nervous system symptoms in week old chick - please help identify


6 Years
Nov 20, 2013
Durango, Colorado
A full description of the situation is below -I posted it earlier but have had no replies. I am feeling a little desparate. I've been reading on chick diseases all morning - and have not been able to find a disease that fits. There are no respiratory symptoms that I can tell. But, the chick is restless and moving in uncoordinated circles peeping constantly now. I will probably put this chick down, as it is suffering, it seems to me, and it could be the carrier of something serious, if it survives, but I would sure love some feedback from an expert, if there is anyone out there. Could this be Mareks, even though there are no respiratory symptoms and we had our chicks vaccinated for Mareks?

Here is a copy of the situation and symptoms:

My 25 1 week-old chicks all looked healthy when I last looked them over carefully about 4 pm yesterday. I was gone last night, but checked on them and they were all under the heating plate by 9 pm and I heard no peeping when I checked on them through the night.

This am, one Barred Plymouth rock (cockrell, I think) was on the far end of the brooder away from the heat plate with his head down in the straw. I picked him up an he is not paralyzed, but weak and especially has trouble holding up his head. He had a very small amount of normal-looking feces over his vent, but nothing came out when I removed it. He drank a little water when I put his beak in a cap of it, but not much and he didn't lift his head upward to swallow like a healthy chick would. There are no signs of trauma; he peeps weakly but with normal voice for a few minutes after I've handled him, then he becomes quiet with his head down under the heating pad where I've separated him and am keeping him. There are no droppings on the towel in the 3 hrs he has been there.

I looked at one disease list, and the one that points to a limp neck is boutulism. I have been meticulous about adding new bedding each day (but not removing the old, as per deep litter method. I'm using my own tall dry grass that I gathered from our dried up irrigation ditches - it is very dry. There is no hint of a bad smell in the brooder. I have been feeding moistened feed as a treat, and I remove the little that is left within a couple hours of giving it to them. I change water every day and keep the waterers clean. The only area that gets wet is under the nipple waterer and I take out the wet straw and put in dry every day.

I am most concerned about the remaining 25 chicks, and whether they are being exposed to something that could make them all sick. I hate to wait until they are dropping one by one or all at once. Any suggestions for what this might be and what I should be doing or checking?

UPdate: I just went to check the sick chick. He is peeping with distress and moving around in an incoordinated way, all the time with his head down and now twisted to the side that would suggest a nerve related illness. I am not hopeful for this chick, but would like to know if there may be some disease I should be treating the rest of flock for in some way.
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hi there, I had a quick look through the 'chicken health handbook' and could not find anything to precisely fit what you are describing. Is it possible the vaccine was in some way tainted, not full strength? It happens occasionally and so the chicks do get Mareks. As you are feeding chick starter/grower, it should not be dietary related. you say you are scrupulous about keeping things clean and honestly, if it was botulism I would expect other chicks to be exhibiting symptoms. It may be that this chick has a genetic 'oops' and is destined to die - that does happen fairly frequently. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful, but I think you are going to have to wait and see what develops. If your other chicks are healthy, this will hopefully be a 'one off' thing - sorry
On further reading, I've learned that Meracks will not be symptomatic in a week-old chick. I am wondering now about the possibility of a mycotoxin from the dried grass that I'm using as bedding. And is Newcastle's even a possibility, does anyone know? I would think that unlikel in a week old chicks that have never been exposed to anything other than a new brooder box on property that has not housed chickens yet. I know chicks die, but I am bothered by the neurological symptoms.
The chicks symptoms have progressed and it is fitting avian encephalomyelitis fairly closely. The bird is moving (summersaulting), peeping, dull eyes - head always limp or bent downward.
I read that the timing would be correct for vertical transmission of the disease. I did get the bird from a hatchery that had an outbreak of this disease in 2008 (from what I found online). I read that horizontal transmission to rest of brood would not show up for several days yet. I wonder if I should throw out all the bedding, sterilize and get a clean start. I was using deep litter method with new straw each day, but probably should forgo that for now in case I have a problem?
Yup - to be safe throw everything out. Scrub down with disinfectant and allow to dry thoroughly before putting the chicks back in. I would change bedding daily (I know, it's a pain), but hopefully you can contain/stop the disease from progressing, good luck
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