When I went to Idaho Chickenstock last year, I had a great time. I also noticed how many children were there, both buying chicks with their families and just looking. I thought it would be fun to have a coloring page or book that children that explained how to take care of chicks. My daughter was nice enough to illustrate it for me.
Disclaimer: I know very little about mareks, but I have read a lot the internet, so here's my opinions and summaries of what I have read, but take it all with a grain of salt.
I had a hen that died from cocci with a secondary cause of death being mareks. This was diagnosed by the Veterinary Diagnostic clinic, so I'm inclined to accept their judgement.
Step 1: take a deep breath. Don't make any hasty decisions. If you are like me and only had one sick bird and the rest seem fine, you have time. If you have multiple birds sick, cull the sick ones.
There are several different variants of mareks
It is present in the dander of infected birds and can travel for miles.
You can carry the dander on your clothes and infect other birds.
It can live for years in the soil
It is safe to eat birds with Mareks
Hens do not pass Mareks to their eggs
The incubation process (in an incubator) kills Mareks
There is a vaccine for certain strains. Vaccinated chicks need to not be exposed to Mareks for the first two weeks.
You need special chemicals to kill Marek's. Just bleach or vinegar isn't going to do it.
Certain breeds (silkies, polishes) are very susceptible.
Quail can catch mareks. Turkeys have their own version that can be used as a vaccine for chickens. Ducks do not catch it.
What to do with current birds?
First, what should I do with my current birds?
Leave them alive
There's several different kinds of Mareks. My hen got the kind that causes tumors and leads to immune suppression (hence the cocci). No one else showed any symptoms, so to me this meant I had a very mild strain. Mareks can live in the soil for several years, so just culling and starting over is no guarantee that the next batch wouldn't catch it.
My current choice is to leave them alone. They are laying. They are not acting sick. I will cull as soon as I see symptoms instead of separating them and giving them a "grace week". It does mean I have a pair of shoes I never wear in the backyard and if I'm going anywhere with other chickens I change my clothes first.
What about cleaning?
I'm no longer using the used bedding from my chickens in my garden. When I clean out the coop next year before I add new chicks, I will buy one of the cleaners like oxine (not sure if it has to be activated or not) or virkon that kills mareks.
What about the future? Chicks
OK, so what about the spring. I like to have a few pullets so I get eggs over the winter.
Buy birds older than 16-weeks. Older birds are less susceptible, but they can also introduce new diseases
Create my own strain of chickens. Breed from hens that haven't died and raise chicks that are immune (this isn't a choice for me since I'm not allowed roosters)
Use breeds that are less susceptible. Egyptian fayoumis and some strains of leghorns are immune. These breeds are flighty though and the fayoumis need to free range and like to fly.
Buy eggs or chicks from a local petting zoo. If those chickens are still alive, they're probably immune to everything known to mankind. I called and they do not vaccinate, so it should be true immunity.
Hatch eggs and vaccinate chicks myself. The vaccine is expensive and has to be shipped frozen. Once mixed up the batch has to be used with a few hours. It is possible to break the wafer into pieces so you can save part of the vaccine for later. The chicks need to not be exposed to Mareks for two weeks so the vaccine can take hold.
Buy vaccinated chicks. The chicks need to not be exposed to Mareks for two weeks so the vaccine can take hold.
I keep going and back and forth between hatching eggs from the petting zoo and buying vaccinated chicks. Currently I'm planning on just buying vaccinated chicks.
The vaccine is awesome, but presents a few problems.
Chicks must be kept isolated from Mareks for two weeks (so no broodies). The chicks also can't be housed near your other birds and also, not in the shed where you kept your sick chicken.
The vaccine is leaky. What this means is that it keeps chickens from dying not from getting sick. This means they have Mareks, but don't die. It means they might keep shedding virus for a long time instead of dying. It also means that a very strong strain of Mareks might be passed on instead of killing all the chickens who caught it.
End of life / Extra birds
Marek's also complicates the extra hens / roosters issues. You cannot sell / giveaway /rehome any bird from your flock if you have Mareks. It isn't worth the risk to other flocks. So any bird that comes onto my property has to leave via the stewpot or proper burial.
A bird with Marek's is safe to eat. Eggs from your flock are safe to eat. Others could hatch those eggs as long as they understand the eggs must be incubated in an incubator.
Honestly, this is the part that bugs me the most. I was hoping to just sell my older hens as they got to the end of their laying, but now I will have to cull. I still haven't decided if it would be ethical to sell extra birds "for eating only" to someone who doesn't have chickens (Probably not, but maybe if I knew someone who would wack them right away it would be OK.)
When I first found out I had Mareks, I was very upset. Now I'm more hopeful. We'll see what the spring brings :)
Marek's is a chicken disease that can cause paralysis, tumors, immunosuppression, and death. I recently put a sick hen down and had a necropsy performed. The result? Cocci, but underlying cause of death was Marek's.
Mareks can live for several years in the environment. Once you have it, you have to assume all your hens have it and are shedding the virus through dander and feathers. There is a vaccine for it, but it doesn't prevent the spread of Marek's, just the growth of tumors.
I am not allowed to have a rooster, so I can't breed my own immune flock. The best I can do is buy chicks from breeds that aren't as susceptible, although it varies by individual.
I haven't decided if I want to buy vaccinated chicks. I may try just getting unvaccinated chicks. The strain of Marek's only affected 1 of my hens, so it isn't one of the more virulent ones. Once I vaccinate, all will have to be vaccinated.
From what I've found online, here are breeds that are most and least susceptible:
Most immune / least susceptible
Campine? (Supposedly descended from the fayoumi so maybe)
*certain bloodlines. Things I read said leghorn were less susceptible than rode island reds
Marek's is a horrible and annoying disease. Traditional Marek's causes paralysis, tumors, and lesions, but there are different strains, some with different symptoms and mortality rates. Once you have it, not only do you loose a number of chickens, but you must accept that 1) your surviving hens are carriers and 2) you have the virus in your soil where it can live for months, sometimes years.
I recently had to put down an eighteen-month-old hen. She had diarrhea and wasn't eating. I separated her and treated her for coccidiosis, a disease that causes green diarrhea, but she didn't get better. After a week and a half, I put her down and took her to the Utah State University Veterinary diagnostic clinic. They quickly called me back and told me cocci, a very bad case. I felt bad and was surprised the Corid didn't treat it since I had done everything correctly. When I got the written report a week later, it had a second diagnosis. Cocci killed her, but she had Marek's as well, contributing to her death. Some forms of Marek's suppress the immune system making hens very vulnerable to cocci. She hadn't been vaccinated since I hatched her myself.
I felt some relief, putting her down had been the right choice, but now what? Did I have to put down my other hens too? After reading on-line, I came to the conclusion that it wouldn't help all that much. They were acting fine, so were probably resistant, but I had to consider them carriers. This meant I couldn't sell them next year as I had planned. Any chicken I brought on to my property could not leave. I would need to process them or allow them to die natural deaths.
I'm still dealing with what to do about new chicks. Here are some of my thoughts:
All chicks I buy need to be vaccinated. They also have to be kept away from my older chickens for at least two weeks for the vaccine to make them resistant. This also means I can't use a broody to raise them.
I cannot get silkies like I had planned. Bantam chicks can't be vaccinated. Also, Silkies are very susceptible to Marek's
I could try hatching chicks from resistant lines. Marek's is not spread through the egg. There is a petting zoo / farm near us that sells hatching eggs. I could get eggs from there because I'm pretty sure those chickens are exposed to all kinds of stuff, and if they're still alive then they must have some resistance.
I had put some of the used bedding in my garden to use as compost. I will remove as much as I can and not do that anymore to prevent build up of pathogens.
In the spring, I will clean out the coop thoroughly with oxine or vikron-s before I get new chicks and again before I add the new hens in. Bleach is not effective against Marek's.
I'm wondering about putting down cement pavers in the run so it would be easier to clean and disinfect.
Fortunately, I have all winter to figure out what to do.
In chicken forums, there are two opinions on giving a broody chicks either from an incubator or from the feedstore: 1) do it during the day, so you can watch as needed 2) do it at night. I've given a broody chicks two times now. I think either way works, but with two caveats: 1) do it when it is cooler (either the morning or evening) 2) keep an eye on things.
In my experience, a broody doesn't notice much. I can add chicks and she just sits there. My broody is a nice girl, though. If your broody is mean, night might be best so she doesn't attack. I put the chicks under her wings.
Yesterday when I tried giving my broody chicks, I had a problem. The chicks didn't know she was there mom, and it was warm enough in the coop that they didn't need to stay under her. They ran around exploring instead of sitting under her like good little chicks. I had to keep tucking the chicks under. Eventually, everyone got the memo and this morning momma took them all off the nest to eat. So broody is broken and operation add-a-chick was successful.
I found one of my hens with something weird coming out of her vent. It turned out to be the outside of a soft shelled egg that had broken.
I am not an expert, but here's what I did for my hen (my hen is fairly tame):
1) I gave her a warm bath for about 10 minutes (I learned later it should be closer to 20). She liked the bath and just sat there.
1) I donned a glove and put ky jelly on a finger. I gently put the finger in my chicken's vent. Supposedly you want to feel in and up about 2 inches. I didn't feel anything, so I figured the egg was gone and there wasn't another one stuck. If I had felt something, I would have given her half a tums mixed in yogurt and another warm bath.
2) I put Preperation H on the glove finger and gently rubbed it on the inside of her vent. Straining can make things swell and hard to pass eggs.
3) I blow dried her so she wasn't wet.
4) I mixed half a tums with some yogurt and fed it to her. Soft shell eggs are harder to pass. I wanted to get her extra calcium so she could get some egg shells on those eggs. I also mixed in a drop of poli-vi-sol (no iron) to get her some extra vitamin D to help with calcium uptake. I also switched my layers off of all flock and put them on a regular layer pellet with 20% protein.
5) I stuck her in the (dry) bath tub (too lazy to get out the dog crate) for about an hour to keep an eye on her. She seemed to be acting normal.
6) I didn't keep her separate from the flock, but now I wish I had. It would have been easier to tell if she pooping normally. It also would have been easier to tell if she was still laying soft shelled eggs. (The next day, she laid another soft shelled egg in the run and all the other chickens ate it. I really don't want my other chickens learning eggs are full of egg.)
So on backyardchickens.com, there is a thread about using a heating pad on a frame to brood chicks instead of a heat lamp. I wanted to try it out. I had two chicks die on this method, one I think was sick, the other was my fault. Here's what I learned: