When most people tell others what they do for a living, people usually smile, nod, maybe say “Oh, really…..thats nice”. My job is not like that. I’ve tried for years to answer with “I’m a vet”, and people look moderately impressed, and invariably ask “What clinic do you work at”…..at which time, I have to confess to being a chicken vet. Insert blank stare here. It is a source of great amusement at the annual vet alumni hockey tournament. All the dog and cat and horse and cow vets think I’m odd…and not just because I’m a goalie. Even the pig vets poke fun at me….I may need a therapist soon. My so-called friends and colleagues have called me “Mike the Chicken Vet” at the tourney for years before I started this blog.
So….to save time, I’m going to explain what I do here….once. Please refer your curious friends to this post, so once…JUST ONCE….I can meet someone on the street who will respond “Oh, a chicken vet….I’ve heard about you people”.
So…kidding aside, what do I do? I look after the health of laying hens….from day old peepers to old hens who have produced more food for us, pound for pound, than any other type of food-producing animal. My job consists primarily of driving all over the province of Ontario, visiting flocks. I drive over 85,000 km per year, because it’s tough to bring a barn full of chickens to a vets office. I know the location of the vast majority of small towns in the province.
I work regularly with all types of commercial hens…brown, white, organic, free-run, and traditionally caged. I rarely treat disease, but spend my time on vaccinations and management advice. I need more than a passing knowledge of nutrition, bird psychology and food safety, as well as vet medicine.
When I do get a call for a sick flock, its my job to figure out why the birds are doing what they’re doing. Usually, the signs are subtle…the hens are eating or drinking a bit less than normal, or the average egg size has dropped a bit….then the detective work begins.
Have you ever noticed that some days you aren’t all that thirsty or hungry? Imagine a doctor asking you why you didn’t eat much today. Now imagine that he can’t talk. Now imagine that you can’t talk. Now imagine that there are thousands of you, and he is wondering why the average amount of food eaten is low…but he can’t talk….and neither can you….
You get the idea as to why my vet “friends” mock me….
The bad news is that a lot of the problems I deal with are behavioural in nature. Chickens don’t play well in groups. They are very hierarchical, and aggressive. Often, the feed is well-balanced, good quality, and abundant, but the “bully” hens don’t allow the “timid” hens to eat enough of it. Or apparently healthy chicks won’t eat or drink the food that is right in front of them. Then there are the times when birds will crowd together so tightly that they start to squish each other….occasionally to the point where the birds on the bottom of the pile can suffocate….
I’m starting to get involved a bit with backyard flocks lately. That is an ENTIRELY different
ball game. There is no standard type of backyard flock, so each bird must be looked at completely anew. Many birds are on ad-hoc rations, in cobbled together living conditions, and of many different breeds. Don’t get me wrong, most of them are well cared for and well provided for, but it’s never the same situation twice. It’s fascinating to see how “backyarders” get around the problems that face them….most of the solutions are ingenious.
I’ll tell you one thing though…its never boring. The farmers are usually great to work with, and the problems are complicated enough that it gives me lots to think about as I’m driving.
I hope this gives you a small glimpse into what I do. I rarely do the same thing 2 days in a row, and I get to drive all over this province, which I love to do. Some days it’s frustrating, but it sure beats working for a living!
Mike the Chicken Vet