Treating inflammation, infection and bumblefoot with cabbage poultices - organic chickens and quail

I first used a cabbage poultice some ten years ago on one of my serial broody hens, Lucky. She was always sitting with or without eggs and often with some results she probably didn't count on, see below! After one particularly long period of being broody in which she sat with, or rather partially wedged underneath, three other hens, I noticed she developed a limp. When she came off the nest she began to lift her one leg off the ground and hold it tightly in a ball, as if some involuntary nerve spasm was forcing this to happen. 

Organically raised hen and chicks

As I could find nothing obviously wrong with her foot or leg, I asked the advice of a friend of mine, an organic dairy farmer, who as part of her continuing education had spent several months shadowing an organic vet. She suggested Lucky might have a constriction in her leg caused by a swelling on her 'knee' and it was true she did have what seemed the very slightest evidence of scaly leg mite in this area. My friend Marie-Agn├Ęs suggested that I tried a cabbage poultice, traditionally used here in France for many conditions including inflammation due to sprains, strains and cancers. I put a poultice on Lucky over the following five nights it was so successful I have always kept part of the ingredients 'on ice' and ready just in case.

Injured quail cabbage poultice
Recently I had occasion to use this poultice again on two cases which turned up simultaneously, one of my quail, Drusilla injured her foot and my neighbour's hen had a case of suspected bumblefoot. As I already mentioned before, one of the ingredients I always have in stock in the freezer. This is organic pig's lard which I rendered down from trimmings given to me freely by our organic butcher. It might be an idea, if you have one near you to ask, as I do find this type of fat very suitable as a carrier for making any kind of poultice. I have, at a pinch also used coconut oil but it melts very quickly particularly on a hot foot, whereas the lard keeps its form for longer.

This poultice keeps very well in a cool place, so you can make enough for five treatments at a time. Just consider when preparing it that it is the cabbage that is the active ingredient so you need by volume more of it than the fat. 

Savoy cabbage poultice organic poultry  

Brassicas - Anti-inflammatory and Anti-microbial Properties

Cabbage contains several anti-inflammatory nutrients, including:
- anthocyanins (flavenoids which make the red/blue pigment in fruit and vegetables) these are obviously more prevalent in red cabbage,
- polyphenols (antioxidants) present in abundance in all kinds of cabbage and
- the amino acid L-glutamine.

Cabbage also contains:
- the glucosinolate, sinigrin, which has anti-microbial properties. The Savoy cabbage I use is the one with a higher proportion of sinigrin, which is also prevalent in the seeds of another brassica, black mustard and was used historically in medicine as a 'mustard plaster'. Sinigrin is now being looked at in relation to cancer prevention and treatment, in particular colon, bladder and prostate cancers. Research published in 2014 also highlighted the potential of sinigrin as an anti-cancer agent for liver cancer.

Above - my neighbour's hen with swelling to the metatarsal pad of her foot.


Cabbage poultice for bumblefoot
The best time to put a poultice on poultry is at night, cabbage poultices, particularly when made with a delicious organic fat can be very interesting to a bird, even one who has just dined. I like to put the poultice on and then put the patient to bed in a cardboard box in the dark. In the morning I get the poultice off early so the patient doesn't have time to investigate, start to unravel and/or eat the poultice. A cabbage poultice has the ability to withdraw toxins, so it's best not to let the bird get a chance of eating it. However, with the very professional vet bandage (above) we did make an exception as there was no way my neighbour's hen could break into it!

Ingredients and Materials

organic Savoy cabbage poultice
Several large leaves of organic cabbage, I like to use Savoy but I have used red cabbage too.
A walnut-sized piece of pig's lard
Organic cotton wool (25% of the World's pesticides are used in the production of cotton)
A bandage, or in my case remnant strips of organic fabric or old organic tee shirts!


Making a cabbage poultice
Chop cabbage roughly and then dice using a stick blender or liquidiser.

Add fat and make it into a smooth green paste. You can obviously do this all by hand but you will need to chop the cabbage very finely to extract the maximum amount of juice to be carried by the fat.

Using a cabbage poultice for bumblefoot
Liberally spread over affected area, I like to make it about 1cm (½") thick.

Cover with cotton wool, paying particular attention, when treating a foot as in this case (right) to the area between the claws, this helps to keep the whole preparation together whilst getting ready for the final bandage.

My neighbour works for the local vet so she had some very professional-looking additional stretch wrappings! 

using a professional stretch vet's bandage bumblefoot

Treating a chicken for bumblefoot with a cabbage poulticeAs I mentioned above, I put a fresh poultice on each night for five nights and this brought down the swelling on both Lucky and my quail. For my neighbour's hen, the swelling came down to reveal the tell-tale black 'scar' of bumblefoot, so we applied one drop of Tea Tree essential oil dissolved in one teaspoon of coconut oil evening and morning for five days, when the scar opened up and the hard pad of infection came out of its own accord. My neighbour then went on to disinfect the area further and bandage it up.

I further complemented the treatment for my injured quail with nutritional support and the article in which I discuss this can be accessed below via the 'read more' live link.

Treating a swollen foot with cabbage poultice
It you have enjoyed this blog and found it interesting then please think about subscribing, sharing it and/or commenting. Please also feel free to ask questions. 

All the very best,


Injured foot treatment for quail

Treating an injured quail Nutritional support for sprains, strains and nerve damage

Here's Drusilla she is one of my coturnix quail and over the past few days she has started to limp, holding up her foot and more

Treating a nasty head wound and shock

Our poor quail, Nuggets with a horrible injury to her head and eyes (Happy ending!) more

Quail chick with riboflavin deficiency - curled toe paralysisIdentification of riboflavin deficiency in purchased quail and hatching eggs

Quail have a high basal metabolic rate and as such their problems with nutrition are dramatically and rapidly more

Quail chick being treated for riboflavin deficiencyCure curled toe paralysis (riboflavin deficiency)

For my 'field study', I am using the example of quail chicks, from non-organic purchased hatching eggs because this is the area in which, sadly I have a great deal of experience more


©  Sue Cross 2016


  1. This was a great read and very informative. Loved it. Love what you do and share. I could watch your videos all day :)

    1. Hi Molly, aaww thanks so much for those great comments. You certainly made my day! I hope to get some more videos out very soon. All the very best from a rather chilly Normandie, Sue

  2. Hi Sue,thankyou for your post.just wondering best method to treat a 3 week old Japanese quail who has suddenly unable to walk,no support in the legs. at all but eats and drinks.I don't visually see an injury but I think the quails must have sat on it.Would Brassicas help along with
    anything else?cheers

    1. Hi Tina, Thanks for you question! With quail because of their high basal metabolism, if the bird has suddenly lost the ability to walk with no visible sign of injury I always think firstly about food intake and nutrient deficiencies. Three weeks is around the period some of these deficiencies can kick in, as the quail are getting up to speed and are thus using up any reserves. So, are these your own chicks or did you buy hatching eggs or chicks? Secondly what are you feeding them? Thirdly what are they actually eating, individually? Quail are like chickens, they are very knowledgeable as to their optimum diet, so if there is not enough of a certain important dietary element available, a specific quail could be pushed and/or left out and thus deficient. Fourthly, have you watched how your quail behave as a group, is this particular quail under stress in any way? Stress directly causes flushing and leaching of certain nutrients, as well as the depletion of many others and/or inhibiting the uptake of specific vital compounds such as Vitamin B12, which is responsible for both motor and nervous system function.

      Even if none of the above apply and thus you believe the bird is injured I would still start with nutrition. I would re-investigate both legs and make sure there are no tell take bruise marks, they do take some time to emerge. I accidentally trod on one of my quail chicks feet last year and it took some time to even show. I did the cabbage poultice on it and also one with green clay.

      So if you bought the quail and unless they are from an organic or naturally raised, or well-known source then I would be thinking of upping all the B complex vitamins and amino acids. The most crucial Bs for quail seem to be: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate and cobalamin (B1, B2, B3, B9, B12) but you will get all of the B complex and crucial amino acids such as l-methionine from invertebrate protein except folate which you can get in green leafy vegetables. I would also be thinking about vitamin D3, if you are living in an area 37 degrees south of the Earth's equatorial plane then your quail will still be able to synthesize vitamin D from direct sunlight, otherwise a little raw organic butter or cream from grass-fed cows milk. Goat milk is less fatty so not quite as good or organic egg yolk (quail seem to like hard boiled eggs but if you can get them to eat raw that would be better). To help with absorption of D3 the quail will need vitamin K2 as well but this resides in the same foods as D3! If you think stress is a problem then think about Vitamin C, chickweed (Stellaria media) is high in this but my quail also love courgette (Summer squash, zucchini) which also contain useful levels of vitamin C. I would also think about minerals and about electrolyte levels, if stress is concerned, so the balance of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate and chloride. Electrolyte imbalance can cause muscle weaknesses and inability to stand is one of the symptoms. I would be feeding a balanced diet of grated root and green leafy vegetables, for example and allow access to soil if they do not already have it. I also have magnesium salts and make up a spray bottle with water of 'magnesium oil' for transdermal delivery under the wing.

      So I would ask myself the above questions and if there is still no improvement, do feel free to get back to me and I'll see what else I can come up with. Hope this is of use and all the very best, Sue

  3. Hi Sue,thankyou so much for sharing your knowledge and your kind wishes with me.I will investigate and apply the above mentioned and let you know progress when I have an update.I am pleased to know that there may be light at the end of the tunnel for these little creatures.cheers,Tina.

  4. Thank you so much, already it's got me to thinking to open up a squash for the quail. Also, I have the magnesium oil put it under the wing...very good! I smiled at your savoy cabbage poultice thinking "of course!" as I had done it whole on my lungs overnight :)

    1. Hi Cathy you are most welcome. I've just fed squash to all my birds because we are having some really bad wet weather with gale force winds and extreme weather will cause stress. I cooked mine up as they love the butter they get with it too! The cabbage poultice I've also used on Andy for a injured thumb and me for a twisted knee. It is very powerful and is a well-used inflammation remedy here in France. I'd never heard of it until we came to live here. However, in the UK we do use just the pig's lard or goose grease and brown paper in particular for respiratory problems. Messy, even with the paper covering but a good age-old remedy. All the very best with your quail, mine are in the greenhouse but I'm bringing the five new ones in every night (2°C here) we usually don't get frost here on the coast until after Christmas but we seem to be getting a longer reprieve than usual - still have a pineapple plant out in the greenhouse! Sue

  5. Hi Sue. I have a quail with bumblefoot and would like to treat her as you described - Tea Tree essential oil + coconut oil. Could you please clarify if this is to be 'painted on' or 'bandaged in'? If painted on, should I put her in a sling for an hour or so? The poor thing has lost weight and I feel terrible for not having thought to look at her feet sooner. Hoping you're gonna see this and answer.

    1. Hi there, I am sorry not to reply sooner but for some reason, I get no notification from Blogger when people comment, so luckily this article showed up as the most read today and I came on it to reread it and found your question. The tea tree was painted on and essential oils take a few minutes - sometimes even seconds before they go through the skin into the blood stream and you will possibly see the quail 'smack her lips' as she registers the taste up in her mouth. She will also take some of the oil in through her lungs as you apply it - thus you have to be careful over dosage - I always err on the cautious side. So, if you hold her for five minutes after the treatment, it will have been absorbed. Holding her and talking to her will also help with any potential stress. However, I would cover with a pad as we did in the above article because when the bumblefoot 'opens up' you want it contained so you can dispose of it, also to allow the wound to remain clean. I always use organic cotton wool - makeup pads are good for this particular operation - just cut down to fit - so very economical! I am presuming you will or have already treated the inflammation with cabbage as this will soften the area also. You will need to feed her up too because you need her immune system to be fully functioning, so invertebrate protein and/or a hard boiled hens egg - she will quite possibly consume half a small egg on her own! I would also think about the ground you have your quail on and maybe look for anything in it which have caused the wound. I have a real problem with glass in the soil here as our garden is created from a field attached to what was once a Post House and I guess people used it as a place to bury rubbish over the centuries as well as the usual breakages an Inn might incur! Good luck and do get back to me and let me know how things are going. I will look out for comments now I am aware and again sorry to be late in replying! All the very best from Normandie, Sue

  6. Thank you very much for the detailed answer. Haven't done anything yet (very embarrassed) but she is 'stable', her appetite is back and she walks normally (always did, that's why I didn't know about the bumble foot until I looked at her 'soles').
    Why no time? Unbelievable predator attempts in the last few days. (No worry at night because they sleep in a spare bathroom.)
    We had a few hawk visits all throughout the summer, but those were sane birds, who could see it was impossible to get to the quail in their fortified daytime living arrangements + I clapped my hands at them and they just flew away. So I was totally unprepared for the mentally deranged creature that showed up and just wouldn't give up. It kept coming back and attacking for one hour and a half. In the end, it dive-bombed the quail tractor trying to take its roof off. That's when we decided to bring the quail in, even if it was only around 5 p.m. It was a very draining experience... and two days later, at 9:30 a.m. on a sunny day, just as I was ready to take the quail out, what do I see sniffing their tractor (placed very close to the house because of the scare with the demented hawk)? An ADULT BEAR !!! Needless to say, this sparked a new round of activity, a new layer of defenses, etc.

    Another source of worry: Silver (a different quail) had impacted crop, I think maybe from overeating. She was extremely excited about the food one morning and refusing to eat in the evening. The next morning, again she wouldn't eat. Took me some time to understand what was wrong, then I gave her coconut oil and massaged her crop. This morning (two days later)
    she seemed to be back to normal...who knows? I was planning to use hay (from our lawn clippings) as litter for them, but now that I read up on impacted crop and its causes... sigh. Seems like trouble could be lurking everywhere.

    Back to the one with bumblefoot. Her name is The Needle or just Needle because she likes to peck me - you know that movie Dinner de cons and how they were saying "Ce n'est pas une lumiere"? Needle, too, is not 'une lumiere' or alternatively she's a genius lol who knows she has nothing to fear from me. Until I get some tea tree essential oil...I realized I have a French marigold flower bed and The Poultry Doctor says "bind up the foot and keep bandage wet with the lotion" (Calendula). The cabbage route is really intimidating for the moment, maybe some Calendula tea will be enough. Of course I'll report back with everything. Thank you so much for your time.