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

 




When Can Chicks Go Outside?

when can chicks go outsideOne of the top questions I am asked is when can chicks go outside. The need for warmth is key to a growing chick. The growing period is important and making adjustments at the right time is crucial to their future health and well being. The answer really depends on providing warmth, safety, food and water, where ever you house the brooder.

The first weeks of life you are dealing with rather fragile beings. They require a very warm environment. Even if you have a shed, garage or coop with electric, the heat source will be needed 24/7. As the chicks grow, you will see them venture away from the heat source more and more. The chick’s downy covering will give way to new feathers. You can start to reduce the heat level gradually. Starting with the brooder near 100 degrees F, gradually reduce the heat by 5 degrees each week.

As the chicks grow, it is ok to take them outside for a short time, for a play time. I recommend keeping it to 15 minutes or less, and provide a secure enclosure so you don’t lose a wandering, brave chick! 

when can chicks go outside

If the chicks are mostly feathered and the weather is warm enough at night, you can gradually begin to wean them from the heat. This won’t happen for the first few weeks of life, however. Chilling is one of the leading causes of chick death. Once a chick gets chilled, it is hard to bring them back. The first few days are critical in giving your new chicks the best start. 

when can chicks go outside

When Can Chicks Go Outside?

As the chicks begin to grow, the mess becomes messier. You may begin to wonder if they will do just as well, outside of the brooder,and in the coop.Let me encourage you to wait as long as possible before doing this. Not only can the chicks become chilled and suffer illness from being moved too early, but you set them up to become ill from bacteria and parasites.

Chicks are growing rapidly and need free access to food and water. Moving them to a coop situation where they will come in contact with staphylococcus , e-coli, coccidia, and Mareks disease is risky. Chicks need good nutrition, and time to build a strong immune system before being moved outside.

when can chicks go outside

I hedge a little on my answer, because each breed feathers out at a slightly different rate. And each area of the world has different weather patterns. Sometime between 4 and 6 weeks of age, depending on the weather, the chicks may be able to begin living in the coop. There is nothing to be gained by rushing the chicks from the brooder environment into the coop. 

Some people are successful with leaving the chicks in the coop and run during the warmer daytime, and bringing them into the garage or home at night. The answer to when can chicks go outside is a variable situation!

This does not mean that the chicks are ready to be integrated with the big chickens. You will want to take that slow and easy, when they are a little bigger.

when can chicks go outside

When Can Chicks Join the Flock

If you watch a mother hen take care of her babies you will see that she protects them from other flock members. It takes a bold chicken to mess with a mama hen. In the case of chicks raised by humans, we have removed this protective barrier. We must use safe practices to integrate the new young pullets to the flock. Gradual and slow are the terms to keep in mind. 

My usual time line for introducing the new chicks to the flock is around 10 weeks. The chicks must be fully feathered, and on their way to similar size of the chickens they are joining. Adding small bantams to large breed, more aggressive hens is not always going to end well. A sharp hard peck on the head can damage a tiny bantam pullet. In addition, a full size rooster trying to mate with a small bantam pullet can damage or hurt the little one. I have had some bad outcomes from integrating small breeds into large breeds so I don’t recommend it. On the other hand if they are raised together, I  have had no such issues.

when can chicks go outside

When chicks are losing the baby appearance, feather growth has come in, get some sort of enclosure to put them in as they begin to experience the big kids area. I do not recommend just tossing the chicks into the big chicken’s area. Let them both get used to each other through a fence, dog crate, or some other wire enclosure. The chicks will still have their own food and water so they are sure to get plenty to eat and drink. You may need to keep the food and water in the middle of the pen so the big chickens can’t reach in for a snack. 

when can chicks go outside

when can chicks go outside

Fully Integrated Flock

Once the chicks don’t seem to be getting much attention from the flock, through the fence, you can try some short intervals of letting them out. I try to keep an eye on this and I do rescue anyone who seems to be picked on. Placing some hiding spots around the run. One year four of our pullets liked to hide out behind the coop door. I have also leaned a piece of plywood against the fence for a lean-to. A fallen tree limb with leaves can provide cover, too.

when can chicks go outside

Is There a Right Answer?

When can chicks go outside and when can chicks join the flock are important points to consider when raising chickens. I think that the answer depends on a lot of factors. Weather, coop set up, and breeds of chickens, are some of the variables involved. What tips would you add about when can chicks go outside? How did you introduce your chicks to your flock? I’d love to keep the discussion going in the comments.




How to Order Hatchery Chicks

 How to Order Hatchery Chicks

how to order hatchery chicksOnce you have decided to join the many who enjoy backyard chicken raising, you will want to get started as soon as possible. One way to begin is to order chicks from a reputable hatchery. There are many businesses to choose from. You may have a hatchery local to you that does not ship but that you could visit in person to pick up the chicks. Others ship using the postal service and two day shipping. Read reviews, talk to friends who have ordered and try to choose a hatchery as close to you as possible. This will reduce the stress on the new hatchlings.

How does this work?

Once a chick hatches and is packed for shipping,  the baby can survive forty eight to seventy two hours without additional food and water if kept warm. Hatcheries often require a minimum order of twelve to fifteen chicks so they can huddle together and stay warm during shipping.

 

How to order hatchery chicks

Decisions Decisions

Hatchery personnel should be happy to help you with questions about your order. It is helpful to have an idea of what you want to order before you place the call.

Will you be raising egg layers only? Maybe you want breeds that are dual purpose and could be used for meat, too. Are you limited to having only hens and are you willing to pay more to ensure that you receive pullets. This is called ordering sexed pullets and while not a guarantee, it will reduce your chances of getting a rooster in the bunch.

Many hatcheries offer a vaccination against Marek’s disease before the chicks leave the facility. There is an upcharge for this and while it is not required, you will want to decide how you will answer this question. (Marek’s Disease is a neuroplasmic (tumor producing) disease caused by a herpes virus. The symptoms include progressive paralysis. )

When do you want the chicks shipped? When deciding on a shipping date remember that the chicks will need to be picked up promptly from the post office, brought home and put into the brooder. Having the brooder warmed and set up will reduce stress on the chicks. Remember to use warm water in the drinking fount. The chicks will be living in a brooder type set up for the first 8 to 12 weeks depending on the weather outside. Will your outside temperature in 8 to 10 weeks be warm enough for the chicks to be in the coop? If not you will have some large birds living in your house. Along the same line, will you have the coop ready in 8 to 12 weeks if you are building a coop? Read more about how to decide when to start with chicks here.

What breeds?

How to order Hatchery chicks  timbercreekfarmer.com

Many breeds are not available year round from the hatcheries. Others have a window of availability. The standard egg laying breeds are commonly available from March to June. This will vary slightly from business to business.

Knowing what to expect and a little pre-planning will make the call to the hatchery go much smoother. Enjoy your new babies. They grow up so quickly.

If you would like more information on raising chickens please consider my new book, Chickens From Scratch, Raising Chickens from Hatch to Egg Laying and Beyond. Chickens from Scratch celebration

 

 This post was also published in Backyard Poultry Mag.com

 When is the Best Time to Start Baby Chicks