Oops, it’s been a while since I did a feather child update. I have been very busy in the garden, thanks to Daylight Savings enticing me out to hack away at things after The Little Fulla has gone to bed. But no news is good news, right? Well, yes and no. Things were going very well. The youngies have grown so fast that the flock is now as one, with Mr Bingley taking charge. But first, the bad news.
I have finally conceded that the problem that has been plaguing my flock is Marek’s Disease. And this realisation has come about in the worst way. On Monday morning as I let the chickens out, I saw Legolas limping. I immediately set up the Hospital Cage and got her in there, hoping that it was a temporary injury. It wasn’t. Her movement decreased rapidly. One of her legs is fully paralysed and the other is partially paralysed. I was still hoping the issue would be a vitamin deficiency or toxic reaction, but she has not responded to vitamins, nor has she responded to molasses or charcoal tablets for cleaning out her system. She is not droopy or suffering any other visible symptoms other than decreased appetite. Her comb is still red and she is still laying. But the poor thing can barely move around her cage now. Her legs are almost useless and I have been helping her to eat and drink multiple times a day in the hope that she will bounce back like Jane did. If it was just one leg there might be hope. There is a very tough decision coming, very soon. It is heartbreaking to see my dear Legolas go down like a shot. My beautiful, adventurous and most friendly chicken has been reduced to a shadow of her normal self.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I have to think about what Marek’s will mean for my flock. Marek’s is a mysterious, tumour-causing illness, a little bit like cancer. Chickens can react to it in three ways:
- They develop immunity to it if they are vaccinated (only viable here in large commercial flocks) or kept isolated until they reach 20 weeks of age (how feasible is that when Marek’s can be spread on the wind from other properties, let alone around your own?).
- They are strong enough to fight it off or recover from ill-effects.
- They succumb to the effects and die or have to be put out of their misery.
Number two sounds good, doesn’t it? Except that even if they recover, Marek’s can resurface later in life, especially during stressful situations. It causes the growth of tumours inside the body, as well as various other symptoms. A non-immune chicken that has been exposed to Marek’s will always be a carrier. There is some terrible information out there about Marek’s that makes it sound like ALL your chickens are going to flop on the ground and die, like, now. I don’t think this is usually the case. After reading some helpful information, I understand that it is not total doom or the end of my chicken-keeping. Here is one article that I found helpful.
I don’t know how far back Marek’s goes in my flock. The effects usually happen over a 10-week period. Given the timeframe, I’d say it’s probably what Half Pie had: a paralysed leg rather than an injury. He was so perky, though, I didn’t think it could be anything like this. It’s possible that Sam suffered from Marek’s over a long period of time. I just don’t know. I have accepted the fact that I could lose more chickens. I should be a pro at it by now, right? At least I know that Jane was strong enough to recover from one round, so that gives me hope.
So, where to from here? Any plans of breeding purebreds have completely gone out the window, but then they had anyway owing to the fact that I’m suddenly quite sure, owing to how his son, Mr Bingley, has turned out, that Elrond was not a full Australorp, but a halfie! More about that later. I need to grow my flock and use what I’ve got. I have a few feasible options:
- Get some commercial hybrids (red shaver or hyline) that have been vaccinated. This would be good for egg production but I really prefer the look and potential for dual purpose of bigger, heritage-type chickens.
- Buy some older chickens, as they are far less likely to suffer from Marek’s, unless it resurfaces of course. This would a mean a quarantine of at least 2 weeks and a big integration process, plus I’m a little reluctant to add chickens at the moment owing to the potential for other diseases/pests to compound my problems.
- Hatch my own eggs, or eggs from somewhere else: many, many eggs, and hope to defeat Marek’s from diminishing my flock by sheer numbers and survival of the fittest.
Since I have been saving eggs to hatch anyway (yes, that means Mr Bingley is fertile, woot!), I am hoping to have a good bunch for Frodo to sit on. I just have to wait for Frodo to go broody again. Shouldn’t take too long…
More about the feather ‘babies’ next time. Ok, maybe one photo…