Getting Better

The drugs are working and everyone is on the mend. Buffy suffered the most and remains puffy-eyed and uncomfortable. Snowball, after a day with her eyes squeezed shut and holed up in the nesting box with her tail to the world, is looking around and is out and about. The other hens appear almost normal, and unless you are acutely observant, you wouldn’t know that they’ve been sick. Prudence never succumbed. Perhaps she was the carrier?

I’ve had sick hens before, and have had hens with respiratory ailments that died, but I’ve never had an illness sweep through the barn like this. I don’t wonder why farmers cull a bird at the first sign of disease. Also, like human medicine, the drugs are expensive – I’ve spent over $60 so far. Then, there’s the issue of transmission. These hens are saved, but will they pass this disease along to the next bird to join the flock? If I was a farmer, I wouldn’t want to wait to find out.

But I’m not a farmer;  I have these chickens for eggs, but they are also my pets. They’re treated and they get to stay.

That said, I have some questions that my vet couldn’t answer. Some readers have sent me links to academic papers, which don’t have the answers either. I need to know:

  • How long can mycoplasm gallisepticum survive outside of the bird? At what point can I put the dirty shavings from this barn into the compost pile? 
  • Is it true that a hen that has recovered from the symptoms will be a carrier for life? Has anyone done studies on this or is it simply a cautionary assumption? 
  • Once the symptoms are over and the eyes are clear, how likely is it that I will carry the disease into my other barn? A backyard situation like mine is not set-up for biosecurity. Children visit my hens. I am in and out several times a day. I can’t change clothes when going from one barn to another! Already, one chicken was swapped from one barn to another (just days before the outbreak) to no ill effect. What is realistic to do and to expect?

It’s unlikely that there will be any studies funded on issues of health in backyard poultry flocks. So, it’d be helpful if anyone who has experienced this write to me. I want to know about your flock after the illness passed through! Thanks.

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