Saturday, July 18, 2009


Marek's Disease has struck our flock of chickens and devastated them. We've lost 7 hens since March, 5 of whom died in the last 4 weeks--one each week except this week, when we lost two, Bridgette and Loretta. All of the 7 were young, adult hens under the age of three who were perfectly healthy otherwise. Sadly, Bridgette was one of the ex-battery hens that we had adopted, hoping to give her a better life.

Loretta died in my arms about 5 hours ago.

Marek's is a horrible disease, viral in nature and ultra-common with no treatment or cure. It tends to strike chickens from the age of chicks up to about 4 years, and it's so prevalent that they say if you've got chickens, you've got Marek's in your flock. Birds go from 'fine' to dead in 3-4 days. Older birds are usually immune to it, having had time to build up an immunity. I figure it came in this year in the Spring crop of wild birds, which hang around the back yard. Nothing can be done to keep them out. There is a vaccine available online, but you have to order it timed to coincide with your hatch because it doesn't last for more than a few days and must be administered immediately. And the lack of avian vets around here, especially for chickens, means that no vets have it on hand, either.

Our only course of action is to watch the chickens like a hawk, and immediately isolate any that look even REMOTELY ill. We have 13 young hens that are at risk from Marek's right now, all the rest are at least 5 years old and so should be safe. The younger they are, the more at risk they are. So far the babies from last year and the baby chicks that are now 7 weeks old are fine, but we are supposed to turn the 6 week olds out into the flock for good in one week. I don't know how that's going to go, we're going to have to play it by ear...

Things REALLY suck right now, I'm quite frustrated and depressed. I've spent days combing the Internet and my bird books for anything and everything I can read on Marek's, but it's no use.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mockingbird Is Go...

Scout, our injured baby mockingbird foundling, had her/his (who knows?) blue painter's tape splint removed today. She's using the leg fairly well, although it does stick out at a bit of an angle, at least it's not at 90 degrees like it was. She's even using the foot & leg to scratch her head and is flexing the toes a bit, something she was not doing days ago.

She also likes to sit quietly and look out the front window, singing little mockingbird songs under her breath to herself...like impersonating the peeping of the baby chicks and Jake, my sparrow.

Painter's tape works REALLY well for splints on birds, especially babies, since it will stick to itself quite well but not to tender skin or feathers. Cool!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hen Fight Outta Nowhere!

The other day Sugar, our Buff Laced Polish hen, suddenly became the target of Baby, our Kraienkoppe hen. Out of the blue, no reason that we could figure. Baby is broody and spends most of her time on the nest, but when she DID come off, she had a mission, it seems--to try and KILL Sugar.

We grabbed Sugar and brought her into the house to recover, but her face was so swollen that her eyes swelled shut and she was effectively blind for an entire day. She looked like a prize fighter, and the poor thing roamed around the house all day bumping into things. We gently sponged away the dirt and goop from around her eyes with a warm, wet cloth, then applied some cold compresses. Today she is improved, one eye is mostly open and she can see out of it, the other is about 1/3 open but the skin around it is still quite swollen. Her targeting is off though, she tends to peck to the left of whatever she's trying to eat.

Hopefully by tomorrow she'll be able to go back outside, at which time I'll have to isolate Baby and break her of her brood so she'll calm down. Doing that isn't easy or fun, she'll have to go into the 'hen pen'--an isolation cage--by herself for days.

Chicken jail, essentially.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Two Things I Never Expected, Both In The Same Day!

The first was when Millie, our 6 year, old diminutive Belgian d'Uccle MilleFleur hen, who is a great grandmother...started crowing yesterday. This heartily confused Phoenix and Scott, our two roosters, who wondered where the Hell the new guy was, and started crowing back. It confused me, too. I thought for sure that someone had dumped an unwanted rooster over our fence. Why she started this nonsense at her age is a mystery. I think just to mess with the roos.

The other thing was the little fledgling mockingbird baby that was sitting next to my back gate yesterday morning. Not only could it not fly, but it had a broken leg--thanks to the length of thread wrapped around it's leg. It is now safely esconced in a cage in my kitchen...the number of birds in the house right now was at 'LOL' level, then went to 'OMG' and is now officially at 'WTF'. It is eating well and has a blue painters tape splint on it's leg, which hopefully will help it heal at least pointed in the correct direction.

We are trying to settle on a name for this one, for however long we have it. Here it is:

Is that NOT the cutest little fuzzy head ever? I have no idea if it is a male or female, but it adapted to us pretty quickly and eats very well. I figured it is about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks old. We handfeed it every hour during the day up until about 9PM, it gets a mixture of all-purpose baby bird food, human baby food of strained meat, same with a vegetable, plain yogurt and a hard-boiled egg yolk. As soon as it's eating on it's own, it will get something similar but a bit chunkier, plus live mealworms.

Now we just need interesting sounds to teach it!