Sick Chicken

I love having chickens.  I love the fresh eggs.  I love the compost bin filled up with chicken poo from our organically fed flock.  I would love to have a lot more of them.  The last couple of days we have run into a bit of a snag in the plan.

One of the chickens started limping.  Now if you have chickens there are certain things that you look for on a normal basis.  Things like poop.  Yes, I’m a poop watcher and inspector.  You watch for coloring and posture of their combs.  Their eyes are good to check, including any changes in color or shape of their pupils.  Are their eyelids loose or swollen, or are their eyes runny.  Any kind of discharge, coughing, their posture, how they move their neck, do they walk forward or to the side, are they holding their wings up or are they drooping, are they fluffed up and sleepy or are they alert and active.  These are the things that you should always pay attention to.

Limping… could be no big deal or could be very bad.

I checked her foot, no sores, cuts, obvious breaks, and the foot wasn’t swollen, red, or hot.  Hmm… that rules out a lot of things like bumble foot or some other infection.  The next day she stopped walking on either foot and started hiding out under the barbeque on the back porch.  If you know birds then you know that it’s not good when one of them starts acting sick.  Flocks will typically try and cull out sick birds themselves.  So my wife and sons came home to chicken feathers and blood and one highly bullied and sick chicken.  They isolated her until I got home.  We don’t have a separate isolation area for situations like this (lesson #482 about raising animals), so I had to set something up.

Her feet still look fine.  It looks more like a paralysis type situation, which was something that we had been expecting.  We know that our flock was exposed to Marek’s and we knew that they had not been vaccinated.

Marek’s is a horrible disease.  It kills more chickens than any other chicken virus.  It typically infects younger birds or pullets, but can affect birds of any age.  It can show itself in a number of different ways and has incubation periods that range from three weeks to several months.  It is spread by feather dander and can remain in an area for LONG periods of time, some say even years.  It is a type of herpes virus that only affects chickens and is not transmitted to humans or other pets (and Buddy breaths a sigh of relief).

Paralysis of the feet, legs, or wings is a common symptom caused from a swelling of the nerves or tumors in the nervous system.

It is not passed to the eggs, but obviously can affect egg production.

Older birds have a greater chance of having an “age resistance” to Marek’s although if they are exposed then they will probably still be carriers.  They also have the best chance of surviving Marek’s, although the overall mortality rate is VERY high.

The paralysis may subside and then return suddenly.

There is no treatment.

There is a vaccine that is most effective if administered when the chick is 1 day old.

So now we wait and we watch.  Will the others get it?  I don’t know.  Will this hen die from it?  Probably, but really, I don’t know.

We’re in a wait and see mode.  Hmm… not my favorite plan.

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22 Responses to Sick Chicken

  1. Val Bjerke says:

    We always get our chicks vaccinated – mareks and coccidiosis are the common. I know people who have lost entire flock by thinking the vaccinations weren’t worth the few cents charged. Even at that we sometimes have the odd sick layer – usually minor issues – we pull them out immediately and quarantine them from the others – continue to feed and water and let nature take its course. Usually they make it. In your case it might be worth your while to scrub down and disenfect your chicken area. We just use bleach and water. There are probably other things you can use. 😊

    • In hind site if would get vaccinated chicks but I was ignorant. Definitely going to do some disinfecting. I guess this is just the way it goes with animals sometimes. You learn as you go.

  2. I’m sorry your hen is sick, hope that things work out for the best, how did the flock get exposed?

  3. Sheri Fox says:

    That’s so sad and I hate the idea of family pets mauling each other. I’m not sure I’d survive that discovery. I hope your girl gets better and everyone else is okay. Poor chicken 😦

  4. catiecordero says:

    I feel for you. Last winter, we had three of our girls’ vents go faulty and they began to bleed internally. We had to put them down. It’s horrible, but sometimes it is the only solution. I hope that your girl will pull through.

  5. Hi Keith. I am sorry to hear about your chicken. I had never heard about that disease before. When we first got chickens we treated them like pets and then if they died they had a solemn funeral. Then as their numbers grew they were treated more like farm animals and less like pets and we didn’t get as emotionally attached. If one got ill, it was given a name so it could be given a dignified burial. One was hen pecked and we thought she wouldn’t survive, so was given the name Peaches, but she pulled through and is now the friendliest bird we have.
    Keeping animals is a huge responsibility and are often cause for worry – and now Hubby the Un-Gardener is talking about getting a cow! Chickens I can cope with – but a cow?
    I hope your chicken pulls through.
    Cheers Sarah : o )

    • Keeping animals is a huge responsibility. On one hand I think, this is a chicken, we eat probably three or four a week as a family. But then I think, but this is MY chicken, I raised her from a chick. I’ve eaten her eggs. I’ve clipped her wings. Every night of her life she sleeps in a coop I built and forages in a yard I (pseudo) landscaped. You get kind of attached to these animals! A cow… a cow… that’s exciting and a really big deal all at the same time. I can’t wait to read about the adventures with THAT!

  6. Sorry about your chicken, and I’ve never heard of this disease. When you say you visited friends and were exposed, I’m wondering how you transferred it back to your flock. Did it come back on your shoes/boots?

  7. Keith, chickens are a temperamental lot, aren’t they. You listed a slew of things that always must be looked for. We never had laying chickens when I grew up. They were all destined for freezer camp by week eight. I hope and pray that if there is a loss in your flock it’s just the one chicken. Organic animals in today’s world is a tremendously difficult task to accomplish. I try to be as organic as I can with my gardening but it’s far from being certified organic vegetables. It’s just not worth the effort or the disappointment. I had to resort to chemical warfare on the weeds last year but the heavy mulch worked great for this year.

    Have the best chicken day you can.

    • Thanks, Dave, organic can be tough. I did go chemical on a massive ant infestation a little while ago. Ugh… I hate that, but I did it. I’ve since tried other more… creative method for the ant problem in other spots… a torch of sorts. It worked pretty good!

  8. valbjerke says:

    You’re right on the ‘tracking it over on your shoe’ point. For years we have had a policy of making visitors from other farms, park at the end of our drive and swap out their shoes for an old pair of boots we keep on hand. It sounds paranoid but the reality of it is – you really have no idea of what they may be tracking onto your property. We also keep hand sanitizer in all our buildings so we don’t accidentally spread something ourselves between any of our livestock. And we expect visitors to use it as well. It might be worth leaving a box of those disposable boot covers in your car for when you visit other farms. 🙂

  9. p3farm says:

    Oh no 😦 keep us posted if she makes it. Nearly everyday I learn or see or hear something new.

  10. Sorry your chicken is ill, they become part of the family with their individual characters. Sadly, I know of Mareks disease all too well. Is she moulting by any chance?

  11. FreeRangeCow says:

    Oh! Poor chickie. Good luck. I love your honesty and spirit…and sharing what you are learning/have learned.

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