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At the local emergency room, my husband is a bit of a celebrity. I’m pretty sure he gets fast-passed in whenever he visits – he has been there so often I don’t even think he needs to fill out the intake paperwork anymore!
That’s an exaggeration, of course, but he’s certainly had his fair share of injuries around the farm. From sliced fingers to broken legs, we’ve seen it all. And luckily, we’re pretty good at dealing with mishaps as they happen.
However, we’re not quite as prepared when it comes to the first aid of our animals, and while it’s important to take care of your own safety, it’s just as important to be looking out for your critters, too.
Here are sixteen items you must have in your farming first aid kit – and yes, you can use most of them on yourself, too (especially the last one)!
1. Gauze bandages
Just as you would in your own first aid kit, you should make sure you include gauze in your farming first aid kit, too. This can help treat injuries and keep them covered to prevent further infection. While you can always use standard pharmacy-issue gauze, there is also a unique product known as Vetrap, which is a self-adhering bandage for animals. It sticks to itself but does not stick to fur or feathers, preventing any unnecessary ripping when you go to remove it.
Lubricant is important if you plan on birthing animals on the farm. If you’re just planning on raising chickens, you can probably get by without it, but if you plan on AI breeding your animals or raising any from start to finish on the farm, lubricant is a must. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but it can make any job…em…a lot smoother. And much more comfortable (not to mention safer!) for the animal.
As long as it is noncoated, aspirin can be a great tool in a farming first aid kit. Helping to relieve pain, aspirin can be used on most animals – just remember to adjust the dose according to the size of your animal.
4. Rope or halter
Last year, we had the joy of transporting our only pig, Boo, into her new pen. We did this unexpectedly, as we had our first snow in October and were anticipating a few more weeks of clear, warmer weather before we needed to move her to her winter location in the barn.
Unfortunately, the weather dictates a lot around the farm. We didn’t have any kind of halter by which to guide Boo to her new pen – we ended up having to use straps from my husband’s truck to gently lead her to her home.
Moral of the story? Keep some rope (and ideally a halter) on hand for situations like these. It will cause less stress to the animal, as well as to yourself when you need to deal with transportation-related emergencies. Rope is good to have on hand, anyway, as you’ll need it for a surprisingly large amount of unforeseen purposes on the farm.
5. Antibiotic ointment
While you can use Preparation H or other creams on your animals, it might make sense to use just a basic antibiotic ointment in most cases. This can prevent infections in deeper wounds, and also help treat conditions like bumblefoot infections.
6. Surgical scissors
As with lubricant, you will want to have surgical scissors on hand if you plan to do any kind of on-farm birthing. In addition, surgical scissors can help out with basic tasks like clipping wings or cutting a piece of debris out of a sheep’s matted wool. The purposes are endless, but make sure you invest in extra-sharp, high-quality scissors – don’t be chasing around your animals with a pair of safety scissors you bought at the dollar store!
7. Saline solution and rubbing alcohol
Saline solution is a great tool to have on the farm. It can help flush a dirty, infected eye, and treat a whole host of other conditions, too.
Make sure you have a bottle of rubbing alcohol on hand, too. You will probably want to avoid using it directly on your animals whenever possible – it will burn quite a bit and can cause some unnecessary stress. But when push comes to shove, it’s a classic disinfectant and has a rightful place in a farmstead first aid kit.
8. Sav-a-Chick Electrolytes
We discovered Sav-a-Chick when one of our baby chicks was born this spring with a case of stargazer syndrome. Caused by a vitamin B and electrolyte deficiency, it is easily remedied with these Sav-a-Chick packets. They’re incredibly inexpensive, and you can either add them to your chickens’ food or water supply as needed or do so consistently for longterm results.
9. Vaseline or Bag Balm
If you have chickens, you should definitely consider adding Vaseline to your first aid kit. It can treat frostbite on your birds’ combs and wattles, forming a moisture-resistant barrier that can keep frostbite away. It can also help to prevent and treat common problems like scaly leg mites and egg binding, consider keeping some on hand. If you have dairy cows, you might already have Bag Balm nearby – this is a safe alternative to Vaseline that I highly recommend as well.
Dewormers are important for animals that are prone to parasites. If you are looking for a reliable product for sheep, these deworming formulas are the way to go. Alternatively, if an all-natural solution is what you have in mind, consider adding garlic to your homesteading first aid kit. Garlic is a great natural dewormer that we have used on our pigs and chickens in particular for several years. It also boosts your animals’ immune systems, making them less susceptible to other kinds of infections besides parasites, too.
Sometimes you might not be able to tell your animal is sick – except by taking his or her temperature. A thermometer can help you diagnose illness as well as to determine things like heat cycles. It’s worth investing in an inexpensive, high-quality rectal thermometer so that you ware able to do this without calling on the veterinarian.
I could detail all the reasons you might need disposable gloves on your homestead, but unfortunately, it would make for an unbearably long blog post. You might need gloves to deal with an injured animal or help out with birthing, or even just to make cleaning your chicken coop a little less disgusting. They’re a must-have item in any house, but particularly on the homestead.
Blu-Kote can help poultry who have minor injuries stay in the flock without causing compulsive pecking behaviors to occur. As you likely already know, birds are drawn to raw skin and blood, so if you have a wounded chicken, the other bird will often peck at it, frequently leading to death. Blu-Kote is an antiseptic spray that not only sanitizes the area but also turns it blue. This makes it less attractive to other birds.
A syringe or dropper can help administer medication, but it has other purposes, too. For example, if your chicken isn’t drinking on its own or if you need to provide a special liquid diet to one of your animals, a dropper can help you get the job done with ease.
15. Cauterizing spray
Cauterizing spray is essential, allowing you to perform the most basic wound care (like a light scratch) to minor surgery (like castrating your male piglets). If you aren’t planning on engaging in anything beyond basic first aid, you might be able to get by with plain cornstarch. It can help stop bleeding in small cuts and scrapes, as well as to treat conditions like bleeding nails, beaks, or pin feathers.
16. A beer
This one’s for you, but it’s crucial. Make sure you have something in there to treat your nerves (hey, it’s a valid medical concern!) after a day of tending to an emergency on the farm.
Tips for Staying Safe
If you’re like us, your farm is probably in a remote area – the closest hospital is about ten miles away, and to call an ambulance would probably take even longer to arrive than the drive would. Knowing how to respond in an emergency situation is vital.
Take some time to train yourself on basic first aid. Most local hospitals and nonprofit organizations (like schools and churches) offer first aid classes for free, or for a minimal fee. Make sure you have first aid kits ready to go in all of your farm buildings, as well as your house, and list emergency numbers at each phone (and have them preloaded in your cell phone, too).
Don’t forget that emergency numbers on a farm should also include the number of your local veterinarian – ideally one who works after hours. Make sure you have the after-hours contact information on display, too. Even if you know all of these numbers by heart, it’s important to have them visibly posted so that everybody else can access them, too.
Most importantly, make sure you stay calm in an emergency. Nobody will benefit from panic. Being prepared can help reduce the likelihood of frenzy – and it also makes it less likely that an accident will happen in the first place.
Be prepared, be safe, and you’ll be a successful homesteader for years to come.
What else should you have in your homesteading first aid kit? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for the upcoming series – 365 Tips for a Year of Frugal Farming. Follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for all the latest photos, tips, and updates!