Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Goes Around – Natural Prevention of Common Poultry Diseases

(Disclaimer - There are varying opinions on the statements concerning culling flocks for MG/MS. Many state Agricultural Department veterinarians DO NOT suggest culling a flock as these diseases are currently very prevalent... up to 75% of ALL domestic flocks *may* already be carriers of MG/MS.) 

Recently an acquaintance of mine (who for privacy reasons we will call “X”) lost his/her entire flock of rare breed chickens to mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG). Due to the number of birds X had as well as the breeds involved, X’s monetary loss would be well into the thousands, though if you were to ask X I believe s/he would tell you that the emotional toll was far greater.

When the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services came out to the X’s farm to euthanize the entire flock, X held his/her beloved birds one at a time and quietly whispered in its ear what s/he loved most about it. Then s/he handed it to a vet and stayed beside each one as the vet euthanized it.

Years of planning and careful breeding were lost in the span of a couple hours that day.

Marta - One of my own birds.

Why did this heart-wrenching story come to pass? It all goes back to two cockerels.

Wanting to add a particular color to their flock, X located someone selling two cockerels that fit into their breeding plans and purchased them. S/he did not do this lightly. As an intelligent person and a very careful chicken keeper, X kept the new birds in quarantine for almost a full month before allowing them near the rest of the flock.

Under most circumstances a month would be plenty of time for an illness to rear its ugly head, but unfortunately birds can be carriers of certain avian diseases without presenting symptoms of that disease. Such is the case with MG. Chances are the cockerel in question survived a case of MG prior to being sold to X, but in surviving MG it became a carrier of the disease for life.

I would much rather make my readers laugh than cry, but time and again I hear people tell stories of introducing a new bird to the flock with virtually no quarantine at all because “biosecurity is just too hard to keep up with.”

So please ask yourself – “Which is harder? Keeping up with biosecurity or losing every bird you have?”

 Severus enjoying a sunny day.

For the most part I keep a closed flock. This means that I simply don’t bring in any older birds at all. None. I either hatch eggs or buy brooder babies that have never been exposed to a flock at all. But this MG thing has me rethinking eggs and brooder babies also. MG is one of those super-nasties that can be passed by the hen into the fertile egg.


So I ask a thousand questions if I have to. I ask if the seller’s flock has had any respiratory issues, how they are kept and if any new birds have been brought onto their property lately? If the seller does not share information freely, or if something sounds amiss, I pass on the purchase.

On one hand, I don’t want to make biosecurity seem too difficult, but on the other I don’t want to withhold information that could cost a reader his/her flock.

But – there is a good method for bringing new birds of any age into your flock (somewhat) safely. It’s as simple as making your own Quarantine Kit:

The Quarantine Kit

Create a quarantine area as far removed from your coop as possible. (This may be as simple as a dog crate in a garage that sets away from your coop.) This area should stay set up even if you don’t plan on bringing in new birds. It should have its own feeding supplies and cleaning supplies - and for you; disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer and clothing that you will change in and out of as you come and go (and don’t forget shoes!) Nothing – and I mean nothing should be shared between your quarantine area and your coop. Ever.

The Biosecurity Method

  • Quarantine new birds by themselves for a minimum of 2+ weeks, watching for any signs of illness.
  • Change clothes and shoes and wash/sanitize well before going between new birds and existing flock. Use separate feeding supplies and coop cleaning supplies as well. (Don’t take chances!)
  • If new birds show NO sign of illness after 2+ weeks, bring your least favorite bird from your existing flock (your sacrifice bird) into the quarantine area and place in adjoining cage where birds may touch and will share air.
  • Wait another 2 weeks and watch your sacrifice bird for any signs of illness.
  • If there are NO signs of illness within 14+ days after the sacrifice bird has been introduced, the new birds are *probably* safe.

There are no 100% guarantees when it comes to preventing avian diseases, but the above method is the simplest and one of the most effective for the average backyard chicken keeper.

Sure – it’s a pain in the toot to scrub down and change your clothes just to visit or feed a new bird, but aren’t your other birds worth the effort?

Also – if you have friends who keep poultry, do not allow them within 10 feet of your chicken yard. Sure – they may roll their eyes or even feel insulted, but you can always say, “I know how much you care for your flock, so I know you’ll understand why I am so careful with mine. And I have this great article you can read if you’re interested…”

If You Suspect A Disease

First and foremost, isolate any and all sick birds immediately! If you already have a quarantine area, use it! If not, a box with holes cut in it will serve as a temporary cage until you can get something set up. Get the bird as far away from the rest of the flock as you can. Follow all quarantine precautions until you know what you are dealing with.

A cockerel in quarantine

There are tests for MG and a number of other poultry diseases. Contact your state’s Department of Agriculture to find out about testing if you suspect it is something contagious.

If you find out one of your birds does have a contagious disease, stop all live bird sales until the disease has been dealt with. Some diseases can be cured and birds won’t infect other birds once treated… but you must be certain which disease you are dealing with if you regularly sell birds or hatching eggs.

** If birds will remain carriers of this disease for the rest of their lives (as with MG), either cull the bird (and any others that have come in contact with that bird), or keep a closed flock – do not knowingly sell these birds and cause harm to another person’s flock! All MG carriers should be culled and not sold or given away if you decide you can no longer keep them. 

(Disclaimer - There are varying opinions on the above statements concerning culling flocks for MG/MS. Many state Agricultural Department veterinarians DO NOT suggest culling a flock as these diseases are currently very prevalent... up to 75% of ALL domestic flocks *may* already be carriers of MG/MS.)

For more information on poultry diseases, see the links below:


  1. Welcome back...I missed you. Great article and advice. Too many people just don't think it can happen to them. But all it takes is one infected bird coming in.

  2. This is great advice. I'm new to chickens (have 6 that are about 3 wks old) and I know eventually I'll want more - this makes me paranoid, but better to be paranoid than lose my girls. Thank you for the information for those of us that have a lot to learn!

  3. Are there any diseases that chickens can have that you shouldn't eat after culling? Is MG dangerous to humans if consumed? Thanks!

    1. Apparently it is fine to eat the eggs and meat of a bird with MG. I believe there are very few avian diseases that render the meat and eggs inedible - there are a few nasties that cause tumors throughout the bird (I would avoid eating that meat) and of course birds can carry Salmonella, Campylobacter and e-coli... but these are not dangerous to us unless the meat/eggs are undercooked.

  4. great reminder!!!

  5. Great article. Reading the horror stories almost daily on Facebook I'd think would be enough but you spell it out clearly. I'm always referring your website to people when they have questions or especially if they use antibiotics or start poison to treat some malady that is not identified, just throw everything at the bird and wait. They don't realize they are treating them like big business production hens..


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