Friday, August 31, 2012

Difficult Decision

I was relieved by the email I received from the vet on the necropsy of the patridge rock chicken. I was so happy to hear that it wasn't a flock health issue. I was also a little happy that I had an egg in lockdown from the deceased chicken, so she could live on.

Then, on Friday, I received the official lab report.  It read:

Yolk peritonitis, chronic
Lymphoma, ovary, mesentery and small intestine (lymphoid leukosis)

The cause of death is neoplasia involving multiple organs which in this age of a bird, is most consistent with lymphoid leukosis (LL). LL is the most common form  in the leukosis/sarcoma group of diseases which includes a variety of tumors in chickens caused by retroviruses.  Mortality in affected flocks is usually 1-2%, but can be higher. These viruses are transmitted vertically from hen to chicks and horizontally from bird to bird by direct contact. Most chickens become infected by contact with congenitally infected birds. The primary differential diagnosis is Marek's disease. Marek's disease (MD - herpesvirus) can be impossible to differentiate microscopically, however LL does not usually occur before 14 wks of age and most mortalities are between 24-40 wks with this agent. MD usually occurs earlier with mortalities usually between 10-20 wks of age.  Eradication of retroviruses from the flock involves breaking vertical transmission from hen to progeny ( testing hens for viral infection prior to selecting for breeding) and horizontal transmission from bird to bird (separation of known exposed birds from new birds).  Control of Marek's disease in a flock involves similar principles as well as vaccination against the virus.

Remains of this bird were incinerated as requested.

So, it wasn't as simple as originally thought.  LL, as lymphoid leukosis is commonly called, is almost as bad as Marek's disease. In a way, it's worse, as Marek's is not transferred vertically (i.e. mother to chick) and LL is. I've been researching like crazy, and I've learned a few things. First, incubation for LL is 4-6 months, and it's generally seen in older chickens. Second, some chickens can be exposed, but never develop the illness. I guess it can be quite common, and doesn't have the mortality rate that Marek's has. Once a chicken develops the tumors, it is always fatal. Because of the incubation period being so long, I feel that I can safely say that my lavender ameraucana death was not related- the two chickens hadn't been in contact with each other that long.

Marek's disease tends to kill chickens earlier, and LL tends to kill later- around 5-8 months of age is the most common age.  My partridge was at least 2-3, so I'm not sure what to make of that.

Because the most common way to get LL is to be infected by the mother, I had to make a very tough decision tonight.  I have eggs in the incubator, set to hatch tomorrow. I knew that one was from the partridge rock, because she laid it into my hand and then I put it in the incubator. The odds of that chick having this disease was quite high, and I didn't want to risk it infecting the rest of the flock (if it isn't already too late).  Do I euthanize it or not?

I finally decided for the good of the flock, and to minimize risk, I would take it out of the incubator. I figure that it's much easier to euthanize an egg than a fluffy chick.

I took it out of the incubator, and decided that I would put it in the freezer, so as to have the end come about as quickly and humanely as possible. I openly admit to crying as I felt it tapping on the shell as I stuck it in the freezer. I plan to leave it there overnight, make sure that it has no chance of being alive, and then I'll bury it in the yard.

My plan for now is to keep the six chickens that were with the partridge rock in their separate coop. I'd planned to mix the flocks soon, but I think I'd better not. I'll keep them all separated for 6 months. If nobody else develops any symptoms, I'll assume that my flock wasn't infected. I could be wrong, but it's my understand that vertical transmission (mother to chick) is much more common than horizontal transmission (chicken to chicken).

I have to admit this discovery has really put a pall on the hatching of these chicks.

I'm also a little upset. When she emailed me in the first place, she indicated that there was no sign of Marek's Disease, which I assumed to mean she didn't see tumors, other than the ovarian one. But, when you read the final report, there was also tumors in the mesentery (basically all that tissue around your digestive organs) and in the small intestine, plus lymphoma. Then, to add insult to injury, they charged me an additional $20 to dispose of the chicken. When I was quoted $38 for the necropsy, I assumed that included disposal. Oh well, live and learn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Death and Necropsy

I checked on my patridge Tuesday morning, and she had managed to get herself into the henhouse part of the time out coop, but she was still laying on her side and looked very ill.

I had to run some errands, and when I came home around 2pm, I checked on her again, and found that she had passed away.

Since this was the second chicken death inside a week, and the third out of ordinary event, I decided to have a necropsy done on her.  Utah State University has a couple facilities that do this. One is located in Logan, the other in Nephi.  Although it was incredibly inconvenient, I decided to drive her up to Logan and have a necropsy done.

I've been in a panic, worrying that it's Mareks, and that I was going to be having a leper colony/death camp on my hands.

When I got there, the vet came out to talk to me about the whole thing. On the intake paper, there was a little line for background info, and I was not sure how to fit everything there. Luckily I was able to verbally tell the vet everything.  She wasn't going to give a definitive answer without examining the bird, but she indicated that she thought I'd just had a run of bad luck, and it probably was not mareks or any other infectious disease.  Even though it was 4:30pm by the time I got there, she said they'd get to work on the chicken the next morning (this morning).

I heard back from her by 10:00am. Amazingly fast results!  This is what her email said:

the chicken died of chronic yolk peritonitis ( this was going on for days to over a week). There is a mass on the ovary, could be an infection, but more likely a tumor. I will have slides Friday and know more then as to specifically what the mass is, but this is not a flock health issue, so at this point, nothing to worry about with the others. Not an infectious disease. I will let you know more Friday afternoon. Email or call me if you have any questions. Incidentally, there is no evidence of Merek’s disease in this bird.

Dr. R

I am so relieved!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Chicken Down

Yesterday while I was cleaning out the old coop, I noticed that my partridge rock didn't seem to be quite herself. She seemed a little fluffed up, and wasn't moving as fast as the other chickens. She still was happy to leave the run and go free ranging with everyone else (for the first time ever- this batch hasn't gotten much of a chance to leave their run). Her comb seemed a bit pale as well.

Today, she was markedly worse in the morning. By dinnertime, she was laying on her side.

I've put her in solitary confinement (I'm so glad I have that tiny time-out coop!!), but I'm not at all hopeful for her recovery. If/when she dies, I think I'll have a necropsy done.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grandchicken Update

At this point, I have about 6 more days til the grandchickens hatch. Two of the lavender ameraucana eggs did not develop, so I'm down to 5 eggs total. A couple of those had been in the fridge for a couple days, so that doesn't seem to have affected them much.

What does have me worried is space. I have three large brown eggs and two small bluish/green eggs. The small eggs appear to have totally filled up the egg space, while the other three are only taking about 70%, and look totally normal.

My biggest concern with hatching pullet eggs is that they'd run out of space before incubation time was complete. That seems to be happening. We'll have to see if I have a good outcome or not.

RIP Pecky

I don't remember what I had named that Lavender Amercauna, or if she was the one I raised from hatch or got a couple months ago (they looked identical), but my niece named her "Pecky". She was pretty upset when she fell ill.

On Friday morning, I decided to clean out my big chicken coop. I didn't want her breathing all the dust, plus I wanted to clean her corner as well, so I put her out in the grass. She perked up for the first time in a while, and even was eating some of the grass. She'd lost more than half her body weight, so it was nice to see her so happy. When I got done, I couldn't bear to put her back inside because she seemed so much happier on the lawn. So, I got her water near her and a small pile of food. I realized that she was not safe from any predators, and we see hawks almost every day. I knew it was a risk, but at that point, I knew she wasn't going to recover and thought she should be in a happy place. If I was a bit better at owning chickens, I would've euthanized her a couple weeks ago.

I checked on her a couple hours later, and everything was fine.

A couple hours later, I went back outside, and she had died of natural causes. Though part of me was sad, the overwhelming feeling was relief- I knew she wasn't suffering anymore, and I didn't have to worry anymore about her.

I dug a hole a couple feet deep and buried her (not going to eat a chicken that died of illness, and besides, she'd lost so much weight that I don't think it would've been worth the trouble), then stuck a board and a bike frame over the top to discourage predators from digging her up. It was kind of funny, because after the fact, I realized she was only about 5-10' from the chicken run. I started worrying that her smell would attract predators, and they'd attack the other birds. I mentioned to dh that maybe I shouldn't buried her so close to the others. He replied, "I don't they will notice she's there." With that, I realized he thinks I'm a lot crazier than I actually am. He thought I was worried about traumatizing the other birds. Um, no. I'm worried about the smell of decomposing bird will attract dogs, foxes, whatever else, and then they'll notice fresher meat nearby.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Incubating Grandchickens

I hadn't planned to incubate again til spring, but I got sucked in. A couple of my friends decided to do a hatch along, and since I moved Warren, my french black copper marans in with the "big girls", all their eggs have been fertile.  So, I decided to give it a go. The eggs from my lavender ameraucana are tiny though, so I have doubt as to how well they're going to work. Two were actually in the fridge for a couple days. All are around 30 grams, which is pretty tiny for a large fowl hen. She's only been laying about two weeks or so, so they're brand new.

So, I set four lavender ameraucana eggs and three brown eggs. I know one came from the partridge rock. Not sure who the other two are from. The FBCM rooster is the daddy to all.  I set them on Saturday, Aug 11, and expect they'll hatch around Sept 1.

Speaking of lavender ameraucanas, my other one has fallen sick. At first, I thought it was an injury, but as time has gone on, I think it's more serious. It's been speculated by vets that she has encephalitis, brought on either by Botulism or possibly West Nile Virus. Considering their food sources, I think West Nile is a more logical explanation. She's been on antibiotics a few days, but there has been little improvement. She can't walk. It's heartbreaking to watch. She's still eating and drinking, but I'm not too hopeful about her chances of survival.  Here's how it went down: A week ago, I went to check to make sure everything was going well, and everyone was bedding down for the night. I found the lavender in one of the nest boxes which is really weird- they never sleep in the nest boxes. I was concerned, but not too much. The next morning, she was still in the nest box. I got her out, and discovered she couldn't stand. It seemed like her left side was way more affected that her right side. I separated her from the rest, thinking that maybe the rooster had hurt her- she's only about half the size of him. However, as the day went on, things got worse and worse and she couldn't stand up.

She went on antibiotics a few days ago, and initially seemed to get a little better, but I just haven't seen much improvement in the last few days. I hate the idea of euthanizing her, but she doesn't seem happy or healthy.

I'm concerned that maybe the vet is wrong, and she has something contagious. I'd hate for that to be the case, because that means my entire flock is in danger.  However, West Nile is really scary because that means that not only is my flock in danger, but my family as well.