I'm cross-posting an entry I just wrote on my blog because frankly, it's too painful to write out twice. But I'm hoping someone else can learn from my mistakes and avoid this horrible price I'm having to pay.
When I first started poultry-keeping, I was pretty ignorant. I’d had chickens as a kid, but I wasn’t in charge of them. All of my experience came from mammals. So I bumbled along, learning as I went. I dealt with illnesses here and there, and lost a few birds, but nothing too earth-shattering. I knew enough to quarantine new birds coming onto the place, but I didn’t know enough to take it as seriously as I should have.
When I was passed over for a job at a major poultry producer because I had a home flock, I started to think a little harder about it. I chose to keep my birds over taking that job, as it was just a small one anyway, and my birds bring me great pleasure.
But two weeks ago my flock started showing signs of a respiratory disease. Runny, clogged noses, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and death. It was spreading quickly, so while I did research I started them all on antibiotics, just in case. Continued research led me to a number of nasty viruses, like Infectious Coryza, and a persistent bacterium called Mycoplasma Gallisepticus. Both of those are fairly common, and the recovered birds are carriers. It’s really difficult to wipe those diseases out of a flock.
So I took a couple of dead birds to the UC Davis Poultry testing laboratory. Fortunately, they have a field office in Turlock, so I didn’t have to ship the carcasses. Also a pleasant surprise was that they don’t charge for necropsy on backyard flock birds. What I was not prepared for was a confirmed result of Infectious Laryngotracheitis. I hadn’t even heard of that one yet. Doing more research made my heart sink. It’s even more nasty than the other two, and is a reportable disease in some other states and Canadian provinces. Reportable diseases mean that the state Department of Agriculture can condemn a confirmed flock, although that doesn’t appear to be the case in California.
I don’t know how I brought it in. Some sources say that wild birds and possibly rats can be a vector, and I certainly have both of those. They say you can bring it in on your clothes or your shoes, and this popped up exactly ten days after we showed our bantam birds at the fair, and then rushed home to feed everyone else without changing. I’ve brought several new birds into the flock in the last few months, with sloppy quarantining, and I’ve had chicken-keeping friends in the yard as I proudly showed my birds off. Any of those could have been what brought this thing into our world.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. It looked like my options were to completely close my flock or to completely cull and start all over again. The thought of losing that much time and money and work, of losing those bloodlines that I’ve worked so hard on, was devastating. But if I couldn’t show these fancy purebred birds, or bring new ones in, what was the point? I’m not in it just for the eggs; I don’t even like eggs that much. And if I can’t bring new birds in, that will severely hamper my meat production.
The UC Davis vet said that the recovered birds will be carriers but those that have never had it should be safe. But how do I tell who’s had it or not? Some have died from it while others have had just a minor runny nose. The only ones that I can say for sure are safe are the eight bantams that I keep on the other side of the yard. Since the main flock popped up sick, I’ve either dealt with those birds only first thing after a shower or had Seamus do it, and he’s staying out of the main bird yard.
My initial thought was just to cull the worst ones, and see if any more get sick. But while I was working on that today, it was obvious that some of my older birds were subtly sick too, and I wouldn’t have thought to cull them. I just turned some young birds out there the other day, and it just makes me sick to my stomach to have to kill everything. But I believe that’s what I’m going to have to do. It’s not right to keep a sick flock around to be a reservoir for the virus. I’d sure hate to guess wrong, and think I’d got it all and have a couple of carriers left and have to go through this again. ILT seems to live fairly long outside the host too, so I’m going to have to let the yard stay dormant for the summer, and get back to my poultry in the spring. I can probably get hatching eggs from a few of the same sources that I got my original birds from.
I do think this disease doesn’t affect ducks or turkeys. I’ve lost a couple of turkeys, but they didn’t have symptoms, so I don’t know. I think what I’ll do there is keep feeding them until the antibiotic withdrawal period is up, and them slaughter them for food. At least they won’t be wasted that way. The ducks, at least, are perfectly healthy, which is ironic, as I’d definitely planned to eat most of those.
Next time, my flock will be completely closed. No birds in or out, no visitors, and I’ll have a dedicated pair of coop shoes. But first, the disinfection.
I started the bulk of the culling today. First to go was every bird I thought would be a carrier, in case I changed my mind while out there doing the deed.
So goodbye, Red, the best flock rooster ever.
Goodbye to my son’s pet Wyandotte Murray, who would let us pick up all twelve pounds of him.
Goodbye to every single Silver Laced Wyandotte hen, the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen.
Goodbye, Crooked Beak and Wheaten Marans.
Goodbye all three Blues; Andalusian, Ameraucana, and Wyandotte.
Goodbye elderly feed store hens, which were my first birds.
Goodbye birds, I’m sorry to have let you down. It’s very quiet out there, and I’m not done. Don’t let this happen to you.