Marek’s Disease Symptoms to Watch For

marek's disease symptomsMarek’s Disease symptoms are caused by a particularly strong herpes virus. Marek’s Disease can be found in the environment. The usual symptoms involve the nervous system, eyes, skin and other organ systems. A strong variation of the disease shows tumor growth. Marek’s Disease is mainly seen in young chicks and older chickens. Chicks and chickens with Marek’s Disease can show a complex set of symptoms or be totally symptom free.

Marek’s virus is transmitted two main ways. The virus can be transferred by fecal droppings and by feather dander. 

Some symptoms of Marek’s disease can be mild and vague, some can be severe and deadly. Paralysis can occur, along with sudden death. Since Marek’s disease attacks cells that produce antibodies, the immune system is at a disadvantage. You may find that the chicken also succumbs to coccidiosis or another pathogenic, opportunistic organism found in the environment.

In Gail Damarow’s book, “The Chicken Health Handbook“, she notes that Marek’s is likely carried by most chickens. The virus can lay dormant for long periods of time. Stress factors can weaken the chicken’s immune system. After that, the virus is able to activate and further debilitate the already stressed bird.

marek's disease symptoms

Marek’s Disease Symptoms after Stress

Chickens with Marek’s Disease symptoms may have had an added stress in their environment. Some stress factors that can cause the virus to become active are:

Upset routine – Chickens, like most animals, prefer to have a schedule. They do better when they are fed around the same time and the same routine used for their care. Whenever possible, try to care for the flock consistently, every day. When someone is filling in for you with the care, go over the routine, so that the chickens have as much stay the same as possible.

Coming into Lay– When a pullet first begins to lay eggs, she may feel stressed. Some pullets will sail through this change as if nothing is different. Others may require more solitude, quiet, and take a long time to relax and lay the egg.

Bullying– The pecking order squabbles are a fact of life in any chicken flock. It’s natural and usually is sorted out without humans intervening. Occasionally, a chicken may be a real bully though and find a victim to really stress out. When this happens, your victim may become ill from the stress. Marek’s disease symptoms can flare from the stress. 

Stress Factors That are Easily Controlled 

Crowding – Too many chickens in the coop or brooder can cause stress. The crowded conditions can also lead to bullying and pecking order disputes. 

Dirty Coop/Poor Ventilation – A filthy, fly or rodent infested coop is definitely a stress factor. In addition the ammonia odor build up from poor ventilation is likely to make the chickens sick. Once the chickens are sick, the Marek’s Disease symptoms are more likely to flare up also.

Worm overload – If your chickens have any other illness producing factors such as coccidiosis, E.coli, Salmonella, or any type of Rhinovirus, they are already weakened. Intestinal worms weaken a chicken’s body by preventing it from obtaining good nutrition from the food. Some intestinal worms can cause anemia. All of these issues are going to leave the door wide open to a Marek’s Disease symptoms flare up. 

marek's disease symptoms

Prevention of Marek’s Disease Symptoms

Newly hatched chicks have a very short term immunity from the hen. Chicks that aren’t vaccinated run a very high risk of having Marek’s Disease symptoms.  Many hatcheries offer the vaccine as an additional service when you order your chicks. 

Once you get your new chicks that have been vaccinated, keep them separate from the flock. When you do this it gives the immunity time to build. Keeping the chicks in a brooder, separate from your older chickens, increases the success rate of the vaccine. The vaccine does not prevent the chicken from getting the virus. The vaccine prevents the virus from causing illness and symptoms. In addition, the vaccine may limit the amount of virus that the vaccinated chick can shed in the environment. Unvaccinated chicks have a much higher risk of becoming sick from Marek’s Disease. 

marek's disease symptoms

If you buy from a breeder that does not offer the vaccine or hatch out chicks on your homestead, you can purchase the vaccine to administer yourself. The vaccine must be used quickly and kept cool. Have everything set up and vaccinate all chicks as quickly as possible.

Are There Other Ways to Prevent Marek’s Disease?

Experiments have been carried out where new chicks were isolated for a lengthy time period. After 5 months of not being exposed to other chickens or any environment that had chickens, some natural immunity was found. Since most of us do not have the ability or desire to isolate our new flock members for 20 weeks, this method is not very popular. 

After 6 months of age, the probability of seeing Marek’s Disease symptoms reduces. Also, not all forms of Marek’s Disease are deadly. The mortality rate from many of the types of Marek’s Disease is around 20% or lower.  These chickens are shedding high amounts of live virus, though and will infect any chickens in the coop. 

marek's disease symptoms

Marek’s Disease Symptoms

Blindness, often with a gray appearance to the eye or both eyes.

Leg Paralysis, with one leg dragging behind or legs paralyzed in opposite directions.

Tumors are seen more in older chickens as a result of Marek’s virus. 

Reddened skin 

Progressive paralysis and uncoordinated movements, often starting at the neck, through the wings and legs.

Weight loss

Marek’s Disease symptoms may come and go. 

What to Do if You Suspect Marek’s Disease

  1. Isolate any chickens that appear ill
  2. Do not introduce new birds to the flock when you have an outbreak of Marek’s Disease symptoms.

Bio-Security Methods

Practice good bio-security measures when visiting other chicken keepers and when having visitors to your chicken area. It is always a good idea to wear different shoes when visiting other flocks than the shoes you wear to care for your flock. Care for the chicks before caring for the mature chickens, to lessen the chance of bringing virus to the chicks area. Keep wild birds out of the run using poultry netting. Always quarantine newcomers for thirty days before adding to the flock. 


marek's disease symptoms. Marek's disease symptoms are caused by a particularly strong herpes virus. Marek's disease can be found in the environment. The usual symptoms involve the


Self Sustaining Living -Reusing Chicken Coop Trash


self sustaining livingSelf Sustaining Living on our farm means I try to reduce the amount of waste that the farm sends to the landfill.  It’s not always easy and I try to think creatively in order to reduce the waste. 

Every week our chicken coop residents eat through two fifty pound bags of feed. Every week that is two poly bags that end up in the refuse pile waiting for trash pickup. The longer we farm, the more conscious I am of how much waste we produce.  I doubt I will ever get it down to zero, but if I can continually reduce the amount of stuff that comes from our homestead and goes to a landfill, I will be satisfied that I tried my best.  

Some things we naturally have always used at least twice before it heads to it’s final destiny.  Although newspapers are recyclable, I normally use them again to line the rabbit hutch floor, or the chick brooder in the spring.  Cardboard boxes usually are recycled through the chicken coop as a nest box or hiding spot for smaller chickens.  And then there is the issue of all those poly bags that are now the way chicken feed is sold.   Two bags a week, fifty two weeks per year, 104 feed bags total and that is just from the chicken feed!   

Extra tidbit > there are over 19 billion chickens in the world!  For more fun facts on chickens check this post.  That’s a lot of chickens and waste from chickens!

I see the pile of feed bags accumulate every week on our farm and it bothers me to send them to the landfill.

Coming up with some additional uses was fun and creative. Basically, many of the uses you  have for a purchased vinyl tarp can be replaced by using an empty poly vinyl feedbag. 

self sustaining living

Here are some ways you can reuse empty feed bags and increase your level of Self Sustaining Living

Tote bags and reusable shopping bags – Take these to the grocery store, library, any place that uses those tiny annoying plastic shopping bags that only hold three items. 

Reuse the  empty feed bags as trash bags,  instead of  garbage bags.  We always have an empty feed bag propped up in our feed room.  We use it to collect the tops from the feed bags, and any other trash.  

Use the poly fabric feed sack as you would any wipe clean fabric.  Make place mats, coasters,  stadium seats, covers for patio furniture cushions.

self sustaining living

self sustaining living

Around the farm or barnyard, reuse the feed sacks to line the nest boxes for ease of cleaning.  I also use the bags to cover open windows for storm protection, or to cover the duck house open space at the top during the coldest part of winter.  We do the same with the top parts of the rabbit house too.  The large wire covered “windows” are great for summer ventilation but leave too much space for cold winds during winter.  

Self sustaining living

Using Poly Feed Bags for other Animal Housing.  

In our rabbit hutch with runs we use the feed bags under a few inches of dirt and mulch or bedding.  The poly vinyl bags help protect the wooden floor in the hutch.  In the run, having the old chicken feed  sacks under the dirt, keeps the rabbits from digging out under the fencing. 

I haven’t thought of any ways to reuse the poly vinyl feed sack with any activities for the sheep and goats, but give me some time to think about it!  

At the end of the day, the important thought is that we should be aware of what we use and throw away.  Even if you are being careful about how much you consume and throw away, there is waste.  Thinking about the waste products and coming up with a way to replace another item with something recycled from the poly vinyl feed bags will help keep some trash out of the landfills.  


self sustaining living


Compost, the Ultimate Reusable Product from the Coop

Making sure we are responsibly caring for the coop manure and used bedding is very important.  Not only cleaning the coop out regularly, but turning the waste into dark healthy compost is the healthy way to control the waste.  After a year, the compost added to soil will provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil in your garden.  

What products do you reuse from the coop, to help control the amount of waste that heads to our landfills?  Share you experiences with farm style, self sustaining living in the comments.

Self sustaining living

This post first appeared on Backyard Poultry

self sustaining living


Spring Coop Cleaning with Deep Litter

coop cleaningSpring coop cleaning day is a big day when we have used the deep litter method of coop maintenance. This deep litter needs to be completely cleaned out as the temperatures begin to warm. It’s a big job. The deep litter has been accumulating for months. It’s time for a complete cleaning.

Since we  have 25 hens and roosters living in the 12 x 8  shed, you would think  that the smell would be pretty bad after a winter of no cleaning.  But, surprisingly, it is not. I use the deep litter method for chicken bedding during the winter months, and unless there is some water spilled, or moisture accumulating somewhere in the coop, there really is no bad odor. I do clean out the nest boxes more often throughout the winter.   

How Does Deep Litter Work in the Chicken Coop?

Basically, the way it works is, you add clean pine shavings and straw, in the fall, in preparation for the winter months. You can read more about this method here

Once the weather starts to stay warmer, it is time to throw open the doors to the coop and begin scraping out the winter’s bedding.  We do it by raking and scraping out all of the litter, straw, hay and any removable nest boxes etc.  Now it is time to begin the cleaning. 

First I carefully look in the corners, under nesting areas and around the doors for any signs of chewing from outside rodents. It’s important to stop any rodent infestations as soon as you see any signs.

Second, sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth powder around the nesting areas.  If you discover any moist or wet areas of the coop, let this area dry out before adding the new bedding.  


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As you can see in this picture, there were some wet spots under the bedding.  This was a recent spill from a bucket while trying to refill the water bowl. 

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On top of the Bantam chicken partitions, we use chicken wire and old feed bags.  The old soiled feed bags are removed and new ones are laid down.  The feed bags are covered with hay or straw.  As you can see, this is one of the popular nesting sites in our coop.

Next Step in Coop Cleaning Process

The next step in our coop cleaning is to replace the shavings or sawdust in the coop. I like to add some fresh hay or straw to any nesting areas. We  have a few nesting areas in our coop.

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All of the chickens love coop cleaning day.  They happily hunt through the pile of used bedding for any insects, bits of food or other treasures. 

We add fresh pine shavings and straw. Then the inspection crew moves in to give their stamp of approval.





 Coop Cleaning at the Duck House

Meanwhile, across the way, the duck house has been stripped of it’s very wet bedding.  The duck house does get cleaned over the winter, unlike the chicken coop.  Each week, all of the wet soggy hay or stray and bedding is replaced with dry.  We try to do this on a dry breezy day, so that the house has time to dry out during the day. Keeping the duck house dry during the winter requires more frequent coop cleaning.


During the summer months the bedding will be changed out more often.  The chickens will not need the extra warmth of the decomposing bedding during the summer. 

Making Rich Compost!

All of the material scraped from the buildings during coop cleaning can be added to the compost pile. After carefully tending the compost for about a year, the waste pile will be a rich compost suitable for adding to the gardens. Therefore, as you clean out the coops regularly, keep a system going so that you know which part of the pile is the older compost. Read more on turning coop waste into compost in this post.

Even though this may look like it takes a long time to accomplish, we really only spent a couple of hours on the coop cleaning. I hope this will give you an idea of how to keep your chicken and duck homes odor free and comfortable for your feathered friends.


For more information on coop cleaning read this post  on keeping your coop smelling fresh.

Interested in making compost from the chicken waste? Here’s how.


coop cleaning


How to Choose Chicks for Your Flock

choosing chicksIs it time for you to choose chicks to add to your flock? Maybe you are going to choose chicks based on egg laying, or breed characteristics. Perhaps you are looking to increase one particular breed in your flock. When you get to the feed store, how do you make a decision on which chicks from the bin, should go home with you. What breeds will serve your purpose? And, what if you choose a rooster!?

The Purpose of the Chicken 

Chickens serve more than one purpose on a farm or homestead. They are kept for fresh eggs and for meat. When you choose chicks, keep in mind your purpose. Many egg laying breeds are available in most feed stores and garden centers. Popular egg laying breeds include, Buff Orpington, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Barred Rock, Speckled Sussex, Ameraucanas, Welsummers, Leghorns, and Australorps.  

Meat breeds include Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers. These breeds gain weight quickly and within ten weeks you are ready to butcher. 

choose chicks

Dual purpose breeds can be kept for both egg laying and meat purpose. These breeds are often heavy weight, large breed chickens. Some choose chicks from the following breeds when looking for dual purpose chickens: Brahmas, Buckeye, Jersey Giant, White Rock, and Delaware. 

Sometimes people choose chicks based on appearance. Chickens are enjoyable to watch. Fancy breeds are sought by people who are interested in showing chickens, breeding, and just because. Who can resist a fluffy silky, a comical Polish, or the rare Olandsk Dwarf.  There are so many beautiful breeds to choose chicks from and that is before we even consider the wide range of bantam breeds available.

How to Choose Your Chicks at the Store

When you begin looking in the brooder bins of chicks at the store, it can be somewhat overwhelming at first. They all initially look alike! But watch them for a few minutes and you will see some differences. Look for chicks that are easily and frequently moving to the food and water areas. The chicks that are not finding water and food may just need a bit more time or they could be sleepy. All chicks wake up at different times after hatching. The chicks that are freely moving around the brooder are you best bets at this point. 

choose chicks

Some stores won’t allow the chicks to be handled for safety and sanitation reasons. If you can hold the chicks, do a quick tip to toe health scan on the chick before choosing it for your flock. Look for the following traits:

  1. Clear eyes
  2. Straight beak, not twisted or crossed
  3. Dry and fluffy downy feathers
  4. Legs are straight and strong, feet are symetrical and the chick can stand easily
  5. Vent area is clear of droppings. Chicks commonly get a day or two of clogged vent from sticky droppings. The vent area should be cleaned with a warm wet cloth to soften and carefully remove the clot of droppings. As long as the chick looks otherwise healthy, this isn’t a reason to leave a chick behind. 
  6. Pecking order starts young. Don’t be overly concerned if one seems to be a little bully. Wait ten minutes and it might be a different chick doing the same behavior.

Can You Rely on Vent Sexing and Wing Sexing?

Hatcheries rely on trained employees examining the chicks and determining if they are pullet or cockerel. Although some people are quite good at this, the margin for error is still present. Most hatcheries will give between 90 and 100% accuracy. Although you may order and pay extra for a batch of pullets, receiving a rooster can happen. 

Choose Chicks Based on Egg Color

White egg laying chickens include over 20 different breeds. The most popular or commonly available breeds are 

White and Brown Leghorn, California White, Ancona and Blue Andalusion. 

Brown egg laying breeds include, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Red and Black Sex Links, Barred Rock, Partridge Rock, Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and the production hybrid breeds.

choose chicks

Heritage Breed Chicks vs. Hybrid Breeds 

Heritage breeds, hybrid breeds, Bantams, Dwarf, what do all these terms mean to you when you choose chicks for your flock?

Heritage breeds are purebred chickens of a specific breed. The heritage breeds must adhere to the American Poultry Association standards with a traceable genetic lineage. The chickens must be from naturally fertilized, heritage breed eggs. These breeds are slower maturing, and true to breed standards as stated in the American Poultry Association.

Adding Bantams to the Flock 

Bantam chickens are popular with many people. The Livestock Conservancy defines Bantam chickens this way,
“Most bantams are scaled down models of large fowl and were developed for the pleasure of show”. The Bantams may be smaller but the eggs are still delicious. Use an extra egg for every two eggs called for in a recipe. Many chicken keepers with smaller properties appreciate the small sized Bantams. They don’t need as large a chicken coop and they are extremely beautiful birds, just like the full size chickens. 

Most of the time, adding a few bantams to a large sized flock will go smoothly. If you see pecking order issues, you may want to consider separating your Bantams from the larger chickens. In most cases, chicks of both sizes, raised together will do well. 

choose chicks

Hybrid Chicken Breeds 

Hybrid chicken breeds are a result of crossing two or more heritage breeds. Many of the breeds referred to as sex – link are hybrid breeds, created to be extremely good egg layers. These are the breeds many people will choose for high egg production.  Many of these breeds can be sexed at hatch because they are a certain color only found on one sex. 

choose chicks

What Methods Do You Use for Choosing Chicks?

Everyone is looking for their own special flock of chickens so it’s a good idea to choose chicks that will work for your purpose. Egg laying rate and temperament differ from breed to breed and chicken to chicken. A little research into the breeds before heading to the store can make the decisions easier.



choose chicks








Emergency Chicken Health Care

Emergency Chicken Health CareEmergency Chicken Health Care

It’s a feeling of helplessness when you find one of your chickens hurt or ill and you don’t have anything on hand to begin treatment.   Many first aid kits for livestock or general purpose first aid kits will have some of the items necessary to help emergency chicken health care.  However, its better to build a kit that will meet the needs of your chickens. 

 What to Look For

First, it is important to recognize normal behavior for your flock members.  Chickens are almost always busy going about their daily business of eating, scratching and searching for more to eat and more to scratch.  They interrupt this activity to take a dust bath or bask for a moment in the sunshine. Each member of the flock will have its own personality that shines through in these activities and it pays to take note of this.  Now when you notice a marked different behavior or lack of activity, you can be alert to a possible health problem or injury.

Initial signs of illness can include, droopy appearance and standing off from the flock, lack of appetite, absence of egg production, loose runny poop, swelling of crop or other body part, discolored or pale comb or wattles. 

Early Care is Essential!

Providing early care is critical because chickens will hide the signs of illness as much or as long as possible to not look like easy prey. It also protects them from being picked on by flock members. Because they hide the signs of a problem, chickens can go down hill quickly. It pays to be prepared with a first aid box or kit that provides quick aid the chicken. You will lose precious time if you need to run to a store or wait for the veterinarian to return a phone call. For any life threatening emergency though, I would still recommend placing that call to the vet and then administer first aid while you await further instruction.

emergency Chicken Health Care

Start by having a safe and secure place to isolate a sick or injured chicken while you treat the problem.  The patient will need peace and quiet, access to water and food and the freedom from being harassed and bullied by flock mates.  Have this spot in mind ahead of time.  We never know when an emergency can occur. Electrolytes in the water can help at this point but use caution and do not force liquid into a chicken because you can cause the liquid to get into the lungs.  

Learn how to pick up and carry a chicken. The best way is to use two hands, covering the wings so they aren’t able to flap wildly in your face. Lift the chicken and turn it facing backwards while tucking it under one arm. Now you have control of the wings and the feet for carrying and examination purposes. 

When examining an injured bird, handle the chicken securely and firmly so it feels safe and not threatened. Avoid loud noises and sudden startling movements. 

Cleaning wounds

I start by cleaning out the wound with a sterile saline solution. Once clean of dirt and debris I can assess whether the wound will need a veterinarian’s care or if I can treat and bandage it myself. Next, give the wound a good rinse with hydrogen peroxide and/or Veterycin Wound Care solution. If bleeding is not controlled, try packing the wound with cornstarch which should slow or stop blood flow in the area. Plantain leaves can also slow the bleeding.

Leave shallow wounds open and not bandaged. Coat with an antiseptic like Blu-Kote to prohibit pecking by flock members of the red bloody area. Bandaging chicken anatomy takes some creativity. My favorite method of bandaging a wound uses  antiseptic ointment, covered by a gauze pad, followed by wrapping with gauze.  I finish the wrapping with a length of vet wrap, a stretchy self sticking wrap sold in farm supply stores.

How often you need to re-wrap the injury will depend on if you can let the chicken out to roam around with the flock or if it has to stay isolated to recover.  I suggest at least a daily check and apply clean bandages, which will allow you to check for healing or signs of infection.

Broken bones

Broken toes and legs can be splinted and wrapped much the same way as a wound.  Make sure to not wrap so tightly that the blood circulation is compromised.  Pipe cleaners, stiff cardboard, Popsicle sticks are all items that might work as splints for toes and legs. 

chicken health emergencies

First Aid Kit

These are the items I keep handy for chicken or any poultry emergency. 

Saline Solution

Hydrogen Peroxide

Gauze pads and gauze wrap

Vet Wrap

Corn Starch to control bleeding

Antibiotic/Antiseptic ointment 

Blue-Kote – blue colored antiseptic spray to coat the area and prohibit picking

Vetrycin Wound Spray

Cotton swabs



Electrical tape to secure bandages because it doesn’t lose its stickiness when wet.   Emergency Chicken Health Care

And a large towel is helpful when holding a frightened chicken.  Use the towel to wrap around the chicken to prevent it from flapping and trying to escape.

emergency chicken health care

Hope this helps you become more prepared for chicken health care emergencies on your homestead.  Emergency chicken health care plays an important role in the bird’s recovery and prognosis.