One day while I was tending to my chickens I noticed my sweet Harriet's comb was looking…odd. I first wondered if she was getting pecked by the other hens. But typically pecking wounds are more bloody in nature, and this was looking more ominous than a pecking order issue. I snapped a quick picture and went inside to research.
Fowl Pox. Not to be confused with Chicken Pox. People get chicken pox, chickens get fowl pox. Go figure.
What is Fowl Pox?
Fowl Pox is a slow spreading viral disease in birds and has been around for ages.. It is characterized by the dark wart-like nodules present on exposed skin like the waddle, comb, and occasionally feet (dry pox). The good news is, mortality is incredibly low for the dry pox version of this virus. YAY! However, when the lesions are present on the membranes lining the mouth and upper respiratory system (wet pox), mortality significantly increases.
Fowl pox is spread by both direct and indirect contact. The mosquitos have been TERRIBLE for the past month or so and they are common carriers of the disease. The virus stays highly resistant in scabs and when sloughed off in the nest box, the virus is waiting for the next happy bird that comes to lay her egg. The course of the virus takes three to five weeks. Since this disease spreads slowly, a flock can be infected for several months.
After learning this, I went out to inspect my other hens. I was thinking that I needed to do some kind of quarantine to ensure the other hens didn't get it. ALL OF THEM HAVE IT. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. By the time the dark nodules appear, the hen has been infected (and contagious) for quite some time. So, what am I in for? What are the side effects of this virus? How do I treat it?
Symptoms of Fowl Pox
Besides the nodules, what will happen to a hen with fowl pox? Typically egg production drops. They don't really feel too well and may not eat. The only thing about the dry pox version of this virus is that if a lesion happens to appear on the eye lid, it may temporarily blind the hen. If this happens, isolate her and make sure she has easy access to food and water. Birds that have wet pox will have difficulty breathing and eating and it can be fatal.
Well, there is no treatment for fowl pox. When a bird is infected you just wait it out and support her the best you can. The disease can be prevented by vaccination. However, once the virus appears vaccination is no longer an option.
Can I eat the eggs???
The thought of having to throw away EVERY egg that is laid made me cry little egg shaped tears. Fortunately, Fowl Pox is not zoonotic (spread across species). We can't get fowl pox from the hens and the hens can't get chicken pox from us. However, I have been fully cooking every egg we eat – hard boiling and scrambling. But to be honest, I would eat a poached egg. I am not concerned.
How are the hens doing now?
Since learning about their diagnosis, the coop has been cleaned out. I will clean it again once I notice that the hens are healing. Which is probably be in the next week since I have noticed their lesions are going away. I started giving them fermented chicken feed again in hopes to boost their immune systems to help them fight this virus. All of them seem happy, so I am sure they are on the road to recovery. I will say that we went from 5 to 6 eggs per day to 2 per day. Ouch. I am ready for them to get over this so I can have lots of eggs again!
Of course, the days are getting shorter and molting season is right around the corner. I think it will be spring before I see lots of eggs any time soon.
Have you had to deal with Fowl Pox? Tell us about it in the comments!
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