If you raise enough chickens or ducks long enough you will most likely be faced with a case or two of bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is basically a staph infection in which bacteria enters a chicken's (or duck's) foot through a cut caused by a splinter or other sharp object and causes infection which can travel up the leg. It can also be caused by a hard landing off a high roost and tends to affect the heavier breeds. If left untreated it can potentially kill the chicken.
You can't really prevent it, but a low roost about 16-18" from the ground as a 'stepping stone' to the higher roosts can help, as can making sure your run is free of sharp stones and rocks, pieces of glass, even pinecones or sharp sticks.
Fortunately bumblefoot is very easy to spot and fairly easily treatable. Once you know what to look for, a quick once-over of your girls feet every once in awhile will be sufficient to recognize it.
Last summer, I noticed that one of our Australorps was limping a bit one morning. Upon a quick inspection, I found that her foot pad was warm and puffy. Fortunately all my girls, being hand raised from chicks and photographed incessantly, are very used to being picked up and it's not hard to scoop each one up if I need to. Turning her foot over, there was the telltale black scab.
As you can see, bumblefoot can affect both chickens and ducks. Our duck Brigid had it later this past fall.
While some might immediately suggest surgery, I recommend surgery only as a last ditch effort. Instead try treating the infected foot with Vetericyn. It is a non-toxic spray that kills 99.99% of infection in just 30 seconds, increasing the oxygen supply to the wound and promoting rapid healing. It can be used to treat cuts, scratches, bumblefoot, ringworm, hot spots, burns, rashes, rain rot, cinch fungus and more, without stinging or irritating the wound. Contains no steroids, antibiotics or alcohols that might hinder the healing process or weaken the immune system.
First soak the foot in warm water and Epsom salts for 20-30 minutes to soften the foot pad. Then you merely spray the Vetericyn on the foot, then wrap it in gauze and secure with vet wrap, repeating three times a day until the infection is gone. It is well worth the money since a little bit goes a long way.
Another wonderful all natural product you can try is Green Goo from Sierra Sage Herbs. It's an antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic salve that is easy to smear on the foot and then wrap. Here's more on treating bumblefoot naturally, in a non-surgical manner.
If however, after several days the foot doesn't seem to be getting any better, then surgery might be necessary.
If "Surgery" Becomes Necessary
If the foot doesn't improve, or you have a particularly base case, and no vet is available then bumblefoot surgery will likely become necessary. It is a two-person job. One person to act as 'surgeon' and cut, and the other to hold and provide moral support to both the 'patient' and the 'surgeon'. It is not a job for the squeamish, but since your chicken's life and comfort could depend on you doing it, it's something that we all should at least know how to do.
Before discovering Vetericyn, we had one of our Australorps need treating so I enlisted the help of a friend. I was the 'holder'. We have done this surgery three times now, twice on chickens and once on Brigid, our duck, and while I feel confident I COULD do the cutting if absolutely necessary, I am more than happy to just assist.
Before you start, you will need:
A small bowl or plastic dish tub of warm water
First the foot should be soaked in warm water and epsom salts to soften the skin. Reallly let it soak for awhile to let the scab soften. Then the scab needs to be pulled off with sharp tweezers, or scraped off with a sharp scalpel and a circle cut with the scalpel around the scab.
Gently squeeze the foot pad to help remove the hard kernel ...
and the white stringy substance that is the actual infection.
Much as you would think this would be extremely painful to the chicken, from Charlotte's response, it seemed to merely be uncomfortable. Please resist the urge to put any pain reliever on or administer anything orally. There is a better chance of killing the chicken with the pain reliever - any product that ends in 'cane' or 'caine' is toxic to poultry.
Something that I use instead is Bach's Rescue Remedy. It is an all-natural liquid taken orally to calm and relieve stress in animals. Also, chickweed is a natural pain reliever for chickens and they love it, so if you have some readily available in your yard, give some to your patient pre-surgery.
When you feel you have gotten out everything in the foot, a generous squirt of Betadine over the wound helps to disinfect the area.
Then I slather the bottom of the foot with honey (a natural antibiotic) or Vetericyn.
Fold a gauze pad on top of the open wound and wrap it well with Vet Wrap, separating the toes.
And add some tape to hold it in place.
After a bit of curious inspection, Charlotte was good to go and join the others in the run.
TREATING DUCKS WITH BUMBLEFOOT
As you can see, wrapping a duck foot is a bit awkward! Fortunately you can find neoprene duck booties on etsy HERE which is perfect when a duck is recovering from bumblefoot or any foot wound.
If the ground is muddy or wet, separating the 'patient' for a few days so the wound stays clean is a good idea. Otherwise, just keep the foot wrapped well so dirt and mud stays out.
In about a week a new scab should form. As long as the new scab is pink or light tan, not black, you can feel confident that you got the infection out and you can consider your patient cured.
Caught early enough, bumblefoot is quite easy to treat, although it doesn't always cause the chicken to limp, so a quick peek on the underside of each foot is important. Be sure and keep an eye on your girls' feet so you catch any problems early on and be sure to bookmark this article so you will be able to find it again if you ever need it.
Disclosure: I am not a veterinarian. This is written from my personal experience, and from reading from various scientific and holistic sources. Your own experience with bumblefoot in your flock could differ based on a variety of factors, including how quickly you catch a case. If you believe the foot is infected, it is always best to consult with a professional as to the best treatment. This post is for informational use only.