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With the year anniversary of our first chicken loss coming upon us, I figured this would be a good time to share our “Broken Chicken 1 & 2” story with all of you.

One morning last December, when I went to check on the flock in frigid temperatures, I noticed one of my Welsummers was sitting a bit awkwardly in the coop. The chickens don’t typically spend a lot of time resting on the coop floor so I instantly thought something might be wrong. I watched as she struggled to stand but when she did get upright, I noticed her toes were curled under her and she was standing on her ankle!

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Broken Chicken #1

I took her in to the garage and set up a temporary house for her, then proceeded to call the vet. Thankfully we are close to a University town and have specialty vets available to us. Being that she was only 20 weeks, the vet suggested giving her vitamin B complex injections for a few days to see if that helped. Sometimes when they become deficient in a vitamin you the symptoms we witnessed. So, I drove to the vet clinic and got the injections and immediately started “Broken Chicken” on the dosage.

In the meantime, I got on the internet and started researching this and came upon a terrible disease out there called Marek’s. Marek’s is an infection among chickens that becomes neurological as tumors grow and press against nerves.  It’s highly contagious and almost always results in culling or death.

So, I began to freak out! We spent so much time investing in these chickens and hadn’t even gotten an egg yet! If this illness was striking in our coop, it was going to be devastating!

The only preventative for this is to order your chicks vaccinated. The chicks must receive this vaccination within the first 24 hours of being hatched, and some hatcheries even inject it through the shell right before they break out. Unfortunately you can’t vaccinate later in life or after exposure. It is critical if you want your chicks vaccinated that you request it when you order them if you get them from a large hatchery. If I knew this was so important I would have certainly signed them up for the vaccines. We figured, pure, organic, no medicines, no antibiotics were the way we wanted to go. Looking back, there is no way we shouldn’t have requested the vaccinations for fresh newbie chicks.

I did hours and days of research on Marek’s and basically found out:

A. That a necropsy is the only way to verify the illness.

B. Every case is different and sometimes can show very minimal symptoms while other times it’s much more obvious.

So, there we were, giving vitamin shots, hoping it wasn’t Marek’s, yet Broken Chicken was not getting any better. In fact a week later and she had lost all control of that leg. It pushed out in front of her when she tried to stand and certainly couldn’t walk any more.  We made the responsible decision and put her down. Sending a bird out for a necropsy was costly and we figured if we had Marek’s, we’d soon find out as it’s highly contagious.

Weeks went on and no new cases of sick chickens came up. We thought, “wow, must not have been Marek’s, its been almost three months.” Well, a week later, I noticed my only other Welsummer was standing with her toes starting to curl under! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo!!!!

So, in came Broken Chicken #2 to the infirmary. I started her on chick food (chick food has more vitamins in it), I took some vet wrap and hardware cloth scraps we had left over from the coop and made a boot for her foot. I thought that if I could keep her toes from curling any more and keep her supported and give her meds, that we might have a chance with her.

I called the vet, she suspected that it may indeed be Marek’s if we have a second one with similar symptoms. I figured, “well that’s the end of that. We’ll have to start fresh this spring with new chicks.”

But as time went on, Broken Chicken #2 didn’t seem to be getting any worse. She could stand, she could walk, she was eating and drinking…So, we figured, well if they’ve all been exposed anyway, we may as well put her back in the coop with the rest of the flock.

We expected her to get worse and soon come to the end of her rope, but to our surprise, she never got worse, she was still getting up in the rafters to roost at night and seemed to be okay, all things considered.

So, here we are, a year after this all began and Broken Chicken #2 is still hanging in there with the rest of them. She walks/stands on the tips of her toes, and doesnt bend at her elbow like she should when she forges (she reminds me of one of those drinking water birds when she bends over) but has not had any more neurological issues.

It seems odd (knock on wood) that only the two Welsummers were “ill” and nobody else in the coop has or is showing symptoms of this disease. But we will take it and be grateful for every day we have Broken Chicken #2 with us. She is a bit skinnier than she should be, but she still lays eggs and seems not to be suffering.

Here are some helpful websites to help understand Marek’s it if you are interested.

http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000791_Rep813.pdf

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/the-great-big-giant-mareks-disease-faq

http://partnersah.vet.cornell.edu/avian-atlas/#/disease/Marek’s_Disease

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