Throughout the ages, honey has traditionally been used to treat and prevent infections, and our ancestors knew well honey’s antibacterial properties. Honey has been found in the pyramids, placed there 3,000 years ago during an ancient Egyptian funeral, and is so effective against bacterial growth that, many millennia later, the honey is still edible.
Time and again, I’ve turned to honey’s antibacterial qualities to prevent infections in my poultry flocks, and have been very successful using honey to treat traumatic wounds. In some cases, honey’s antibacterial properties and consistency are more beneficial than over-the-counter medications approved by the FDA.
Although a traditional, “old-timey” approach, honey still is an accepted medical treatment to reduce inflammation and treat infection in both animals and people, and one that humans have used successfully for ages. More importantly, with the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, honey’s antibacterial qualities are being studied to counteract these organisms in wound management.
In our area, avian vets are non-existent, and our regular small animal veterinarian is not well acquainted with poultry. He is also quite a distance away, and in some emergency cases, such as wounds caused by pecking order disputes, there is not much a vet can do. I’ve learned that in an emergency, we need to be prepared with knowledge to help our chickens and other feathered friends.
We all know honey is very sticky, and when it comes to wet injuries, such as those that include blood and plasma, honey adheres to the wound better than other antibacterial medications. It can also get into areas a topical antibacterial ointment cannot, for example, under microscopic folds of raw skin, where infections can lurk and spread.
This is a huge advantage when it comes to traumatic injury, when preventing infection is key to keeping your poultry alive.
Recently, we used honey to treat a quail that got mixed up in a pecking order dispute. This poor quail lost literally half the skin on its head after other quail pecked it off. Due to the extent of the injury, I thought I might have to put the quail down, but decided to give it 48 hours.
While I examined the quail after he became injured, I couldn’t figure out if he still had a right eye, because the wound was so swollen and inflamed. I assumed it was lost.
I initially applied silver sulfide, which also has antibacterial properties, but it was nearly impossible to cover the wound with it because the wound was very wet.
In this case, after washing the wound with warm water, I applied the honey three times each day to prevent infection, wearing surgical gloves to smear the honey on the wound. While some areas of the skin have become a keloid scar, and in a traumatic injury a keloid can be hard to avoid, the new flesh is still healthy, and the feathers are beginning to grow back.
The day after applying the honey, the wound was fresh but did not look angry, red, or inflamed. In fact, thanks to honey’s antibacterial qualities, the wound was actually starting to scab over!
Honey’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties saved this quail’s life, and possibly his eye, which had been covered when his flesh was inflamed. Despite the severity of the injury, not once did the quail show signs of pain or infection.
The symptoms of a hurting quail are similar to sick chicken symptoms, which include hunching over, refusal to eat or drink, and general lack of energy and depressed appearance.
Initially, I was concerned that the pain of his wound would cause the quail to go into shock. One reason I applied the honey was to keep the wound moist, so the quail did not experience even more pain as the wound dried out and the skin tightened, which might have lead to more swelling. In this case, the honey did the job, and the wound appeared relatively calm as it healed over.
If you’re raising organic chickens or raising quail, one benefit of honey is that there are no withdrawal time. If you use other antibiotics in your chickens’ water, or if you use an injectible antibiotic, such as penicillin, you will have to wait until the medication passes through your chicken’s system before consuming the eggs or meat.
When it comes to harnessing the power of honey’s antibacterial properties, make sure you use raw, organic honey. Technically to be labeled “honey” in the United States, the product must contain pollen, but in many instances, it does not.
In the United States, most of the honey you find at the grocery store comes from international sources, usually China. The pollen in the product has been removed, taking with it most of the power of honey’s antibacterial qualities.
Organic honey, however, has pollen in it because typically it has not been ultra-filtered. Buying honey from a local source is best, but if you don’t have access to any, purchasing organic honey is the next best thing.
Honey has been one of the most effective topical antibacterial products on our homestead, and especially with poultry, I’ve found honey’s antibacterial qualities to be far superior in treating traumatic injury than any other topical medication. Do you use honey to treat your poultry? Let us know in the comments below.