Smallholders Insurance from Greenlands

Author Topic: Mareks  (Read 3713 times)


  • Joined Apr 2013
  • North Petherton, Somerset
  • Don't wait for your ship to come in-swim out to it
« on: October 21, 2014, 09:18:02 am »
Hi everyone
I'm now pretty sure that I have Mareks in our little flock which is made up of 19 chickens ranging from 20 weeks to 18 months.  In June I brought three 7 day old chicks in to add to the four that we managed to hatch here.  A month ago we had to cull one who suddenly lost the use of her legs.  A few days ago our beautiful Australorp cockerel Ollie is having trouble with his and is bouncing around on his haunches.  Today, another of the 'chicks' has lost the use of one of her legs.  What the hell do I do?  I'm totally dedicated to them, follow a strict hygiene routine and they are only fed the best!
I've obviously read up on the disease and know that sometimes they recover.  Ollie seems bright and is eating, drinking and crowing well.  Could he recover the use of his legs or is that permanent?  If so, we will have to cull him as we cannot leave him like that. He manages to get around, but it takes a lot of effort for him.
What is the best thing for me to do?  I still have the other 'chicks' to worry about and keep wondering if they will fall ill too.  What about my older hens?  None of them are showing any signs at the moment but they have all been housed together and I know that the disease is terribly contageous.  Advice please if you can.  This is really awful as I love them all. :'(


  • Joined Jul 2010
Re: Mareks
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2014, 11:15:35 am »
So Ollie is only the second one to have leg trouble? Why not have a blood test done at the vet's to confirm it's Marek's and not a bacterial infection in the spine that's affecting his legs. Just to rule it out as it is indeed likely to be Marek's, but the symptom of leg trouble is now less common than it used to be. Ours hardly ever showed the leg problem when they became ill. You never know, it might just have been bad luck.  :fc:

A blood test might give you some other results as well, I found it useful.
Do you have a good chicken vet in your area?

We have Mareks in one of our flocks, unknowingly brought in when we bought some youngsters last year. I bought 6, of which 2 developed leg problems within weeks. One was culled as it didn't improve and he was a surplus boy, and the other did get through it as it was initially thought to be a bacterial infection in the spine and she received antibiotics which got her through it This was before the results of the blood test were back and we found out about them carrying Marek's. Unfortunately she was taken by a weasel only weeks later  :'(  so we'll never know if she would have been affected by the Marek's or not (the vet's notes mention that she wasn't 100% convinced that the leg problem was definitely caused by the Marek's).
The rest of those youngsters were all boys and hence went into the pot without ever having been ill so we'll never know about them either.

We keep our Marek's flock, which consist of about 15 birds of the same age as yours, and the others well apart. We change boots and clothing, use Virkon S for disinfecting coops that are being moved etc. What I found most important is to keep stress levels down - we had a bird become ill every time there was a major shift in the pecking order (young POL fell ill after she started being chased by a hormonal young cockerel, who in turn got ill when he was deposed by his younger brother who grew much bigger than him, things like that). I now regard them as a separate flock, no other bird goes in there but I'm not culling them either as long as they are doing fine and they are very lovely birds. We try to keep their immune system as good as possible with quality feed, greens, poultry spice & tonics etc, give medication when they fall ill and have them put to sleep or cull them if they're not getting better. Over the years they'll pass away and become a smaller and smaller flock, until they're all gone and we can disinfect the whole area and start from scratch.

Hope this helps  :-\


  • Joined Apr 2013
  • North Petherton, Somerset
  • Don't wait for your ship to come in-swim out to it
Re: Mareks
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2014, 09:13:29 pm »
Thank you for taking the trouble to reply.  Ollie was in fact the second bird to have leg problems and our third bird, Peppy, showed signs this morning which is when I wrote in asking for help.  Yes, I'm going to take both Ollie and Peppy to the vet tomorrow to ask for them to be tested.  I'm not sure how good our vet is with poultry...I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating!  thank you again for your trouble Eve! :fc:


  • Joined Sep 2013
  • Near Abergavenny, South Wales
Re: Mareks
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2014, 11:58:44 pm »
I really feel for you Bumpkins as I am having a similar issue. I have only kept chickens for 18 months but I have a small laying flock of 8 and recently lost a Maran hen to what I thought was her just wasting away despite my efforts. Postmortem looked like peritonitis. However, that laying flock are at the other end of a field from a small number of other table birds (kept to produce eggs). They have all been in there 18 months. 10 days ago and just as my Maran layer was going downhill fast, one of my table hens started to stagger. Looked like classic Mareks symptoms I had read about. 24hours later she couldn't get up and was clearly in trouble. A day later the other table hen also started staggering - wing out, stumbling - really horrible to witness. Both had to be despatched. I have a really good chicken vet near me and he did a post-mortem but couldn't see any signs sometimes associated with Mareks - tumours etc, but that's not conclusive. He said that it's worth sending away to do a blood test if you have a decent sized flock but I haven't done that and have chosen to assume I have at least some Mareks carriers even though I don't understand the sudden flare up. I also now understand that it travels in feather dander and so even though they're a way apart, it's possible one lot has infected the other.

The only other thing I would say is along the same lines as Eve. A year ago I had some young birds who suddenly went down on their haunches (some of the clutch and not all). On vets advice I changed food (it was chick crumb as they were little), gave them poultry tonic packed with B vitamins and some water based antibiotic for good measure. They were off their haunches fast. So some or all of that may be worth a try. The symptoms I witnessed in the hens I think had Mareks were not on their haunches, they started to stagger and lose their balance and then went down and could not get up on their legs at all - it happened very quickly. But appreciate others' experiences may be different - I'm a novice! 

I'm at the 'watching/hoping' stage with the rest of my layers, some of whom I'm sure were vaccinated for Mareks so they may be carriers but not develop it.
Best wishes  :fc: for you.

Marches Farmer

  • Joined Dec 2012
  • Herefordshire
Re: Mareks
« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2014, 09:37:16 am »
It could also be avian leukosis.  One of the common symptoms of Marek's is the eye going grey.  Separate your birds off individually if you can.  If it's either of those diseases most of the birds are likely to have been infected by now and to die. Those that don't will likely be carriers.  Something we learned the hard way some years ago.  Don't beat yourself up about it - AL can be carried on a feather in the wind!


  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
Re: Mareks
« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2014, 12:09:30 pm »
I had avian leucosis in my birds two years ago. It is more likely that than Mareks because they're older birds - my understanding is Mareks is far more common in growers. If it is, there's not much you can do really. They will all have been exposed to the virus by now but it's not necessarily a killer. I found that I lost five out of six birds that had come from a closed flock so I wondered whether it was because they had not built up natural immunity when they were younger. On the advice of the vet, I kept a closed flock (chickens only - waterfowl unaffected) for six months and at the end of that period he swabbed all the birds for the virus. It's a slightly hit and miss test because they can shed in cycles so it's not conclusive that a low measure at swabbing means you're clear but mine all came back within normal limits so I started hatching again and have been fine since (touch wood).

The important thing to understand is that most birds will be exposed to avian leucosis (and Mareks, I presume) at some point - wild birds carry it too. It's just if they are exposed when they are young or their immune system is otherwise compromised in some way, they may well succumb. I guess it's not fully understood but ideally they have a low level of exposure in order to build up some antibodies so they are then immune to it.

Fingers crossed for the rest of your birds making it through and I would suggest a blood test to be sure - it's good to know - although they are pricey (we had post mortem plus samples sent off and I think it came to over 200).

Oh, and actually the birds I lost showed very few symptoms - no lameness, they just sort of hunched and got quieter and eventually collapsed.



  • Joined Apr 2014
  • Mid Wales
  • Owner of 61 Mediterranean water buffaloes
Re: Mareks
« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2014, 01:07:32 pm »
Treatment (control)
Cull any affected birds. This increases the resistance to the disease in the surviving birds.
Vaccination is feasible, especially if Silkies or Sebrights are kept. These are very susceptible to clinical signs of Marek's and there would be few of these breeds seen at exhibitions if vaccination was not used. The vaccine is administered twice, once in the water (live vaccine) and once by injection when chicks are slightly older.
In other breeds, using vaccine can hide the virus and so the whole stock gets progressively more susceptible (weaker) without any symptoms and if birds are sold without the recipient being told of the vaccination, the birds can pass on the virus to unvaccinated chicks, thereby bringing the disease to a flock which may have been free of it before.
This is all I could find about the subject, I hope this helps and I hope they get better soon. :thumbsup:
the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, loving concern.


  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
Re: Mareks
« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2014, 02:15:50 pm »
But vaccination only works in very young chicks so wouldn't be possible in this instance, afaik.


  • Joined Jul 2010
Re: Mareks
« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2014, 02:48:44 pm »
Vaccination isn't really an option for the home hatcher, unfortunately, it comes in doses for huge flocks and the temperature conditions etc are very precise (not just 'keep in fridge'). Plus the vaccine doesn't guarantee the birds won't get the disease as they're injected with a different strain (I think a turkey related one). I looked into it but it's just not feasible for the numbers that we hatch.

I also talked to the vet about increasing resistance, which has to do with genetics (I was hoping for a simple  'just put a load of chicks under a carrier-broody and see who survives best and breed from them'  ;) ) I think what seem to be resistant birds might sometimes just be lucky birds who show symptoms much later on in life or were lucky enough not to get stressed. Some breeds are more susceptible, though, Silkies and Sebrights if I remember correctly.

It doesn't help us that most Marek's affected birds die showing something else than typical Marek's symptoms, as it's the Marek's that affects their immune system and that way lets other diseases take hold. I had two with liver problems, one going blind and a few with general wasting / poor thrift. Only one had leg problems. If I hadn't known they carried Marek's I would have put it down to those individual issues.
Someone compared Marek's to Aids which I think is a good way of looking at it. :'(

We pay just over 25 for a bloodtest, btw, and for post mortem we can take up to 6 birds to the RVC for 45 or 65 inc histology tests (can't remember exactly how much it was - I only took 1 chicken anyway as she kept her appetite until her last say which surprised me as the others all went off their food much earlier).

Good luck, hope Ollie and Peppy pull through   :fc:

Oops, posted same time as Hester - yes, vaccination needs to be done on day 1


  • Joined Dec 2011
  • Gascony, France
Re: Mareks
« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2014, 11:33:18 am »
I think you will now have to run two separate flocks Bumpkins as any survivors will be carriers to any new birds brought in. We had a similar, but nowhere near as serious, problem with ILT and IB carriers and had to adopt that arrangement. Six years on and all the oldies have now gone and we are back to just one flock.

Victorian Farmer

  • Guest
Re: Mareks
« Reply #10 on: October 23, 2014, 05:54:53 pm »
I'm not going to coment on whot I would do ,Firstley always use medicated crumbs Arbro inverness next tylin for a week get a syringe and force them to have it .Feed boiled egg whith macvities ground up . I do think you will have to do whot other members have said .Its just bad luck .look up and say its onley farming you have to get youre head round it .So sorey bumkins


  • Joined Apr 2013
  • North Petherton, Somerset
  • Don't wait for your ship to come in-swim out to it
Re: Mareks
« Reply #11 on: October 23, 2014, 09:43:50 pm »
Thank you everyone for your really helpful replies.  We've had some blood tests done and now just have to wait for the results.  There is nothing more for it but to keep hopeful.  In the meantime, Ollie is getting about quite well and seems to be using his legs a little better!  Whilst reading up on Mareks, obviously I came across numerous other poultry health problems and diseases.  It's left me wondering how the hell any of them actually stay alive!!! There are just so many things that can go wrong  ???  thanks again everyone xx


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