Saturday, 23 November 2013

Mystery disease in the flock

My Salmon Faverolles now.


Everyone who keeps chooks has occasional unexplained deaths in the flock, I had some a few months ago; I had 'chook sat' another small flock for a few weeks at my house last New Years, and I (stupidly) didn't keep the two flocks separate enough. They were in different but adjoining runs. Some of the other flock died (two of them) and I lost six from my flock. Since then I have had one or two getting sick for no apparent reason.
The symptoms ;
Weight loss with no loss of appetite (I wish).
Cloudy eyes with no running or ulceration.
A limp develops in one leg followed by a drooped wing and staggering gait.
Eventually the chook is paralyzed in the legs and one wing and develops a scoliosis (curved spine) with the head twisted.

Even at the later stages the chook is bright with a good appetite and wants to live. Because it only appears very occasionally since the first six deaths I had thought it was something they ate or a tick causing it and tried changing their brand of mixed grain and watching what goes into the house scrap bucket, I have limed the chook pen and shelter repeatedly and replaced the mulch in the deep litter yard. Although it doesn't explain the other flock's deaths, I also decided it could have a genetic cause as I haven't introduced any new chickens into the flock for five years; the whole flock is interbred to a large degree so I may have inadvertently introduced a genetic flaw, so I introduced a new rooster (an Austrolorp) and got some fertile eggs from other sources to bring in some new genes. 
The chooks who were sick got to live inside, in a box (changed twice daily) and were fed a special ration of chicken crumbles, rolled oats and chopped herbs (comfrey, parsley and stinging nettle, also chick weed in winter) to boost their weight gain. All of them eventually died, until one night I had a dream; I watched my flock suffering from this disease, suffering paralysis and losing weight ,one by one they died and as I woke up from this nightmare I heard a voice say 'Mareks'. The first thing I did when I woke up was to google Mareks (because that's what we all do with nightmares, right?). I found that the symptoms are a pretty close match to what my chooks had but that the age range was too big (the usual age for chooks to die of Marek's is 1 - 10 weeks) and the rate of death was too low (most flocks suffer 70 -80% loss).

 Marek's is caused by a herpes virus that attacks the nerve endings and sometimes the eyes and skin and usually results in death. Even though my chooks were only occasionally suffering and the sufferers were of different ages, I decided that it was probably Mareks. Some more reading about Marek's you might find interesting.

My daughter, who is studying Veterinary Technology at uni, text me one day with a link to a research study into Herpes treatment; apparently St John's Wort has shown promise as a herpes treatment in humans and other mammals, it was worth a try with avians too. I picked up a bottle of St John's Wort tincture from our local Co-Op and had it ready to go when the next chook got sick.

Wobbles is a four year old hen who suddenly became paralyzed. I treated her as usual but added 1 ml of St John's Wort and echinacea tinctures to her water a day as well. After a week she regained most of her motor function and is back to laying and running free in the yard, although as tinctures are made with vodka, she retained a deep love of anything alcoholic (hence the new name, Wobbles).

The clip below is of Tonto, he is six months old and his first symptom was the staggers as the video shows.




video



The clip below is from YouTube and it shows another chook suffering from Marek's.



I treated Tonto with the same diet and medication as Wobbles and he is now on his first day back in the yard. He is a bit weak and wobbly (another one) but he seems to be recovering.


If you have Marek's disease in your flock, give the St John's Wort treatment a shot, it might save a few lives and we can gather some anecdotal evidence for  it's use.

2 comments:

  1. How interesting. Great that you've found a treatment that seems to work. It is so hard watching Chooks get sick. Dreams are good like that aren't they.

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  2. I think I must have read or heard about Marek's at some time in the past and forgotten about it. My subconscious must have figured it out for me and sent me a heads up. Dreams are amazing like that.

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