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Tuesday, February 27 2018

It's a long lonely walk, that walk into the forest with a rifle. The Livestock Guardian Dog was upset so I let her come. Closure. A gray mist hung on the forest and my boots were silent save for the occasional squish when leaves gave way to mud. The dog kept bumping my bag. It tugged at my heart but I kept walking. She switched sides and bumped at the rifle. I paused to smile into her eyes and pat her head. She's a good dog. Then I shifted my grip on the bag and walked on. The dog followed me with worried eyes. She was determined to come anyway. The dog is scared of guns so I admired her pluck.

Two deer swung their heads up to gape at me. I stopped. The dog stopped. The does stared. I looked around. This place was as good as any. I stepped off the path and into the forest. The branches of a cedar draped to the ground and provided the perfect little nesting place. I set the bag down. Briar was most relieved. She stuck her great head into the bag. Yep. He was still there. Still sick. It bothered her. He couldn't walk. The tremors had taken over. I gently took the dog by the collar to keep her out of the way and squeezed the trigger.

This is the cost.

This is why we do it.

This is why you vaccinate.

In December we bought eight Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte chickens from a big breeder in Central Texas. I found the breeder online and her website looked quite professional. She specialized in rare and exotic birds. I contacted her and asked to be placed on a waiting list for spring chicks. She said she had juvenile birds available and I could buy those now if I didn't want to wait. Well, okay then. We hustled to get a pen and a coop ready, then we drove 4 hours one way in driving rain to pick up 8 birds - two roosters and six hens. So lovely I couldn't take my eyes off them, the little birds were exactly what I wanted.

I got the birds home and set them up in their new coop. They loved the grass and the sunshine. Eleven days later the first hen went down. I opened the coop door to find her paralyzed. In a panic I called the breeder. She assured me that I must have let the birds get too cold and her peers had crushed her. I was crushed. I nursed the bird for a week but it was obvious she wasn't going to survive. I took her for a walk with a rifle.

A week later another hen went down. Same symptoms. This was clearly not a case of being crushed by peers. Suspecting Marek's disease I contacted my vet to have the bird culled and shipped to Texas A&M for necropsy. And I contacted the breeder. She assured me it could not be Marek's disease, but if it was, the birds caught it at my place.  Not likely. My adult birds were vaccinated. She said she'd been losing birds too, but the symptoms weren't exactly the same. She then told me that she was opposed to vaccinating her birds for Marek's disease because most of her customers wanted organic birds. Do what?

It never occurred to me when I paid $190 for 8 birds that they were not vaccinated. Even the big commercial hatcheries will vaccinate. One would expect a high dollar breeder to vaccinate. One would be wrong.

After the loss of the first hen I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Marek's disease in chickens. I researched absolutely everything I could find on the virus and the more I learned the more I was convinced my birds were infected with Marek's Disease Virus. My gorgeous splash rooster died before the second hen had even arrived at the university for testing.

The test results came back positive. My birds were infected with the Marek's virus. One by one they would die. Or they wouldn't, but they would be carriers. I had two choices - I could kill them all, or wait to see which ones would succumb and cull them when they began to suffer. I made the choice to give them a chance. If they survived I could incubate eggs and vaccinate one day old chicks. That wouldn't keep the chickens from catching the virus but it would prevent the tumors from growing inside the bird thus save them from dying. I sent the test results to the breeder. She could no longer deny the obvious. She sent me a full refund. Today, exactly one month later, the blue rooster went down, and with him all hopes of breeding these little birds.

I gave him three days to recover. He went from unsteady, to wobbly, to completely unable to walk. When the tremors started, I walked back to the house and got a rifle. The Livestock Guardian Dog pushed her way into the chicken pen with me. She went to the sick bird. Something was wrong with this one. It bothered her. The dog couldn't save the rooster any more than I could. All I could do was stop the tremors. And get mad.

There was no reason for this to happen. Vaccinate your freaking birds. Seriously. If you buy from a hatchery pay the extra little bit to have them vaccinated. If you buy from a breeder, make sure they're vaccinated. And don't buy this organic bird bullshit. You can't eat the eggs of a dead bird. If you hatch your own chicks, unless you live in the middle of freaking nowhere and do not ever plan to sell birds or bring in new birds, then vaccinate your birds for Marek's. It is the #1 killer of chickens.  The symptoms will vary depending upon where the lesions or tumors appear inside the chicken so often people don't even know what killed their birds. Before this happened to me I knew nothing about Marek's Disease Virus. I only knew there was a disease the hatchery could vaccinate your chicks for before shipping. I just assumed everyone vaccinated their chickens. Now I realize that buying an un-vaccinated chicken is like buying a puppy without distempter and parvo shots. Like parvo, Marek's is EVERYWHERE.

Vaccination isn't about saving the money. It's about preventing the suffering. It cost me $114 for a necropsy on a $24 chicken, but I had to be sure. I needed to know. I needed to know there was nothing more I could do. I needed to know that I did everything. And now I know. When I see the symptoms, I know how far I will let it go before I reach for that rifle.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 12:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
So sad and so maddening. Glad you got your money back but I'm wondering what additional warnings can be made about that careless breeder's behaviour. Seems to me s/he is the equivalent of a puppy farm. I don't suppose there are any laws against such practices?
Posted by Terri's Pal on 02/28/2018 - 01:00 PM
Yes, it is maddening. And heartbreaking. It was good to get the money back but my hope is that the breeder learned to vaccinate her chicks. No, no laws in place. It's buyer beware.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 02/28/2018 - 02:45 PM

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