tail would wag….  wag…. wag…. wag…. wag…. at a hilariously slow rate.  We kept a sharp eye on his well being- he was otherwise fine.  He never threw up, his bowels were unaffected, his vital functions were stable.  I was stressed beyond belief.  Andy laughed and assured me he’d be fine.
After 48 hours Rowan was starting to feel himself again, albeit very hungry.  And by the next day he was totally back to normal.  
This haphazard learning experience taught me not to fear cannabis overdose in animals.

 

 

At this point I was able to set her down on the bed, clean her up, clear my head, and figure out what the heck was going on. After much fussing and many bloody swabs, I revealed a slice across her scalp, a small puncture in her cheek, and a disconcertingly deep puncture inside of her ear. There was a pin-prick sized hole almost and inch down inside of the cartilage folds of her tiny ear.

Apparently a hawk had tried to snag itself a canine luncheon. Raptors strive to pierce their prey through the ear into the brain for an instant kill. But this bird missed; its talon went harmlessly into the cartilage rather than into her skull.

 

My first task was to trim hair away from the wounds with scissors so I could discern how large they were and keep the fur out so they could heal. My second task was to discern whether there was damage to the ear itself and to keep the blood from pooling or caking inside the ear. Allowing the blood to fill and scab over in the ear may lead to long-term damages or scar tissue build up inside the ear, affecting both balance and hearing.

Using cotton swabs I was able to pinpoint where the hole was and was relieved to find it wasn’t piercing anything but flesh. Her ear was not damaged. I cleaned her up and applied an antiseptic, soothing salve to her cheek and scalp wounds. I kept her ear swabbed with alcohol to keep it sterile.

Her cheek and scalp wounds healed up quickly enough, but her ear continued to bleed for almost 4 days. Not a dangerous amount, but I had to sedate her lightly each day to remove the blood up and clean her ear.

 

Within a week or two she was back to her normal self, though she didn’t wander off alone. She had psychological trauma from the incident that took the first few months of her life to overcome; afraid of her ears being touched, afraid of being ‘snatched up’, etc. Thankfully there is no lasting or residual damage from the event.  She had a funny hairdo for quite awhile though!  I often wonder what she thinks when she looks up at the sky and watches the birds.

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“The Goat Ripped Her Teat Open”

I put Ruma on the stanchion one morning, as per usual, and knelt down to milk.
Wait- blood? Fresh blood? Where is it- oh wow… Ew.
She had somehow snagged her teat on something and tore it clean open, nearly 2 inches long. A very unsettling mixture of blood and milk was weeping out of the gash. Gross. Super gross.
So I milked out her good side, trying not to look at the wound too closely for my own stomach’s sake. I went home and pondered what to do. I ended up making a lard salve with usnea, comfrey, and holy basil in it. Every day, and throughout the days, I slathered the torn teat with the salve to help keep debris out of it. The blood and milk wept from it for a few days.
The poor girl was so full on that side of her udder that walking was becoming painful for her. We couldn’t touch the teat without the wound totally opening again. It was healing nicely but the scab wasn’t very strong. So at each milking we gently compressed her udder. Milk would shoot out of her teat (in a normal, natural fashion) and bring her some level of relief. We did not squeeze or compress too much for fear of bruising or injuring her udder.
It took about 7 days for the teat to close up firmly enough to gently milk her. Infection never set in. I kept the teat slathered in salve constantly. Once it was healed enough (gentle trial and error), I milked very carefully with the wound firmly covered by my palm to keep the milk’s pressure from focusing on that point and breaking her scab open. She flinched and kicked now and again, but the relief of being milked out overpowered the discomfort of the wound.
Within 2 weeks we were milking normally again. She had some scar tissue in the teat for awhile that restricted the milk’s flow. I gently massaged it at each milking to help break it up.
Surprisingly she did not reduce her milk production at all from the injury. She made a complete recovery with no lasting damage to her teat.
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“Aspen’s Story: Broken Turkey Legs”

Aspen was a black Spanish turkey I purchased.  She was an adult and had grown up semi-wild.  She had very little trust in me.
As turkey hens do, Aspen went broody in her first spring with me.  She chose a large wooden cupboard for her nest.  And as turkey toms do, Pip the tom started to get restless after all of the hens disappeared to sit nests.  To my dismay, he found Aspen in her cupboard and attempted to pull her out off the nest to breed (I talk more in-depth about tom breeding behavior problems like this in my publication “Re-think: Small Livestock”, which is very near completion at the time of writing this story).  Aspen refused to budge from her nest, so instead Pip tried to get in the cupboard with her.
The next morning I checked on Aspen, as I did daily, and found her cupboard spattered with crushed egg goo.  She looked very ragged.  Disappointed, I let her be.  But the next day she didn’t leave the cupboard, even though her nest had been destroyed.  So I extracted her, much to her distress and protest, only to discover that he femur had been snapped by the tom.
The poor lady!  This was the first broken bone I’d ever had to deal with in livestock.  Not entirely certain what to do, and after some contemplation, I splinted her leg with some wood and vet-wrapped the leg from the thigh down to her ‘drumstick’ so the joint was stuck totally straight, she couldn’t bend her leg at the knee.  Vet-wrap is the strange word we use for that self-sticking-but-not-adhesive medical wrap tape that is used to  cover plaster casts, in case you’re not familiar with the word.
Hoping I did the right thing for her, I isolated Aspen in a small pen where she couldn’t move much.  I checked her daily and delivered food and water to her.  She mostly sat uncomfortably on the ground and cowered when I came too close.
It took about 5 days, but she started standing and walking again.  Her cast came undone on its own with this movement.  I hesitantly released her back into the flock.  She recovered rapidly as though nothing had happened, laid a new clutch of eggs and went back to sitting.  She had no apparent lasting damage from the break.  The ordeal had also taught her to trust me on a deep level.  She was a very sweet and personable hen after that.
Birds, like many animals, produce allantoin in their body under oxidative stress.  This chemical is found in high concentration in comfrey family plants.  Humans do not produce allantoin, so it takes our bodies exponentially longer to heal wounds than it might take an animal to heal the same wound.  Allantoin stimulates tissue repair and may dramatically speed healing of skin, tissue, and bone alike.  This is why comfrey and its relatives have been given common names such as “woundwort” and “bonemend”.
It’s important to set a broken leg in a bird as soon as you discover it.  I have cared for multiple hens who suffered broken legs from aggressive toms during the breeding season.  All of them recovered rapidly and wonderfully.  However I once had a mean, half-wild turkey tom that broke his leg fighting.  I couldn’t handle or catch him, and he was MEAN.  I left him alone hoping the leg would heal naturally without my intervention.  It healed alright!  But it healed backward!  His leg healed twisted, leaving his knee joint facing backward and crippling him.  It was a grim scenario, but that violent tom was destined for butcher as it was, so I my guilt was limited.  It was a valuable lesson learned.
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“Stitches the Chicken”

Before moving to an area with frigidly cold winters and an extended cold season, I kept turkens.  Turkens are a breed of chicken that lack feathering on their head and necks.  I love turkens, they’re fantastic, and I wish I could raise them here on the mountain but that would be cruel to the half-naked birds.
So one day I head out into my bird yard to put the birds up for the night and I notice something amiss with one of my turken cockerels.  Upon inspection I find a large L-shaped slice on his neck.  His skin was totally peeled back, leaving a one-inch patch of exposed neck muscle.  This was probably the first gnarly livestock injury I’d encountered.
Horrified, I called a friend who was far more seasoned in chickens than I was.  I brought the cockerel to her home.  She calmly procured a needle and thread, and with me holding the bird she artfully stitched the neck skin back into place.  The cockerel hardly flinched. I was impressed by both of them and their relative level of tranquility about the situation.  I was a nervous wreck!
My friend sent me off with a small glob of an herbal healing salve (which was probably the first salve I ever used on anything, actually) to apply to Stitches’ (as he was now called) neck each day.   After just 3 or 4 days, Stitches’ wound healed wonderfully.  With some dainty nippers I snipped his stitches and pulled the threads free of his skin.  I continued to apply the salve until it looked like he was well healed.
I have since stitched several chickens back up.  Most of them turkens.  It seems having a nude neck isn’t the most adventitious thing when you’re a paper-skinned chicken.  One bird I stitched up was mauled by a skunk and had the skin around his wings torn badly in several places.  I think the skunk had attempted to drag the young bird by the wing.  In each case the birds healed up rapidly and without complication.