Marek's Disease Info
Marek's Disease is a common viral disease that affects chickens. People who already have a backyard flock can assume their chickens have it. Some birds never develop the symptoms, but still carry the disease and can infect others. People with a few pet chickens may not think they need to have their chicks vaccinated, but to insure the best prognosis for large breed chicks, buyers should consider it. The vaccine is not intended for bantam breeds.
Symptoms of Marek's Disease include paralysis, wasting, and tumors. The chickens may seem thin or have a wing that droops. Marek's can cause chickens to go blind. It appears between five and twenty-five weeks of age, and can kill off whole flocks. Older chickens have usually survived it. While showing no symptoms, they are likely to be carriers.
The best time to vaccinate chicks for Marek's Disease is soon after they hatch from the egg. When people are ordering baby chicks, they can request vaccination at the time of ordering. The chicks will then arrive protected. This is especially important if the flock owner will be adding them to an established flock when they get a little older. Without vaccination, these new chicks may get the virus from the older chickens.
Another good reason to have chicks vaccinated is that the owner can take their chickens to shows, fairs, or sales without worrying about them catching Marek's Disease from other chickens at the show or sale. In addition, the owner can be sure they are not bringing the disease to the other birds at the show.
People with large poultry operations may choose to give the vaccinations themselves, but for the backyard flock owner, this is very difficult. One reason for the difficulty is that the vaccine comes in huge lots, so they must buy more than they need. The vaccine must be administered quickly after it is mixed up. Then the tiny bird must be injected in the back of the neck. This is a task best left to those who are experts.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about poultry diseases like Marek's disease and about vaccinations.
Does the vaccination interfere with the wish to raise a flock organically? Usually, no. Standards for labeling foods organic vary from place to place, however, so check local laws.
Can humans or other pets get Marek's Disease from infected birds? No. There are other varieties of the Marek's virus that affect other birds, such as ducks and turkeys. The vaccination is exclusively for the purpose of keeping chickens from catching this common disease.
Does Marek's Disease go by any other names? Yes. It has been called "range paralysis" and being "down in the leg" by chicken fanciers.
What else can a chicken fancier do to minimize the chance of a Marek's outbreak in their backyard flock? First, they should always keep younger birds separate from the older ones. Also, they should not take them to bird shows until they are over 5 months old. Song birds are carriers so you will want to keep song birds out of your coop. Also the vaccine is not 100% effective. 10% of vaccinated chicks may still get the disease.