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.