I think i have a disease running through my flock??


10 Years
Mar 21, 2009
Livermore, CA
Came home form work today and went to do the usual feeding routine of the animals. I get to the hen coop and there is a hen down, i thought "uh oh" the introduction of our older hen into this pen didnt go so well, as this hen was beat up. Then i noticed another hen in the corner of the shelter and she couldnt get up and walk more than a few steps and then would sit down. Then another hen with the same symptoms. Both of these hens didnt have a feather missing. The original hen had a swollen head and eyes swolled shut. I am assuming this hen was feeling weak and got hammered by the other hens.

So i exit the pen and my son comes walking up to me with a guinea in his hands, i asked how in the world he caught it and why he did, our guineas free range and are some what tame , but not catchable!! He said the guinea couldnt stand up..............oh man, here we go.

I quickly go to the bantam pen and look from the outside so not to contaminate, and they are all seeming in good spirits and healthy.

I rush over to my gamecock pen where i have a rooster, two hens and four young birds...........two of the young birds are very lethargic and sitting down..........i go in to see if these otherwise energetic birds would run around...............nope, they didnt.

The laying hens came from Mcmurry hatchery and were given the Merick's vaccination.........but the guineas and gamecocks were from private breeders that never gave them Mericks vaccinations.

All these birds have been around each other for months, if not a couple years now, and for this to happen, is strange to us?

If it is AI, is that airborne?? There is a large operation of people rasing gamecocks about 1/4 mile upwind from us, we are talking like 800-1000 birds.

Im almost tempted to contact them to see if they have lost any birds.

If anyone has any input or a thought of what it might be affecting my flock, feel free to chime in...........until then, i am going to keep an eye on things and see if it gets worse.

It sounds like you may have a big problem brewing. I'd send any fatalities in for necropsy. That's the only way you will know for sure what you are dealing with. Good luck.
UPDATE: Well, got home from work again and found one dead guinea, a dead gamecock chick and a very lethargic gamecock hen and the other chick was also very lethargic. I ended up dispatching them. Then i go into the laying hen pen, and of the 9 hens in there, 7 are either on their bellies unable to walk, if they got up they took a step and fell down. I had to dispatch the seven hens, and i have a feeling that the other two will need to be dipatched by tomorrow. I started looking around and i found two other guineas that were showing the same symtoms. I ended up dispatching them as well. I couldnt find the other two guineas and i assume they are dead as well.

The only reason i think its Mericks is the symptoms, and none of the bantam chickens have the symtoms and they are the only ones in the whole entire flock that received the Mericks shots from the hatchery.

Its a terrible thing to watch and a terrible thing to have to deal with. I have never ever had an outbreak of any disease what so ever in anything i have raised, from finches, parrots, ducks, poultry (until now) and large animals and pets.

I do not wish this upon anyone..............................Jason
I am so sorry you have to deal with this. To lose that many so fast is really rough. You can send one to CAHFS at UC Davis and they will do a free necropsy for you since you are a backyard breeder.

I had some die from Marek's but it was nowhere near that fast. Some lived for weeks, but then I didn't dispatch them as I probably should have. I vaccinated all of my birds, young and old, last March and haven't seen any signs of it since.

I just had a hen hatch out a chick a few weeks ago with 5 more due this weekend and another 4 the weekend after. I hate to buy the vaccine for 1000 birds to vaccinate 10 but I guess that is what I will have to do. I know they say to do it at one day of age, but I did mine at about 8 weeks and older and seem to have had good results so far. I guess they can still get the disease, just no tumors form, so supposedly no symptoms.

Really sorry, it is tough, I know.
That sounds terrible! What an awful experience.

If many of your birds are a couple years old and are showing symptoms, then it is not likely to be Marek's disease. Most birds will show symptoms of Marek's before they are 1 year of age. Also, it seems to be hitting them pretty fast. Marek's is a slower process and wouldn't be killing your birds in 1-2 days. For all these chickens to have come down with this on the same day, definitely sounds like something else and not Marek's disease.

Fowl Cholera can have a sudden onset and lameness can be a symptom for it:
"Greenish diarrhea, high temperature, purple comb and wattle, possibly swollen wattle; ruffled feathers, loss of appetite, coughing; nasal, ocular and oral discharge; swollen joints, lameness, sudden death.

A chronic form of the disease exists in which lesions localize in a joint, wattle, infraohits, sinuses or other tissue."

It seems as if swollen wattles are kind of definitive with Fowl Cholera.

Have you had a lot of rain? Have your chickens eaten wet fed that may have gotten moldy without you knowing? Here's a link to problems that can occur quickly after flooding, including botulism, which can cause paralysis in chickens:


Is it possible that your birds could have gotten into something? or that you have unhappy and vengeful neighbors? Even mold or poison can cause lameness in chickens, if there is some chance they could have eaten something bad like that.

Here's a symptom finder that may help you figure this out:

and a flow chart that could help too:

I really hope you figure this out and don't lose many more. I'm so sorry you are going through this.
I agree with ArizonaDesertChicks. It doesn't sound like Marek's to me for multiple reasons. The first thought I had was a toxin since you are having a very sudden onset of mass casualties in multiple species. There are a couple different possibilities, but guess work is pointless. I would definitely get a necropsy done. Try getting ahold of the state vet's office and I'm sure they can coordinate that for you. I'm sure multiple universities out there probably would help you out as well. Keep some of the birds refrigerated, NOT frozen, and have the necropsy/testing done ASAP. I'm sorry you are dealing with this!
I am so sorry for your losses, I can't even imagine how I would feel if I came home to dead or dying birds.

Please be kind to yourself, as this too shall pass!


Thanks for all those great links ArizonaDesertChicks. I have stored them all away for future reference.
If you have ill or dying guinea fowl or some sort of fowl besides chickens, it is probably NOT Marek's. Plus Marek's is not generally an sudden illness and death, it is a progressive problem ending usually in death. Marek's is a domestic chicken problem, only rarely reported in things besides chickens....

Send your next death (or cull your next ill bird) and send to CAHFS


If you want to get answers free and fairly fast- do this now!

In the meantime- inspect the premises for toxic plants, chemical spills, moldy food, death animals & maggots that they may be eating, ect
Thank you to everyone who responded and added links, I will need to find the time to go over them to figure this out. Came home today and went and fed as usual, expecting to see more casualties...........however, everyone was doing just fine today!! No sick birds, no dead birds.......so all is good so far.

I did a bunch of reading on the net last night and have ruled out Mericks as well. Its just wierd, the birds dont have diarea, they dont have a nasal drip or swollen combs or show any of the usual signs of a sickness, the only sign is either death or when they try to walk/run they fall to their bellies and just lay there, not on their sides like a weak bird. They dont even have a droopy neck. They are completely healthy in appearance other than the leg thing.

I may try and run a bird up to UC Davis on Friday, will call them tomorrow to see what the procedures are. I would like to find out forsure for experience and so i can let everyone else know what it was for their own safety of their flock.

And as far as bad food, ive ruled that out as well, fresh bags and no real measurable rain here for months. Not to mention the bantams have shown no signs of have this disease and they eat the same food.

I really believe it started with the guineas somehow. The only reason i have narrowed it down to them is they roost above the laying hens and gamecocks, perhaps it is something to do with something in their feces that they had in their bodies then "dropped" what ever it is in the chicken pens and contaminated them? Who knows..........will hopefully have an answer soon to my issue. Until then, no fresh eggs and no more alarms/tick eaters around............way too quiet around here.

I wish it was something as easy as a predator................i can deal with that stuff easily.

Thank you all for your concerns!!.....................Jason

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