Marek's Disease Pt 1
Part 1: The Back Story
If you're brand new to chickens or thinking about getting chickens, I highly recommend you take the time to read this article and learn from my mistake.
I am in no way an expert on chickens or Marek’s Disease. This blog is really to help me organize my thoughts, and possibly to help others. The information I’m sharing is information I’ve gathered from friends, online articles, and personal experience. If you think your chickens have Marek’s Disease I recommend trying to find someone who can test them. If you live in California I will share what I did below.
About 2 months ago I decided I wanted more chickens. I had 9 hens, a nice big chicken coop, and I felt ready for more. Most of my chickens come from Wild Star Farms, from an extremely knowledgeable woman named Becky. When I reached out to her she said she would only be having chicks for the next few months. I thought I was being responsible by saying I wasn't ready for chicks and looking elsewhere. Little did I know the heartache this would bring.
I found someone on craigslist that had a lot of chickens, and I went to pick up 12 new hens. I was SO excited. 12 new hens! My flock just expanded in 21 chickens like that. Shortly after one of my older hens got a weird eye infection. Mmmm ok weird but whatever. Then I found out a few of my hens had really bad lice. Some of my ladies got nice spa days and I discovered diatomaceous earth. Again, these things happen.
Then, on March 2nd, I found one of the younger hens, dead in the coop. I had no idea what happened, I hadn't noticed any signs. I was hoping it was just one of those weird chicken things since that seems to be fairly common. A few days later I noticed a young hen looking sick. I immediately separated her. My sick station has become a large dog crate in our mudroom. I doctored her for a week – she didn't change much, but she was slowly declining. I was so concerned, I really didn’t know what to do.
After chatting with a few chicken raising mentors, I made the very tough decision to have her humanely euthanized and have a necropsy done. UC Davis will perform a necropsy for $20. You can look into their program here if you’re feeling like this is the route you’d like to take. They also have instruction on if your animal has already passed.
Here is a link to the UC Davis cite if you’re in California - https://cahfs.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/
Even though I just started selling eggs, my chickens are more like pets than a business. It was hard to let her go, but I knew this was my chance to know what was going on and hopefully save the life of my other chickens. A week later I had another hen die, I called UC Davis and they got the tests results to me that afternoon. My hen tested positive for Marek’s Disease. A common, incurable, highly contagious virus.
The day I got the results I felt in a haze, I wasn’t sure what to do. Two days later I lost my 4th hen. Then panic mode set in. How much research can I do, what can I do to stop the dying.
I can't be 100% sure that I brought Marek's to my coop with those 12 young hens, but this is my educated guess. I called the man to let him know, not in an attacking way, but just to inform him what I was dealing with so he could do what he needed to with his flock. Well I'll keep this part of the story short, he told me it was 100% IMPOSSIBLE for those chickens to get Marek's because they were vaccinated, and he would send me $1,000 if one of my chickens had Marek's because it was "IMPOSSIBLE!" – Well, I'll be waiting for my check sir because there is no vaccine that protects from Marek's 100%.
The lesson here is to please do your research when getting chickens, I learned the very very hard way. And I’m still learning. In part 2 I will tell you a little more about Marek’s Disease and what I’m doing to care for my flock.