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.

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