Duck Triage

In Canada, paramedics and emergency departments use the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) to help determine which patients need to be seen by a physician yesterday, or within 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc. This week I’ve been contemplating the merit of developing CTAS systems for new farmers. If you have livestock eventually you will also have illness, injury, and death- and this week we had our first sick duck.

Will noticed that one of the female ducks suddenly wasn’t walking. She was pulling her body along with her wings in order to get in the coop that night. Obviously this is not normal duck behavior. The first and most immediate step with any sick animal is to isolate them. This can prevent the spread of disease, and also protect them from being picked on in their weakened state. So, into the dog crate and upstairs into the poultry ER (our bathroom) she went.

Unfortunately, medical intake questions are quite limited with ducks, so we had to rely mostly on a thorough physical exam. Like my days as a paramedic, I also conducted a detailed scene survey. I was looking for anything suspicious that might have caused her to become ill or injured. Were there any potential toxins in the coop? Did she have access to fresh food, water, and bedding? Was she due to lay an egg? Were there any signs of a scuffle? Bullying? Drug paraphernalia? 😉

The physical exam didn’t reveal any obvious injuries, it appeared she was simply too weak to stand. Since our ducks just recently started laying, we were unsure if she was egg bound. It’s also a horribly muddy time of year so I was highly suspect of her having unearthed something unhealthy to eat. When offered a bowl of scrambled eggs she scarfed it down with a bowl of fresh water- a good appetite is a good sign. She did have diarrhea though.

With some research I began to create a list of differential diagnoses:

Egg bound

Toxic ingestion (including botulism)

Hypothermia (which was a surprise to me as the weather has been warming up. However, if ducks get too dirty and are unable to clean themselves properly they lose their waterproof qualities. This can lead to hypothermia even if it’s not “cold”.)

Foreign body ingestion (ducks can accidentally eat things like screws, glass shards, string, etc. This risk is increased when they are allowed to free range.)


Disease- unspecified

For 72 hours we kept her quietly confined. She had multiple warm epsom salt baths (our bathroom has never been cleaner). She was fed scrambled eggs initially to boost her nutrition and protein intake. We then switched her back to her regular feed but wetted it with warm water to make it easier to eat and digest. Eventually she began to stand on her own and even presented us with a nice egg- which was really good because I could now cross egg bound off the list.

Can you spot the duck eggs? 😆

Meanwhile, we deep cleaned the coop and run, sprinkled DE, refreshed the bedding, sterilized the feeders and waterers, and kept a close eye on the rest of the birds.

When our sick duck started flying around the bathroom infirmary we decided it was safe to return her to the flock. My best guesses are that she had a gastro-intestinal issue, and/or failure to thrive. No one else had come down with symptoms, but we will continue to monitor everyone closely.

This particular situation, although a bit scary, did not require an emergency vet visit. Because of her alertness and healthy appetite, we were confident trying a few things to get her well on our own first. Sometimes that is not the case- sometimes without having a real poultry ER Doctor on site the kindest thing to do is cull. Thankfully that was not the case this week but it is the harsh reality of owning livestock in a rural setting.

We are relieved our duck is back to her ducky self. Yes she is livestock, but she is also an investment and a member of our farm family. We worry about them like we worry about our human friends and family members. Good livestock management is a serious commitment- an undertaking that should not be taken lightly. On that note- please do not buy baby bunnies or chicks for Easter unless you are prepared for the responsibility of caring for them- the good- the bad- and the ugly.

Keep calm- Medic 15 returning to station.

2 thoughts on “Duck Triage

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