If you are new to keeping chickens, you may need to read about the diseases that can affect your herd. In the lists of the most common diseases, you will encounter numerous problems that you should keep in mind when observing your birds.
Some are serious but easy to understand. Problems like an infested crop, mites, or intestinal worms aren’t nice, but their causes make sense. Then there are the other problems that come with a dark ghost – the viruses that cannot be seen come from nowhere and can turn off an entire herd right in front of your eyes.
Marek’s disease appears to be one of these problems. Some chicken owners live their entire lives without ever seeing the devastation they can wreak. Others are not so blessed. Even if it’s not the happiest topic, let’s go into the causes of this cancer-causing virus, how it manifests itself in a sick bird, and what you can do if it ever shows its ugly head in your barn.
Now we come to the hard facts about this disease.
What is Marek’s Disease?
Marek’s disease is a viral neoplastic disease that is specific to chickens. Basically, this means that tumors develop in the body of the chicken. It is caused by a type of virus called Gallid Alphaherpesvirus 2 (for those who are curious). A type of herpes that is very communicable. Despite all the virulence in poultry, it is currently not transferable to humans.
The virus spreads through chicken scales, more precisely the dust from the bellows. It infects a bird by inhalation. As you can imagine, transmission of the disease from such a difficult material to contain is fatally easy. Even the wind can move it from one area to another. Young birds are most susceptible to devastation – usually birds under 4 months.
The symptoms of Marek’s disease
You cannot look into your birds’ bodies to see the tumors, but you can watch their behavior. There are four presentations of the disease: neurological, cutaneous (affects the skin), ocular (affects the eye) and visceral (affects the internal organs). Affected birds may not show all of the associated symptoms, but there are some general trends that can help diagnose their condition.
The most well-known effect of Marek’s disease is leg paralysis. The neurological form affects a chicken’s ability to walk and often causes the birds to look as if they are stuck while splicing. Her wings and head also lose coordination, causing a bird to be unable to move.
Some chickens affected by the shape of the eyes show a change in the color of the eyes. Infected birds show a gray pupil with an irregularly shaped iris and they can go blind.
The skin shape causes lesions and crusts around the bellows.
The visceral shape causes internal symptoms that you cannot see for yourself. Enlarged nerves, tumors on the organs as well as a swollen liver and spleen are often detected postmortem. It doesn’t help the bird in question, of course, but it can help you take measures to save the rest of the flock.
Other possible symptoms
The following symptoms can also be observed, but be aware. These are not specific to Marek’s disease.
- Anemia (exhibited by a pale crest and wattles)
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- Stop laying eggs
Marek’s disease to be cured?
Most sources say that the mortality rate for a sick bird is 100%. However, it is such an infectious disease that it is believed that every herd, with the exception of those kept in particularly sanitary conditions, has been exposed to the disease.
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In the admittedly artificial environment of a large poultry farm, many of the sick birds die because they are trampled on by the other birds or because they are dehydrated and starve to death. Since they cannot walk, they cannot get to food and cannot get out of the way.
But what does a sick chicken look like on the farm? Well, there are far fewer researchers observing these birds. Under careful observation, some birds have recovered – although they will be disease carriers for the rest of their lives. An attentive resident will ensure that the surviving birds are neither sold nor traded. Otherwise, the disease will only be transmitted to a neighbor.
There is little literature on how to care for a sick bird. However, best practices include isolating the affected hen or rooster to prevent the spread of the disease and ensuring that they have access to food and water.
Prevent Marek’s disease
Here is an important topic. Prevention is generally sought through vaccines to protect the herd. But as you will see in some widespread researchThe vaccines that are used to stop Marek’s disease are “leaking”. This means that a vaccinated bird, even if it shows no signs of the virus, can transmit the disease to unvaccinated birds. In addition, the problems of the vaccine have caused the virus to turn into much more virulent strains.
In the 1970s, when the vaccine was launched, the morbidity rate was high (after all, it is a herpes virus), the mortality rate was low and the effects were rather low. After decades of leaky vaccinations, there are now six Marek syndromes, all with their own terrible M.O.
Some forms of infection are almost always fatal. Others not so much. I know this is not really helpful if you want to find out what to do with a sick bird. The fact is that the situation is very different, e.g. B. the personal constitution of your bird and the form of the disease, which makes it really difficult to determine the result.
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However, I offer a bit of hope. For the small poultry farm – for example your farm – it is possible to breed birds that can fight the disease. As I said, some birds are known to heal after infection. Although they remain carriers for the rest of their lives, they can still produce healthy offspring.
Other strong, healthy birds can fight the disease naturally and can only perish if their defenses are weakened by stress. Since the disease is so pervasive and can even be transmitted by the wind or wild birds, I can assume that almost every chicken has been exposed at some point.
So it’s a strange choice. Vaccination is generally required for large-scale poultry operations. Otherwise, an outbreak can quickly kill more than 80% of their herds. But for the small herd on a homestead, you have options. Maintaining the health of your herd through good food, clean conditions, and low-stress environments may be as (or even more effective) than using a vaccine alone.
You should do
Although all of this information is pretty bleak, I hope you don’t read it and then hurry to hopelessly end your herd. As I said in the introduction, many chicken owners – especially those with small herds on farms or backyards – go all their lives without having to deal with this issue.
Turning this disease into an invisible Boogeyman waiting to wipe out your flock as soon as you turn your back can reduce the joy of holding these wonderful birds. It can also make you paranoid! A chicken can sprain its leg if it jumps off a pole, and the lameness makes you suspect the worst right away.
So equip yourself with knowledge and take a deep breath. Following good herd management practices will help you protect yourself preventively.
If you want to make sure your birds are vaccinated, check hatcheries before taking a particularly fluffy brood home with you. Many hatcheries automatically vaccinate birds while in the egg or on the day they hatch. If you want to avoid the vaccine, you can continue your search and find hatcheries with this option.
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Since the chicks hatch free from disease even with infected mothers, you can also breed your own birds. If you choose to breed, be careful when visiting other places with chickens. The disease spreads so easily that it has a plan to implement biosecurity You can protect yourself and your birds on your property.
Isolating and isolating newcomers, disinfecting or changing shoes before re-entering the wildlife, and changing clothes after visiting another farm are simple measures that can make a difference.
How to prevent disease from spreading
If you find that Marek’s has paid an undesirable visit to your homestead, you can take steps to alleviate the situation. Do not initially transport your poultry from your country. You don’t want to spread the virus. Second, clean your area as much as possible. Mareks can survive in the soil for years, but do the best with the resources available. For some of us with free-range birds, these options are understandably limited.
If your entire flock succumbs to the disease, you will not lose hope. Take a short chicken sabbatical and clean the stall and all your chicken equipment thoroughly. Read the literature on Marek’s disease to acquire knowledge. However, keep in mind that the Internet is full of conflicting and confusing resources. When you are emotionally and physically ready, do not be afraid to start a new herd and continue the joy of sharing life with these wonderful birds.
Have you ever dealt with Marek’s disease? Share your stories and questions in the comments below!
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