♥ Chickens

Understanding and Combating Marek’s Disease


I want to share an experience with all my chicken pals and of course those interested in keeping backyard flocks. Knowledge is power and while it looked easy for our Grandparents, there were probably some not so pretty parts we didn’t see. To say raising a flock is easy would not be fair. With some time and knowledge however you can be an awesome crazy chicken person too!  Part of that does include vaccinations just like with any pet or livestock.

“Marek’s disease is a highly contagious viral neoplastic disease in chickens. It is named after József Marek, a Hungarian veterinarian. Occasionally misdiagnosed as an abtissue pathology it is caused by an alphaherpesvirus known as ‘Marek’s disease virus‘ (MDV) or Gallidherpesvirus 2 (GaHV-2).”

There are numerous threads and a million sites to get lost down, so I hope this sums up and gives you a valuable point of reference when you are out getting new members for your flock. Basically put: it’s a silent killer spread through flocks and sometimes from wild birds. Secondary symptoms can show as sour crop, respiratory, and even look initially like Cocci. Birds can appear to recover from these symptoms get better and then die unexpectedly well until after 21+ weeks of age. Chicks obviously are the most vulnerable and usually fastest to expire.

1- Assume every chicken  you come in contact with has it. This year according to most agriculture and state poultry labs, it has shown in the majority of their necropsies.

2- As much as we love to hold cuddle and examine – don’t pick up any chicks unless you are truly inspecting to buy. Do not wear those clothes out to your yard with out a good cleaning and that includes you too! Marek’s can be transmitted from inhalation of dander.

3-  Breeders – I love them and we should absolutely support those looking to better the breed. But do your legwork. Do they vaccinate ? Why not? Can they show records of their line? Mortality and Hatch rates? Are they indeed NPIP and did they do any expanded testing? In looking at most NPIP requirements, sadly for the 8$ fee for membership do any test for complex diseases. It is more about testing for things that would take out commercial flocks or impact table food and not every state even does all of these:

Fowl typhoid
Avian mycoplasmas:
Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG)
Mycoplasma synoviae (MS)
Mycoplasma meleagridis (MM)
Salmonella enterica
Avian influenza

Our Experience

In April (2016) we had a hatch due. Previously we had bought the OCs (Original Chickens) from a well reviewed and transparent breeder in N.Ga. We were given records and I had checked her processes carefully. This is where Leroy Jenkins (broody) came from. Leroy hatched the Littles and then of course we bought our Rockstars from MyPetChicken.

Each hen has been vaccinated. We have never had issues. I mean none – even some of the common everyday things. I will fully raise my hand and state I am OCD. Our coops are cleaned every week. I constantly remove wastes. Etc.

Leroy lost several eggs on this hatch and even killed two babies. I bought sell out stock from a breeder of some lines I have been dying to have. Usually I am insane about quarantine, but on reading, several sources seemed to really approve putting new babies under a broody at night. From an incubator to a brooder – week old’s shouldn’t pose illness risks.

First. WRONG

First night Leroy killed 3 of the new babies. Serious money down the drain but emotionally was horrible for my daughter who found them. I almost wonder then, if she knew. We had to separate and brought her hatch and the new ones inside. In hindsight this was pretty smart or our entire flock may now be  gone.

As I have detailed on social media, we went through rounds of meds. As the first birds began to pass I was devastated. It’s really hard to see a little baby pass. Luckily they were warm in a hospital isolation crate had lots of treats and soft blankies. After Rose and Violet passed I had, had enough and took birds to GPLN for necropsy.

In addition to the weird ailments, we had a bird that never thrived. Another just couldn’t stop coughing/snicking. There were grotesque infestations of lice – so bad one birds face was in 2 days a chicken shaped sack of larvae. Yeah you think it sounds gross… I have a weird texture thing and just about puked. We treated re-treated scrubbed and even took apart coop pieces to treat and white glove the heck out of everything. My husband even removed the floor. I had always been so careful and was now in a full panic.

This week I got all final tests back from GPLN. Marek’s. In an attempt to break this disease in its cycle I preventatively bought a vaccination kit from Dr. Peter Brown at First State Vet Supply. It seemed to be so much bigger than my skill-set. He makes you ready to go and got me through the whole thing like a pro. He also replied to an email and encouraged me to think about getting the others done at the same time -” regardless of age or exposure – studies indicate all birds should be vaccinated.”
And everyone did !

I hold no one at fault unfortunately its a difficult disease, but it is easily stopped if you vaccinate. Check for lice as well on baby birds. Several of the eggs that pipped under Leroy died. Lice get in instantly. The carry more than Marek’s in blood transfer. The Liberty Belles are inside and incredibly healthy (hands knocking on wood) and will stay inside with Cluck for a few weeks to build up healthy immunity and strong muscles. They have been on organic food, good treats and lots of caring TLC. They also got vaccinated first.

Do you have questions? Let’s discuss. I will keep you posted on our progress.



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