Hen with a limp, Hen dead


May 8, 2018
West Virginia
I had 27 hens (down to 26) that were a year old this past June, all mail order as chicks from hatchery and vaccinated. Maybe 2 months ago, I noticed 1 with a limp. She would walk with a sway and limp, more noticeable on the left, but then could take off in a second in a run without any issue and as fast as any other hen. I have kept an eye on her and at times thought it looked like it was getting better, thinking maybe it was an injury. About 2 weeks ago I discovered a hen dead in the coop, in the floor under the roost furthest back in the coop. I buried her and decided maybe it was an injury or broken neck based on an observation I made a few days later...I was out in the coop and my 2018 May hatchlings (4 of them being roosters) are trying to find there spots on the roosts at night and there is a lot of rustling around, sometimes birds jumping down from the roosts only to try to find another spot. So I thought maybe she had jumped down and injured herself. This was just a guess. Then last night I see another hen walking peculiar, almost like in a circle with a sway. My chickens are free range from about 8 til they roost at dark when I lock them up. We hatched out chicks this past May and June and they have not been vaccinated and none of them have demonstrated any issue as of yet. I don't know if this is all coincidental or if they are related and what I should do next. Can anyone advise me. And yes, I am working on finding someone to take these 4 roosters from me, as I have 2 from my original flock that I am keeping and the 4 hatched this past May I wish to move on...Thanks
I think it would be responsible to find out what is causing the lameness and death before rehoming the surplus cockerels to anyone wishing to keep them with other birds or consider butchering them yourself or having someone butcher them. There is a good chance that the lameness and death are due to Marek's disease and if that is the case, the cockerels could well be carrying it and infect someone else's flock.
It is unfortunate that you did not consider getting a necropsy done on the dead bird so that you know what you are dealing with. In the mean time I would pen the young males separately, as adolescent males in a flock can be one of the more common triggers for Marek's as they stress the females with their constant attentions and at their age, their hormones will be peaking and driving them to mate relentlessly. Whilst it may not be Marek's, it is an incredibly common disease and when you see more than one bird exhibiting lameness or neurological symptoms together with a common stressor, it is the most likely cause.
Thanks for assistance. So can birds vaccinated against Marek's get it? My birds were all vaccinated. I found I may be able to get assistance from my extension agency and will be calling the. Thanks
Yes, vaccinated birds can still get Marek's. A bit like flu in humans, there are different strains and the vaccine will not be effective against all of them. The birds need to be vaccinated for Marek's at hatch (or even in vitro) and then reared for a period of about 3 weeks in a Marek's free environment in order for the vaccine to get ahead of the virus in the bird's immune system. If you purchased the birds from a commercial hatchery that have strict bio security then the vaccine has much more chance of being successful than a private breeder who will often have Marek's in their flock at some low level or a farm shop where chicks may be exposed to the virus carried on peoples skin and clothing etc. The vaccine for Marek's is also known to be leaky and vaccinated birds can still be infected with the virus even if the strict protocols after vaccination have been followed. The vaccine will usually prevent the bird from dying of the disease but may allow the virus to mutate and become more aggressive in this live host causing other birds to be at risk from the vaccinated birds. Unfortunately with Marek's you cannot tell which birds have the virus and which do not until they suffer an outbreak, a bit like the herpes virus in humans that causes cold sores. There are dormant phases where people appear normal and then the outbreak phase where they have obvious sores and are infectious. Marek's is caused by a herpes virus too and it can be dormant for weeks, months or sometimes years. Added to that, unlike cold sores which we all easily recognise, Marek's symptoms can be extremely varied and mimic other ailments and cause secondary infections like coccidiosis and respiratory ailments due to it's immunosuppressive action. It is therefore much less easy to diagnose by symptoms and a necropsy is the most sensible route to take when it is suspected.
What I will say is that there is a lot of scary information out there about Marek's and mostly because only the very serious cases get diagnosed but there is a school of thought within the poultry profession that Marek's exists in more flocks than not to a greater or lesser extent. The more virulent strains are more likely to get diagnosed because people tend to get a necropsy done if they lose lots of birds in a short space of time whereas a bird or two lame (and sometimes recovered..... several of my Marek's birds have miraculously recovered from quite debilitating lameness only to suffer further outbreaks at a later date) or a chick with wry neck or a dropped wing or a dead hen occasionally does not give so much pause for thought unless you are familiar with the disease. Symptoms can be as subtle as a bird being unable to keep one eyelid fully open or as dramatic as floundering on their side in classic "Marek's splits" posture, unable to get up.... and everything in between.... or even sudden death with no previous sign of illness. It really is very difficult for people to comprehend unless they have had it diagnosed and experienced how it exhibits.
Do you preventatively treat for coccidiosis? Did you notice and blood in any of the poop on the ground? Ive had chickens that start to look lethargic and died within a few days with coccidiosis. Some stumble and cant carry their own weight.

If you haven't treated your flock, I recommend routinely treating your flock with corid. Corid is not harsh on the body like sulmet is on chickens. Ive treated coccidiosis with sulmet and it made the chickens worse before they got better. Corid seems to do the job without harming the chickens. Even if coccidiosis isnt your problem its a good preventative.
As a rule, chickens should not suffer from coccidiosis after their initial vulnerability as chicks because they develop resistance and should certainly not require routine Corid treatment as adults. The only time adult birds are prone to coccidiosis is if you move them to a new location where they are exposed to different strains than they have previously built up resistance to or if new birds are added to the flock and bring different strains in with them to infect the existing flock or if the birds' immune systems are compromised.
Thanks for all the info...I called my extension agency today after work and unable to get through and will try tomorrow. I also called the vet that I take our dogs and cats too, there is a vet in that office that sees poultry 3 days a week. The hen that has been in question the most was, as usual running around like no problem and the one I was suspicious of yesterday was also acting normal also...I have not identified any suspicious bloody stool anywhere though my chickens all free range over a large piece of property...I will use the information that you all have provided and move forward. Thanks again!
It really would help to get a necropsy on any that are showing symptoms, just to know if it is a problem. What part of WV are you located? I am close to Huntington, just over the river. I have never known of anyone getting a necropsy through the WV state vet, so it would be interesting to know how they deal with clients. Ohio apparently likes clients to go through a local vet which is more expensive and not always an option.

Chickens can suffer leg injuries and also can have leg bone deformities that can become worse with growing. Since Mareks vaccine takes 2-3 weeks to bring about immunity, it is always possible that chicks could become exposed to Mareks before that time. I know a few people around southern OH and in WV that have never seen Mareks, so hopefully it won’t be the problem.

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom