We have some our chicks labeled as “GMO Free.” What exactly does that mean? The GMO (or Genetically Modified Organism) subject is full of opinion, sketchy facts, and more opinion. Here’s what we mean when we say GMO Free: The breeder flock of the chicks labeled “GMO Free” has been kept on a strict non-GMO diet for at least one generation. It’s possible that the GMO free diet has been kept longer than a generation but we do not guarantee that. The chicks are not fed any feed or water until they reach your home. That may seem cruel but it isn’t because right before they hatch, the chicks absorb the yolk of the egg and can live off of that for several days. (Read more about the mail order process here)
Worms can be a big issue for your chickens. Worms are typically “endoparasites” which means they are inside your chicken as opposed to “ectoparasites” which are parasites on the outside of your chickens – such as lice or mites. There are multiple types of worms. Some worms, such as hair worms are very skinny and hard to see with the naked eye. Other worms like the Gapeworm are found in the lungs and windpipe of the chickens. As you can guess, this causes some major health issues. Not to mention it’s just gross. So let’s tackle this problem!
How do chickens get worms?
There are two ways that worms spread their ilk among your flock.
- Direct Life Cycle. Chickens will pick up worm eggs directly as they forage for food. Chickens love pecking the ground. It’s instinct for them. Unfortunately this means they pick up a lot of crap – literally and figuratively. Crap in the literal sense is what we are concerned about at the moment. Infected chickens will poop out worm eggs by the thousands and these eggs can survive for up to a year in the right conditions. A healthy chicken comes wandering along and picks up the eggs as they scratch and peck the ground. Suddenly the chicken has unwelcome guests that refuse to pay rent or clean up after themselves.
- Indirect Life Cycle. Chickens will poop out worm eggs. Then an intermediate host such as a snail, slug, centipede, or something similar comes along. They eat the eggs and ooze slowly along, happy and content, until your chicken snatches them up for lunch. Now your chicken gets the worm eggs indirectly from the snail or slug.
Different types of worms get passed along different ways but understanding how the worms spread will help you prevent them in the future. More on that later.
How do I know if my chickens have worms?
Chicken diseases can share a lot of symptoms so it can be hard to tell exactly whats wrong with them. Generally if they have a poor appetite, diarrhea, pale yolks in eggs, and in the case of gapeworms, an extended neck while gasping for breath (the worms will be restricting the airflow in the throat). You can also check your chicken’s poop to see if there’s any signs of worms. A good way to do this is to scrape up some chicken poop (fresh, preferably) and drop it into a Mason jar full of water (don’t tell your wife what you’re using the Mason jar for). That way the poop will separate and you can spot any worms more easily. They may be especially easy to see after you’ve treated your flock for them and the chickens flush the dead worms from their systems.
There is a service available on Amazon that will check samples of your chicken poop for traces of worms. It’s around 25 bucks. That’s pretty cheap. Think about it, how much would I have to pay you to sort through my chicken poop looking for worms? The idea is that you collect a sample, send it in to their lab, and they contact you with the results. Click here for more details.
How do I treat my chickens for worms?
It’s best practice to treat your chickens for worms as the weather is warming in the spring and again in the fall. This is when the conditions are ideal for worm eggs to become active. Chances are if one of your chickens has worms, the rest have them or will get them as well. Treat the whole flock. Generally it’s a good idea not to mix treatment methods. Wait a few days before switching methods.
- The old fashioned, all natural method is garlic and apple cider vinegar, typically with the “mother” still in it. The “mother” in apple cider vinegar is a chunk of fermented material from the process of making vinegar. There is no hard recipe but generally the apple cider vinegar is added to the water supply, along with ground up cloves of garlic. The theory is that the vinegar makes the chicken’s digestive system an unwelcome place for worms by raising the acidity. The garlic plays along with this as a natural cleanser of sorts. Does this work? Well, it’s disputed. Apple cider vinegar does have good pro-biotics in it from the fermentation process (sort of like yogurt) and so it may help your chickens rebuild gut flora after they’ve been cleared of worms. It may also help them if they are infested with worms because it helps their digestive system do it’s job better. Will they kill worms? Some say yes, some say no. It’s not going to hurt to try. My guess is it’s a better preventative than a cure. You can buy the traditional Bragg brand apple cider vinegar at Wal-Mart (my local store has it in stock) or you can buy it online. Brands don’t really matter that much. The bigger issue is to make sure that it’s unpasteurized and has the “mother” in it.
- A better way to treat for worms that is still “natural” and doesn’t require medication is to use food grade diatomaceous earth. It’s a fine white powder you can find at many farm stores or good old country general stores with an animal supply section. Amazon has it as well. This follows the same theory as the apple cider vinegar except that this method is accepted as more effective. Put 1/4 cup of food grade diatomaceous earth in every 32 oz of feed. Be careful not to breathe the dust in since it can be harmful to you (it’s safe for your chickens however). Repeat this for four or five days and see if you notice an improvement. You may use every few months as a preventative.
If these methods do not work you may have to go nuclear.
Here’s some items that seem to work well (although there are many types of worms so not all these products will treat for all worms. You may have to send a poop sample into your local unfortunate poultry vet.)
Durvet Strike III
Effective for the most common types of poultry worms. This works by using the antibiotic Hygromycin B which is the only USFDA approved wormer to use on laying hens which are producing eggs for human consumption. This active ingredient interferes with the worms metabolism, essentially starving them by not allowing them to digest nutrients. This means it works but it works slowly. You need to dose your flock for at least 2-3 weeks while optimally treating them for up to 6-8 weeks. Some reviewers saw an improvement in a couple days. It depends on the severity of the worm infestation. You can use this wormer and eat the eggs from your chickens at the same time. 1 lbs of treatment is meant to be added to 50 lbs of feed. The Durvet Strike III is $24.80 and has free shipping (although not Prime). It’s 1 lb of product.
This uses the same antibiotic as the Strike III pellets. Dosage instructions: 1 scoop per pound of feed. My guess is that you will find similar results with both products although this product does have 1/2 star higher rating than the Strike II pellets. However, if your hens are finicky, the pellets may blend in with their feed better than the granules of rooster booster. Some reviewers saw an improvement in a couple days. It depends on the severity of the worm infestation. The Rooster Booster cost $29 (with Prime shipping available). It’s 1.25 lbs of product.
How do I keep my chickens from getting worms?
- Keep the grass short where your chickens roam. Sunlight kills worm eggs so the less shade you have the better. Short grass is more exposed to the sunlight. Trim back the bushes around the yard and open the pasture up.
- Keep the ground dry. Wet, muddy ground is prime habitat for worm eggs. If you have a muddy area in or around the coop, put in some drainage tile or some other water management practice.
- Keep your chickens off of bare ground. This can be hard if you have an heavily populated farm yard. It’s a good idea to use a chicken tractor (a pen with wheels that can be moved around) to move your chickens to fresh pasture every couple days.
- Keep a clean coop. Worm eggs are passed from the infected chicken in its poop. You can keep the worms from spreading to other chickens in you flock if you minimize the contact uninfected chickens have with infected chicken’s feces.
- Sanitize hard surfaces. Wipe down the hard surfaces in your coop with a potent disinfect like bleach to kill worm eggs. (Note: never mix bleach with ammonia since that combination produces deadly gasses).
- Treat your chickens with the preventative measures discussed above every spring and fall. Spring and fall is when the worm eggs are most likely to infect chickens since the conditions are wet and between 30 and 95 degrees. Treat your chickens over this time – once in spring and once in fall minimum. Consider adding the ACV to the water every other week or so.
- Catch the infection early. Keep an eye on your flock. If you start seeing signs of worms, treat ASAP. Don’t wait or the conditions will worsen and the worms will be harder to get rid of.
Read more about this on the web. These are some excellent links:
Hope that helps!
Yours in poultry,
See the baby poultry we have available by clicking here.
Chickens are useless when they are frozen solid…
…and it’s not like you can just set them in front of the wood stove and thaw them out like you can with your fingers. This is why a lot of people ask questions like, “Should I heat my coop?” Good question.
Simply put, you should not heat your coop. Here’s why:
I’ll start with an example. Say the weather starts turning cold. You go outside one day in your T-shirt and shiver because you are cold. You buy a sweater and put it on. A month later you go outside and you shiver even though you are wearing a sweater. So you buy a coat and put it on. Ok, now say you are a chicken. You don’t have any thumbs and it’s impossible to find a coat that is your size. This is OK since your body will provide for you. Remember how you sensed it getting colder so you put a sweater on? Well a chicken’s body senses the changing weather and starts growing extra downy feathers underneath it’s hard feathers. In this way the Fall helps trigger the chicken to get ready for the winter. If you add supplemental heat to your coop when it starts getting cold your chickens won’t start growing their winter “coat.” This means that they won’t prepare for winter. No problem, you say, I’ll just keep the coop heated all winter. I admire your love for your flock but you may be endangering your chickens. What if, during the cold winter night some goofball slides off of your road, hits a telephone pole, and knocks out your power? All your chickens will freeze because they will have never acclimated to the cold.
Another reason you shouldn’t heat your coop is humidity. If your coop is cold and dry, your chickens are much less likely to suffer from frostbite – even in subzero temperatures. If your coop is cold and humid, your chickens will get frost bitten much quicker. If you heat your coop with, say, a propane wall heater it will make the coop incredibly humid. Plus, all the dander and dust will likely cause a fire. You could put a radiator in your coop but this will also cause a spike in humidity. In fact, even just the presence of chickens in your coop will cause higher humidity. This is why it’s important to have a well ventilated coop. I didn’t say drafty, mind you, but well ventilated. There is a difference. A drafty coop is a coop that has wind blowing through the cracks. You don’t want that because it will chill your chickens. What you do want is a mesh covered vent (you don’t want predators sneaking in) that is placed high in the coop such as in the eaves or in the peak. Since hot air rises, and can hold more moisture than cold air, the hot air will vent out pulling humidity with it. This keeps the humidity down in the coop and keeps drafts off of your flock. This helps prevent frostbite, allows your chickens to acclimate to the cold, and is a much better plan than adding a heat source to your coop. Most any chicken will be cold hardy if cared for properly. The most cold hardy chickens will have small combs since the most susceptible place for a chicken to get frostbite is their comb and wattles. These act as a radiator in the summer but during the winter they have little protection from the cold. This is why chickens with large combs do well in summer (they can let off more heat faster) but are harder to care for in the winter.
Chickens that have feathers with a hard shaft and tightly laid feathers will be more “windproof” than chickens with soft shafts, fluffy feathers, and loose fitting feathers. Chickens like Silkies and Light Brahmas won’t have protection from the wind since their feathers don’t block drafts very well. It’s just like how a tight knit polyester windbreaker will protect you from the wind better than a loosely knit ugly Christmas sweater will. It’s more important for fluffy chickens to have a draft free coop.
Another thing you can do for your chickens is to install flat roosts in your coop. It can be as easy as laying a 2×4 sideways so you have a 4″ ledge for the chicken to sit on. This way the chicken can cover up their feet with their feathers instead having to wrap them around a roost which leaves the toes exposed in cold weather.
There you have it folks. Hope it helped!
Yours in Poultry,
What is Niacin?
Niacin is an essential vitamin required for proper duck health and development (such as bone growth). Waterfowl need more of it than chickens since ducks do not convert feed into niacin as easily. Therefore they need more of it in their diets. If there is a deficiency of niacin in your ducklings diet, some complications may occur.
How do I know if my ducks have a niacin deficiency?
As of yet, your smartphone can’t quite do everything and, as unfortunate as it is, sometimes you still need to use your little noggin of yours in diagnosing your sick or hurt ducklings. First, make sure your duckling doesn’t have any visible injuries on the legs. Sometimes a duck may become stationary because of a physical injury to their legs or webbing. The webbing on their feet is very thing and can be prone to injury if they are waddling over sharp surfaces. If there are no visible injuries to the feet, then there are additional possibilities. If their diet is deficient in niacin, within several days ducklings will develop a reluctance to move around since moving will become painful. This can lead to wasting away and stunted growth as they will likely not eat or drink as much as they should. As the condition worsens, their legs may start bowing and their hocks may swell as well. Death can occur within 2 to 3 weeks if the deficiency is not treated or else the duck may grow to be permanently disabled (see Angel Wings in Ducks).
How do I fix niacin deficiency in ducks?
The good news is that niacin deficiency can be easily fixed if caught in time. You simply need to add niacin to your duck’s diet. You can purchase niacin at any pharmacy (included those located on the corner of happy & healthy). Niacin usually comes in 500 mg tablets. Your duck doesn’t need that much. If you assume your pet duck eats .35 lbs of feed per day at 3 – 4 weeks that means that they would need 10 milligrams of niacin a day. You will waste some of the pill since it won’t all be eaten by the ducks. Ever watch a duck eat? They are messy and will spill half the feed! So just cut about a 1/8 portion off of the pill, grind up the portion, and spread it on top of the feed.
You can also add the pill to the water. If you don’t let your ducks play in the water (which means they won’t waste half of it) and only let them drink it, you can add one 500 mg tablet to every 8 gallons of water. If you figure on ducks wasting half the water, just add a 500 mg tablet to 4 gallons of water.
An alternative to the niacin pill is the Vitamin B liquid supplement available at most pharmacies. Vitamin B supplements typically have niacin in them. By administering this liquid supplement to your individual ducks, you know that they are getting the required dosage.
How do I prevent niacin deficiency in ducks?
You can prevent niacin deficiency but making sure your ducklings eat feed that has enough niacin in it. A well balanced broiler or game fowl starter should have the niacin you need (but may not, as explained below). A chick starter that is prepared exclusively for laying chickens probably will not have enough niacin in it. Even if you use the common Dumore chick starter sold at Tractor Supply that is labeled as both a chick and duck starter, you may run into niacin deficiency. This is because not every duck is the same in their capability to produce niacin. It can depend on the genetics of your duck or the health of your duck’s gut as too how much niacin they will naturally produce. Because of this, you may see some ducks in your flock suffering from a deficiency even though others are not.
There are some dietary supplements you can add on occasion to help prevent niacin deficiency. Brewers Yeast is a product that is naturally high in niacin and may be added to your ducks diet. Be careful not to supplement their diet too much since you still want them eating the commercially prepared feed. There is generally 5 mg niacin per 15 grams (or one tablespoon) of human grade brewers yeast. Livestock yeast isn’t as concentrated, however, and will have about 1.5 grams niacin for each tablespoon.
You cannot over treat your duck’s with niacin so if you are not sure what the problem is, try the supplements out and if the problem is fixed, fantastic! You figured it out. If the problem has persisted for too long, the duck may become crippled as it won’t have the nutrients it needs to grow bones and joints properly.
Hope that helps!
Yours in Poultry,
Use this pic when you pin!
I’m ashamed to admit it…
…but I’ve listened to some sugary pop song awhile back that said something like, “Living in a Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic” or some senseless dribble like that. It occurred to me that we are living in a plastic world where people are unaware of the reality behind their creature comforts.
For example: I am the proud owner a 1989 Chevy cargo van. Awhile back I decided that since it’s as big as a billboard I might as well use it as such. I dug some cans of forgotten house paint from the back corner of the garage and emblazoned MailOrderPoultry.com on the side of the van. It really stood out. So much so that about six months later I got tired of being stared at and covered the van with flat black truck bed liner. My wife now refers to my man van as “the creeper van.” But I digress. One time, before I had painted my van black, I found myself at McDonalds using their free wifi. The van was out in the parking lot screaming my website at everyone who happened to glance at it. Apparently the cashier noticed it sitting out in the parking lot. I overheard her remark how cruel it was to put chickens in the mail. The irony of the situation was that she was serving McChickens to presumably hungry people (although some of the people being served definitely didn’t look hungry). She was so removed from the process of butchering the chicken, it didn’t occur to her that a chicken was killed to produce the sandwich in her hand. We’re living in a fake world where people assume things just magically happen without any effort.
We don’t appreciate things anymore.
We’re so isolated from the processes that are equipped to sustain our modern lifestyle that we totally take them for granted and forget to be thankful.
We like our smartphones but we don’t appreciate the complex infrastructure behind our LTE access. We just use the awesome capabilities of mobile Internet to post selfies of us eating a taco. We get mad if our taco eating pic takes three seconds to upload, never mind the fact that the information is being made accessible to anyone in the world.
We can fly to the ends of the earth in twenty hours but we get super ticked if a flight is delayed thirty minutes. Do you realize that you used to have to float on a freakin’ boat across the ocean for weeks? Stop whining. Traversing the world in less than a day is awesome.
Who doesn’t love a hot chicken sandwich? But the fact is that a chicken was killed to provide you with that. Now, I believe chickens are animals to be used in an ethical manner to feed people. But the process of butchering involves lots of feathers, stench, hot water, blood, and headless chickens running in circles (although I suspect the commercial meat industry has refined that process somewhat). The process of eating eggs involves feeding chickens, gathering eggs, adjusting dietary needs, culling sick chickens or nursing your birds back to health, and cleaning out poop from dark corners of chicken coops. It takes work. But if you don’t work for something, you don’t appreciate it. This is true throughout life.
Anyway, I feel like I’m whining a lot. Sorry about that.
My point is that it’s good for people to appreciate the effort that goes into things.
It promotes thanksgiving. And this is the time of year where we typically start promoting such things. There is a movement in our culture to step back from the ungrateful rush to ever greater convenience and to take pause and appreciate the process. Hobby farming is enjoying a comeback and I know why. There is something overwhelmingly satisfying in being involved in the creation of the food on the table. You know the chicken that laid your eggs. You know that Henrietta is suffering from a calcium deficiency and that’s why you bought crushed oyster shell last night so you can help her out. You want her eggs to have nice, consistent shells. You raised and butchered the broilers that are now flavoring your chicken noodle soup. The lettuce on your chicken sandwich was free because it came from your garden – which you weeded, hoed, and fenced off so rabbits wouldn’t eat it. If you think about it, It makes sense why people used to say grace before a meal. They were aware of the fact that the food before them took work, risk, and planning to produce. They kept their flock from disease, cared for them every step of the way, and kept predators at bay. There was always another challenge to overcome so they could keep their future lunches a possibility. After a long series of events you finally have food on the table. It makes sense that they wanted to thank someone for the fact that they aren’t going hungry because they were very aware of the possibility of rumbling tummies. We need some reality injected back into our lives. I think buying a flock of laying hens is a good place to start. Or start a garden. Whatever. Learn to appreciate the what goes into your survival by getting involved with it. And trust me, over easy farm fresh eggs with bright yolks on top of home made toast? Ain’t nothing better. Get started here.
What are the differences between Jumbo Guinea Fowl and French Guinea Fowl?
Good question! The short answer is: none. The long answer: Guinea fowl are popular in France as a source of meat. So the French have done to the guinea what the Americans have done with the chicken: Refine and produce bloodlines of large guinea fowl specifically for meat production. Jumbo guineas and French guineas are, for all purposes, the same thing. The bloodlines may be different but weights and characteristics are nearly identical. In fact, the terms “French” and “Jumbo” are used interchangeably. There is an understandable tendency to equate the French Guinea with the Jumbo Cornish Cross – which is a fast growing, hybrid meat chicken with a reputation for being a freak of nature. After all, both breeds were bred to dominate their market with a faster growing bird. But the difference is the the French Guinea has retained it’s natural foraging instincts a
nd ability to reproduce. It’s just a bigger strain of guinea fowl.
There are many myths surrounding French Guineas, one of which is that they cannot reproduce naturally. This IS NOT true.
If kept in captivity, French Guineas may not reproduce well but if allowed to free range, French Guineas can thrive and reproduce naturally just as any other strain of guinea fowl.
There is another myth that French Guineas cannot fly because of their weight. Again, WRONG.
Below I have a video that a customer (thanks Robert for your great feedback) posted on our Facebook page of a flock of French Guineas roosting rather high in a tree. These are the exact same breed you will get if you purchase day old French guinea fowl keets from us.
In fact, French Guineas prefer the highest roosts they can find. You’ll find them on top of your barn or high in trees. They can begin flying as soon as 3 weeks of age! The myth that French Guineas cannot fly may come from the fact that many heavy ducks bred for meat cannot fly because of their weight. People assume since the French Guinea has been bred to produce meat it’s some sort of genetically modified freak that can’t function normally. However, this is faulty logic and isn’t true. French Guineas can absolutely fly. They are fantastic foragers and will reproduce if allowed to free range. They will produce “true” offspring.
I hope that helps clear some things up!
Yours in Poultry,
Use this pic when you pin!
This is a common question people ask. How come we offer Mareks Vaccinations for many of our chickens but none for our ducks? Good question! Here’s the deal: Ducks generally have hardier immune systems than chickens. They have a high body temperature of 107 degrees which makes it nearly impossible for common chicken diseases to survive in the duck’s body. It’s like when you get sick, your body heats up to fever pitch to try and kill diseases. Ducks simply don’t struggle with the same diseases that chickens do. Plus, ducks spend a large majority of their time in the water (if given access to it) and so this prevents lice and other parasites from taking up residence since the parasites will drown. This is the simple reason for not giving ducks vaccinations; they don’t need them!
We have quite a few calls with people wondering if we sell older chickens like started pullets.
Due to the nature of how mail order poultry works (click here for an introduction on how mail order poultry works), we do not ship older chickens – only day old poultry. But there are some options for finding older chickens.
First, check BackyardChickens.com. It’s probably the biggest forum devoted to poultry on the internet so it has a huge base of users. It’s not a great format for shopping chickens and I get frustrated often trying to sort through all the listings. However, it is definitely a good place to look for local, older chickens and ducks. Go to BackyardChickens.com, click on the “Forums” button at the top of the website, and then scroll down on the menu to “Buy – Sell – Trade.” Or just click here. There you’ll find all kinds of poultry and poultry related items to sort through.
Second, you can check Craigslist. I know Craigslist has a policy against selling pets but poultry kind of crosses the line into agriculture items so I guess Craigslist doesn’t remove them. I’ve sold poultry on Craigslist before so I know it’s possible. Definitely check your local Craigslist.org listings to see if you can find poultry for sale.
Third, you can check your local newspaper’s classifieds listing. They usually have those listings online as well. This is old fashioned but does work. It can be slim pickings, especially if you live in a place like New York City but it may be worth a shot.
Fourth, I think some hatcheries do ship older chickens. We’ve chose not to tackle the challenges that come with it but I think you could find some hatcheries that do. I don’t know of any off hand.
If I think of any more mediums to buy poultry through, I’ll list them here. Until then, that’s about it!
Yours in poultry,
I’ve had several customers ask me if guinea fowl actually digest ticks.
They claim that they heard from their neighbors nephews cousin’s mother (which is where all reliable information comes from) that guinea fowl eat ticks but that the ticks pass right through the digestive system of the guineas since the tick’s hard shell prevents it from being digested.
This is untrue. Here’s why:
- Many customers report buying French Guineas and soon thereafter noticing a huge decrease in tick sightings. If the ticks pass right through the digestive system without being harmed, why would there be a decrease in the tick population? Also, I’ve had several customers who were looking for French Guineas because they had a flock, got rid of them, and then got overwhelmed with ticks. This leads me to assume that the guineas had a direct impact on the tick population.
- Guinea fowl are excellent foragers that eat bugs and insects. So much so that during the summer you barely have to feed them (some folks feed them a little in the evening to lure them back into coops). Many insects have hard shells – called exoskeletons – on them (such as grasshoppers and crickets) and if guineas couldn’t digest such insects, you would have to supplement their diets much more heavily since they wouldn’t get any nutritious benefit from eating insects.
- Humans have teeth but birds don’t. A bird will either tear food apart in large chunks or swallow it whole. Then the food goes to the crop where it is stored for up to 12 hours. The food eventually gets to the gizzard. The gizzard is a muscular pouch where food gets ground up by small pebbles and grit that the guinea picked up while pecking food off of the ground. If the insect is still intact at this point it won’t be able to hold up to the muscular grinding actions of the gizzard and will be ground into a digestible paste. Goodbye ticks!
In summary, guinea fowl are great natural pest control. They devastate tick populations and do pretty well with gardens. We do have baby guinea fowl for sale on our website here. I hope you take a few minutes to check them out! We can ship them to your local post office and you’ll have a crew of tick control experts roaming your property on patrol 24/7 within a few months.
Yours in poultry,
Feel free to share our scientific and educational (sort of) meme below:
What is Mareks disease?
Mareks disease is a virus that is very common and highly contagious to other chickens. On rare occasions quail and domestic turkeys in close proximity to affected chickens can contract the disease. Wherever there are chickens, you are likely to encounter it in some form. It can survive in exposed environments – such as the soil of a chicken run – for up to 5 months, possibly even years. It’s important to clean and disinfect your coop before housing new chickens (see Why You Should Clean Out Your Coop Before Your Baby Chicks Arrive). Mareks Disease is spread via chicken dander (dust) so that means it can be spread by new chickens, on clothing, by wind, clothes, shoes, wild birds, or anything really that has feet or wings. It’s currently believed to be contracted by inhalation so when the dander from infected birds is disturbed by scratching, pecking, or fluttering, the uninfected chickens breathe it in and contract the disease.
Although Mareks can be fatal at times, there is no cure for the disease although many chickens build immunity to it if they survive the initial infection. Once exposed to Mareks, chickens should be assumed to be carriers of the virus even if they show no symptoms. The disease cannot be transmitted vertically (meaning that the disease cannot pass from parent to offspring – offspring must catch it after hatching to become sick). Humans cannot contract the disease so the meat and eggs from infected chickens is perfectly safe to eat. No worries there.
How do I know if my chickens have it?
Diagnosing Mareks disease can be extremely frustrating. The following symptoms may overlap and only one symptom may be visible or all of them. It can be tricky to pick out Mareks from other conditions such as vitamin deficiency or other viruses.
Here’s the Classical Symptoms
Symptoms often stem from the root cause of tumors which squeeze or affect the nervous system.
- Partial or total paralysis of the legs, sometimes wings, and even neck: This may include staggering, losing control of both legs, splits, loss of balance, etc. This is caused by tumors on the sciatic nerve which controls leg movement. This symptom may also be caused by B vitamin deficiencies (See Curled Toes? Splayed Legs? Time to Learn About B12 Deficiency in Chicks & Ducks).
- Not eating: Lesions (or tumors) on the vagus nerve cause dilation of the crop (the pouch where food is ground up) which affects eating & digestion. This symptom can also affect the gizzard lining.
- Difficulty breathing and/or darkening comb: The presence of brachial nerve lesions can restrict respiration. Tumors can also grow into heart muscle which restricts blood flow and circulation. The comb, which has many blood vessels in it, will turn dark from lack of circulation.
- Tumors: Internal tumors can only be diagnosed after death. Perform an autopsy on your culled or dead chicken and check for the presence of tumors. Tumors will grow on the thymus which is in neck near the crop then, as the disease progresses, tumors may appear on to gonads, spleen, liver, kidneys, heart, adrenals, muscles, or pretty much anywhere else inside the chicken.
- Weight loss: Internal tumors may cause rapid weight loss since they restrict the digestive process. They may also slowly waste away without symptoms.
- Loose, watery, and/or bright green poop: This is typically a result of the tumors which cause weight loss. The inability to digest food causes poop with little substance.
Symptoms may also show in the eyes. This is known as Ocular (having to do with the eye) Mareks.
- Iris Discoloration: The iris of the eye will turn grey or pale blue in color.
- Pupil Deformation: The pupil goes from round to keyhole or amoeba shaped.
- Pupil Doesn’t React to Light: The pupil of the eye is meant to close and open to let in light or restrict light. If the chicken has Ocular Mareks the pupil will likely not react to light. Get a flashlight and go into a dark room and see if the iris reacts to stimulation from the light.
- Blindness: Pretty self explanatory.
Symptoms may appear on the skin. This is known as Cutaneous (having to do with skin) Mareks.
- Lesions or Deformities at the Feather Follicles: Rounded or hard lesions can appear on the skin. They can be from large bumpy nodules to crusty looking lesions and may be moderate or severe.
Mareks can cause immunosuppresion, or a condition where immune system is suppressed. The chicken may survive Mareks but because the immune system is suppressed the chicken may get sick from another disease, such as coccidiosis (read more about Coccidosis: Cures, Symptoms, & Prevention). This means that even though your chook will survive Mareks it may contract another disease and won’t be able to fight it off. This is why Mareks is so frustrating to diagnose. The symptoms may look like Cocci (and it may be Cocci) but the root cause may be Mareks. The best bet is to cull a chicken that is extremely sick and do an autopsy. Look of the tumors that indicate Mareks disease. You then know that the other chickens likely have it (although they may have developed a resistance to it).
Mareks disease symptoms may come and go so if the chicken appears sick, then heals up magically, then becomes sick again it may be a clue. It can be very frustrating diagnosing a chicken that randomly shows symptoms only to appear healthy the next day.
The incubation period for Mareks is 3-25 weeks. This means that after the chicken has inhaled the virus, it takes about 3 weeks before it could show symptoms. It may not show symptoms to up to 25 weeks. The chicken becomes contagious after 10 days of contracting Mareks.
How do I prevent it?
Vaccinations will not prevent chickens from contracting the disease, it only increases their chance of survival and reduces their symptoms by limiting tumor growth. It also helps limit the horizontal (meaning from chicken to chicken) spread of the disease somewhat and does make the flock less likely to spread it to uninfected flocks, though you should still consider chickens exposed to Mareks contagious. We do offer Mareks vaccinations on nearly all our chickens.
You can try quarantine but even if you get new chickens and quarantine them for a week or so, they may carry the disease and not show any symptoms. So it’s nearly impossible to tell definitively if you are introducing Mareks to your flock. Also, since Mareks is trasmitted via dander, the disease may drift from a neighboring farm that has the disease. It’s extremely tough to prevent this disease. Chickens that are left free to roam outside from little on up are more likely to develop resistance to Mareks as they are exposed to small amounts of it at a time.
If you do vaccinate your chicks, it does take up to several week for the vaccine to take effect so it’s important to quarantine your new baby chicks from the established flock until they are at least eight weeks old or so. Remember to wash your hands and change clothes before handling the new chicks, especially if you were just in the coop outside. Dander can even be in your hair or on your shoes. It’s best to try to keep the chicks isolated from dirt or dander from the outside coop until they are older. You may let the chicks have supervised play time outside but keep them upwind of the coop of older chickens.
If I vaccinate chicks, do they become carriers of Mareks?
No – The vaccination isn’t actually a weak strain of Mareks. It’s a vaccine derived from Turkey Herpesvirus (MDV-3) so chickens will not become carriers of Mareks if they are vaccinated. Even if they are vaccinated but are exposed to Mareks, they should be considered carriers.
I hope that helps! This is by no means exhaustive and it shouldn’t be considered a scientific paper, but merely a tool to teach a you little about this common poultry disease. Customers frequently ask “What is Mareks Disease” when asked if they prefer to get their chicks vaccinated.
Yours in Poultry,
RELATED: Why Don’t We Vaccinate Ducks?
Here’s the summary: If you are going to raise ducks, you should buy this book. It’s a thorough but not exhausting educational resource for the average duck enthusiast. It’s full of tips and tidbits that could possibly save your duck’s life and certainly save you some mistakes on your duck growing journey.
Ducks are fun and full of character. They are mischievous, clumsy, and comical additions to any farmyard. My ducks would always get so happy when I got the hose out that they would run in circles quacking like they just won the lottery. It made my wife happy because I actually started watering the plants for her, just to see the ducks go crazy. Of course, when the ducks starting eating her plants, my wife suddenly began her quest to help me find new pets. Ah! But do not fear. Lisa fills this book with little nuggets of wisdom; things like how to garden with ducks & how to keep your ducks happy. If you’re ducks get sick, don’t lay well, or start falling prey to nighttime marauders, Lisa likely has some ideas for you somewhere in her book. Trying to return to nature? Lisa uses a very down to earth, old timey wisdom that employs natures best remedies. It’s a must have on any hobby farm that has a happy flock of quackers of any size; from 1 – 100.
I highly recommend this book to any duck enthusiast. I have a signed copy myself when I met Lisa in person at a chicken themed shindig of sorts in Indianapolis (yes, they have those). She’s a lovely person with tons of experience with ducks and chickens of her owns. She doesn’t share just head knowledge but knowledge gained from experience, which is the best kind! You can pick up her book on her blog: FreshEggsDaily.com
On a tight budget? I know the feeling. Even if you aren’t buying a book, her blog (see previous link) is a free source of great information on diagnosing, treating, raising, and enjoying ducks and chickens. It’s a great place to start for anyone foraging the online space for poultry keeping information.
Looking for baby ducks to buy online? We have some of the classic breeds available almost all year long. Click here for more info.
I give Duck Eggs Daily five out of five happy quacks of approval.
This is something that a lot of people ask about. I am definitely not an expert in genetics but I can go over the basics and how they affect you.
A heritage breed is a breed that can breed “true.” This means that the offspring will be the same as the parents. So if you have a male and a female Black Australorp, you will end up with Black Australorp chicks. Let’s use a familiar example. If you breed a Labrador Retriever with a Labrador Retriever you will get Lab puppies. The same goes with chickens. If you breed a purebred with a purebred you will get purebred chicks. They will breed true since they are a heritage breed. There can be different strains of Black Australorps and different bloodlines but that principle will hold true within the bloodlines. For example, one hatchery will develop their own line of Black Australorps. Another hatchery will try to raise a superior line of Black Australorps by breeding out undesirable characteristics.
If you are looking for a self sufficient flock that will maintain itself and reproduce, heritage breeds are a good choice since they are more likely to go “broody.” Going broody simply means a hen will be overcome with the desire to be a mother and will sit on her eggs to hatch them. However, it must be noted that the Rhode Island Reds we sell are considered a “Production Breed” meaning this bloodline of Rhode Island Reds have been bred to be egg producers and have lost some of the mother instinct that is present in the old heritage lines. They can still go broody but it’s more rare that they do. Also, the Production Reds are lighter in color than the dark maroon colored old heritage lines.
Hybrids are chicken breeds that have been produced by breeding several different breeds in a strategic manner so as to produce a specific hybrid chick. Let’s take the ISA Brown as an example. It is a hybrid. This means that the breed is produced by mixing Rhode Island Reds and Rhode Island Whites (as well as some others) to produce offspring with the desired traits. What exact breeds are used is usually kept secret because hatcheries want to guard against competitors producing the same hybrids. The “recipe” to many hybrids is protected with a lot of enthusiasm! Hybrids are typically used for high egg production. They sometimes have the reputation as being genetically modified freaks of nature but in reality they are just a result of years of breeding selection. They are no more freaks of nature than a Labradoodle dog. In fact, years of inbreeding of heritage breeds can produce unhealtheir chicks than hybrid chicks. If egg production is your primary concern, then hybrids will typically give you better egg production. Most modern egg farms use hybrids. However, most hatcheries will aim to minimize the broody mothering nature in their hybrids so that they will not instinctively sit on and hatch eggs. This increases their egg production since broody hens do not lay eggs. Hybrids can reproduce but the offspring will not share the same characteristics as the parents. Many recessive genes or dominant genes will become apparent in the offspring giving you a mixed bag of offspring characteristics. The offspring will be healthy though, just different from the parents!No products found
That’s just scratching the surface but hopefully it helps clear some things up!