Smallholders Insurance from Greenlands

Author Topic: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?  (Read 2865 times)


  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« on: January 04, 2013, 10:27:57 pm »
So I've had chickens for all of 4 months and have recruited some lovely birds with the idea of breeding a few (two colours of Orpington), a few eggs to eat and sell and also to take advantage of this naturally broody breed to sit on duck and goose eggs. I lost one hen to a dog, then a smaller hen (possibly cockerel - was always a bit suspicious) just died. I didn't get him/her checked out because he/she wasn't a huge loss to my breeding plans. But then the first of my beautiful breeding cockerels got sick, followed shortly by the other. I got the vet involved quickly on them but even after throwing lots of meds at them, they both died. PM inconclusive, tests sent off (at great expense) showed Avian Leukosis. Now I've got another hen sick (i.e. going to die shortly, I'm just too soft to finish her off). The vet has already said I should have a closed flock for six months - no chicks although the ducks and geese are fine to breed from. Oh, and three of these sick chickens are from one breeder who I've contacted and has had no problems so they have all contracted it horizontally from the first chicken to die i.e. this is certainly pretty contagious. My stats are definitely not good - not an egg to be seen in all this time but a fortune spent on setting it all up, driving all over the place to collect the chickens and the price for them plus vet bills galore.

So my question - what would you do? I think I have a few options:

1) Just hang on with them and see which ones survive. After six months I'll know that any that are left are immune but they may be carriers so I'll never know whether new birds would be affected. They can still lay and brood waterfowl eggs for me but my breeding plans would be screwed.
2) Hang onto them for next season with the sole intent of brooding waterfowl eggs but then cull late summer with the idea of leaving a few months clear before recruiting fresh stock next autumn.
3) Culling now, buying an incubator, heat lamp etc.etc. so I can hatch ducks, geese and chickens of my own next season.

I know 3) seems like the most logical option (especially if you already incubate eggs - all seems a bit intimidating to me) but the eight birds I have left are all lovely and seem in the picture of health (even the one remaining cockerel who is from the 'dodgy' breeder that sold me the first sick chicken). I just find it hard to contemplate - especially four new hens that I bought after I lost the first two but before I realised there was something contagious going round. Or is there another option? Do you know whether there is any sort of test to see whether they're carriers or not?

OK, rambling over. Help  :'(




  • Joined Aug 2012
  • Cumbria/N Yorks border
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2013, 10:35:47 pm »
If it were me, I'd do 1 and then not buy in chickens but hatch your own. I have this at a very low, not virulent level, but still if I buy chooks in I lose the odd one. But if I hatch them they seem to get immune slowly. Yours does sound quite bad, mind you.

It means you will lose a year's breeding but it will mean you don't have to cull your lovely birds. For me that would be the preferable option.

And if, worst case scenario, you lose all your current birds, well then you're no worse off than doing 3, except you've not had to kill them and you're a year behind. Depends how much the year matters to you.

I think what you'll find is that some are immune, you can enjoy them, they'll lay you eggs in the summer and then you can take stock next year. You could always buy in some hatching eggs and see how they go.

I'm really sorry you've been hit with such a horrid thing so early in your chook-keeping career  :hug:


  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2013, 10:45:01 pm »
Thanks! My problem is that the cockerel I have left is not a breeding cockerel (he was supposed to be a hen just for eggs when I picked him based on his unusual blue/buff colouring - now he's definitely 100% male and given his slightly aggressive nature, probably not 100% Orpington). So I'll have to buy hatching eggs in - do you think the gradual immunity thing will still work? At least they won't have the vertical transmission which the vet reckons is the most common way to contract this but he also reckons it's young birds that are most likely to be affected by it which is why he's advised not to breed for now.

Having said that, I like the hands off approach of doing nothing for now!



  • Joined Aug 2012
  • Cumbria/N Yorks border
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2013, 10:49:26 pm »
Yeh, hands off except if you can maybe get some hatching eggs from a good breeder then you can hatch some cockerels and see what you get and how they go. Hopefully one good one will survive.

Yes, with most diseases, the young are most affected. Those that survive get immune.


  • Joined Dec 2011
  • Gascony, France
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2013, 07:48:25 am »
We've had a similar problem HesterF and simply operated two self-contained flocks -the 'closed' flock system. We then maintained that system strictly with the flocks never able to contact each other, even through a wire fence, as we let them out of their runs at separate times into separate areas. Bit of a pain, but we had no cross infection and maintained egg supplies to our canalside customers. Gradually the oldies are dying off of course and we now only have 4 left from 12.

Marches Farmer

  • Joined Dec 2012
  • Herefordshire
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2013, 05:53:01 pm »
Avian Leukosis can be spread by a bit of feather dander floating on the wind, so young birds would need to be kept well away from your existing ones.


  • Joined Nov 2011
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2013, 10:35:26 pm »
If this is what I have here, one hen is from an egg laid here with both parents fine and the other is a bought in bird, I am very reluctant to cull, the fox did a good job of that last year hence the hatching of any eggs i could find here and buying in new, at the moment I am just keeping my fingers crossed and hope the two sick ones recover, they are in an empty greenhouse and being hand fed. I had originally put it down to the dreadful weather, thinking they had just caught a chill


  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2013, 10:57:13 pm »
I'm sticking with the hands off approach for now. The vet is checking for tests - he's found a variety although some only tell you if the birds have been exposed to the virus which we already know they have. He's following up on a test for antigens that would indicate which - if any - are active carriers which are shedding the virus. Now just to find out how much it would cost....

Meantime the sick hen did die on Friday and I'm watching the others carefully. I'm not dedicated enough to maintain two separate flocks - the run they're in cost over 1k to set up so there's no way I'll pay that all over again unless I'm getting seriously into breeding (and have had at least a few eggs!). I'll just have to see how many survive this and then decide what to do after that.

Thanks all for your advice!


  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
Re: What would you do - Avian Leukosis?
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2013, 02:35:11 pm »
Thought I'd post an update on this because I think we've reached a conclusion for this year. I kept a closed flock for six months (or nearly) and then the vet swabbed a couple of weeks back to see if any of the remaining birds (I have six left, five hens and a cockerel so I lost six to the disease) were shedding the virus. One tested positive but apparently it's a grey scale test (i.e. not a yes/no but just a fairly random cut off) and she was only just over the limit, the rest were just below. The vet has been on to various leading experts (great vet, love him) and they've concluded that the number is so low, it could just be within the normal range. A more accurate test would be of the eggs - but given that most of them are broody at the moment, that's not very helpful.

The disease is most commonly passed via the egg to the chick but it can also be passed by a carrying broody to the chicks when they hatch. As ever chicks and young birds are more likely to succomb than older birds. So I'm not going to hatch any of their eggs this year - fine since I lost both my breeding cockerels anyway - but have decided to risk hatching some bought in eggs. To be honest, it's cheaper to hatch them and see if the disease is still active by seeing if any of the chicks are affected than to keep testing at 20 per hen per test. Then by next breeding season I'll know whether we still have a problem because I'll either have lost some of the chicks, or I won't.

In conclusion, it's very complex but I now feel well versed in avian leukosis so if anybody has any questions, let me know!



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