Should I cull my flock?

chickpea stew

6 Years
Sep 21, 2013
This might be long and hard to follow, but I want to give the full story. This spring/summer has been my first experience with chickens.

This spring was a really special day. I let the kids skip school and we woke up early to be the first at Tractor Supply on chick delivery day. Their shipment was cancelled for that week. We met a man there who raised chickens and had plenty of baby chicks for sale. When we got to his house, he had his garage filled with cages with hens in them. My gut told me that he didn't take good care of them and to go elsewhere. The kids were so excited and I figured that it was possibly the norm. We picked out four chicks, all different breeds.

A couple weeks later, one died. I'm not sure what happened, I checked on them and it was dead in the brooder. She was a little smaller than the others.

A few weeks later, the biggest of them all was laying on her back with her neck twisted. It reminded me of how they sometimes act while dust bathing. When I would put her on her feet, she would just roll back over. She had labored breathing and was scratching her underbelly and under her wings. She did not improve at all overnight so we culled her in the morning.

We got 2 more pullets and 4 more chicks from somewhere else. Three of the four chicks died within about a week or so of getting them. The other lasted about a month. All were just found dead.

Shortly after that, I noticed one of the original chicks (now nearly full grown) had clear snot coming out of her nostrils. I cleaned her off and separated her from the others. She never had anymore snot and no other symptoms.

Things were going really good with the original two that were left and the two pullets that I got later. Yesterday, our favorite hen seemed to be blind. She was tripping over sticks, walking into things, etc. She would wander a bit and then just stand there as if she was sleeping. She wouldn't open her eyes. I was able to get her to drink lots of water, but she wouldn't eat a single bite of anything. I tried yogurt, cabbage, scratch. She had no other symptoms and no injuries. She didn't make it through the night.

At this point, I'm wondering if there is something I brought home with the original four. I'm thinking I should cull the remaining three, disinfect, let the winter freeze kill anything that might be on the ground outside and try again in the spring.

One of them is a rooster, that I was planning on giving away (can't have roosters), but I couldn't give him away in good faith knowing he might possibly be a carrier of something.

As the chicks kept dying, I was blaming myself thinking I was doing something wrong. Now I'm wondering if the original four I got were infected with something and it passed to the rest that I brought home.

I feed organic feed, started with starter and switched to layer about 4 weeks ago. They have bowls of grit & oyster shells. They get plenty of produce scraps from us and sometimes scrambled eggs, cooked oatmeal & yogurt. The coop and run is kept clean. They free range for at least a couple hours everyday. If I have no where to go that day, they free range all day. Any thoughts of what this could be? Is culling the remaining 2 hens and 1 rooster the right thing to do?

I'm feeling like such a failure. We haven't even gotten our first egg yet.
My guess is that the original birds came from a flock with Mareks disease, and they have infected every other bird. Mareks can have a lot of different signs like the twisted neck (wry neck or torticolis), blindness, paralysis, and tumors later on. Culling them would be a personal chioice, but some birds can be immune to it. There are many threads here on BYC to ask questions and get recommendations for treatment. To be positive that it is Mareks, you would need to get a necropsy done on a chicken by the state vet. Here is so info:
Thank you for the replies. I was leaning towards marek's. I think we will cull the remaining three tomorrow.
I suspect your original chicks that died had coccidiosis. Cocci is the leading cause of death in chicks and kills very fast if not treated. You could wait and see how the other three are before culling,as they may be fine.
The hen sounds like Marek's.

What are your plans going forward? From what I understand, the Marek's virus can live for years without a host, so it's not a 'simple' matter of culling and starting over. I believe you can get more chicks, making sure they are vaccinated and vaccinating again at 4 weeks. They have to be kept completely segregated from the existing flock - to the point of showering and changing clothes after taking care of the Marek's survivors. Also, many people breed their survivors, breeding a naturally Marek's resistant chicken.

Good luck. If you do cull, I suggest getting a necropsy so that you know for sure what you are dealing with.

My thoughts were that I would cull the flock. The rooster has to go asap and I couldn't give him away to anyone with chickens knowing he was potentially exposed to something. I was thinking I could sanitize the coop with oxide, dig a layer of dirt out of the run and replace it with new dirt. I'm hoping that the winter freeze will kill anything living on the ground. Am I wrong to think that? I haven't been able to find information about what temps the mareks virus can survive. I'm in northern illinois near the wisconsin border. We usually get a period of time with temperatures dropping below 0. I was hoping to be able to start over in the spring with chicks from a reputable source.
It sounds a lot like Newcastle Disease too, for which there is no treatment. But like another member said, in the case of Marek's (and Newcastle), you could probably start over with new chicks but make sure they are vaccinated against both diseases. It doesn't sound like coccidiosis to me. I'd get your next babies at a reputable feed/supply store or farm and ask how established their flock is (the older, the more immune to disease and stronger the lineage) and if they're vaccinated.

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