This summer our egg business really took off. We could not keep up with the demand for our eggs, even at $5 and $6 a dozen. We allow our poultry to free range as well as feed them certified organic feed making our eggs a “premium” product. To accommodate the growth in our egg business we bought a couple of batches of 6 month old pullets from two other farms. Bad choice. We knew the risks but wanted our egg business to keep growing and not drop off. Our intentions were good but the result was fatal to our egg business, as well as our entire flock of poultry.
Our laying flock was healthy. There was nothing wrong with them. Then we started to notice sick chickens. The ones that were sick stopped laying. They showed signs of being lethargic, sleeping a lot, coughing, wheezing and like they had a cold in the eye. The pullets we bought obviously brought an illness to our healthy flock because this illness showed up within two weeks of bringing home the second flock of pullets. We were very concerned for the safety of our customers, our broilers and our turkeys. No vets in the area deal with chickens so we had to go to a university veterinary lab. The closest one to us is the University of Wisconsin. Two hours away – one way. We took the vets two live birds to help them make a diagnosis. Live birds allowed for fresh tissue analysis and a more accurate diagnosis. My husband made the trip on a Friday in September.
Within a few days we had our answer. Upper respiratory infection. Sometimes fatal, especially to broilers who have a smaller trachea (or esophagus) than laying hens. Good news? This infection is not harmful to humans. The eggs and meat could still be sold. Bad news? Even when the birds recover from the infection, they remain carriers of the infection and can spread it to any new birds we brought onto our farm. Results? We have to cull (kill) our whole flock of laying hens and turkeys. Even our breeding turkeys. Our turkeys never exhibited any signs of the infection but since they were exposed, they are carriers too.
We had sick chickens for about a month. The infection went through our flock quickly and usually lasted a few days. It was basically a “chicken cold”. Who would have thought, right? There was nothing we could do for them….other than separate the ones who were getting picked on. The vet told about an antibiotic but didn’t actually recommend it since the birds were now carriers.
This “chicken cold” has been devastating. Our egg business was to the point of buying all the feed for our animals, except our horse, dog and cats. We are hoping all our customers come back in the spring.
Our plan? We plan to start fresh with baby chicks in December and have eggs available in the spring.
We will buy more turkeys in the spring and choose some to keep for breeding purposes.
We will never, ever buy chickens from unknown farms again. And may this be a lesson for anyone considering purchasing chickens from another farm to add to your current flock…DON’T.