Common Poultry Myths

Let’s talk about COMMON POULTRY MYTHS. Medicated Starter will kill your waterfowl. You cannot eat eggs from chickens that eat medicated Layer feed with Amprolium in it. Ducks and chickens cannot be hatched or brooded together. The Mareks vaccine can only be given to day-old chicks. Make sure you get air to that open wound to help it heal. Pull all feathers that are defective prior to any show and they’ll all grow back in 6 weeks. There’s no health risk involved in using Diatomaceous Earth (DE), to control parasites and for making dust baths. You should give your new chicks yogurt for good gut bacteria. I could go on forever, but I think you get my direction.

I often get email from people asking questions on the above subjects and more, based on information they’ve either ‘heard’ or have been advised on by other poultry people. The purpose of this column is NOT to criticize the advice given to novices by well-meaning and experienced poultry mentors, but rather to provide some hope and encouragement to new fanciers on subjects that seem to have them perplexed, and to perhaps provide some new information to the experienced that would make their lives easier.

The first subject I’d like to cover is the Mareks vaccine. The reason I chose this first is because I believe that the one single thing that people could do to make the biggest impact on their flocks (beside the obvious – good feed, clean water, and protection from predation), is to vaccinate their chickens against Mareks. But simply put, the Mareks virus is virtually everywhere. It travels on people’s clothing and shoes, in their hair, and on the wind. You can’t avoid it. Youngsters do develop what is called ‘age resistance’ by the time they reach sexual maturity, but if they are exposed to any adults or virus prior to that, they could either come down with obvious symptoms, or they could simply suffer a mild case, and then become a carrier for the rest of your flock. Since Mareks usually (but not always), results in death or paralysis, it can be devastating for either a person who considers their birds pets, or for a breeder since it seems to always get the best show birds. I have written a whole article on the subject of Mareks Disease and another article on how to vaccinate for Mareks Disease. Click either link and you can read my other articles on the disease itself and how to prevent it.

The myth is that you can only vaccinate day old chicks. You can actually vaccinate your birds at any age. The difference is that as every day goes by, you run a greater risk of your birds being exposed to the virus before you have a chance to vaccinate. Two more myths are that you can’t mix vaccinated and unvaccinated chicks together and that you can give your flock Mareks by exposing them to vaccinated chicks. Since the Mareks vaccine is actually the Turkey virus, you cannot give your birds Mareks by vaccinating. Also, vaccinated chicks cannot hurt unvaccinated chicks by mixing them together. My personal practice is to ‘booster’ my adults every year when I vaccinate my chicks – day old or otherwise.

Medicated Starter with Amprolium or Bacitracin in it will NOT harm your waterfowl. I have confirmed this with two Poultry Research Veterinarians. I have used medicated starter on all of my birds for years now – chicks and ducklings alike – and have had no problem. This myth was actually once true years ago when different types of drugs were used in medicated feeds. But with the use of Amprolium in particular now, it is no longer a concern.

Since waterfowl can also suffer from Coccidiosis when first placed on grass (or even in a coop since you can walk the oosysts in on your shoes), medicated feed can provide protection against Cocci until your ducks have built immunity, just like chickens. Bacitracin is sometimes (but not always) included in medication for the prevention of enteritis. Bacterial enteritis is a bigger concern for waterfowl breeders than it would be for chicken because of the fact that the very nature of a duck is to drink the same water that they bath (and do other things) in. Since I’ve had my youngsters on medicated feed, I have not had a single noticeable case of either Coccidiosis or Enteritis, in either my waterfowl or my chickens.

Another point on medicated feed – the amount of Amprolium is so minute as a percentage of the feed, that it is not considered a cure, and actually will allow a mild case to occur, helping the bird to develop a resistance to it in the future. There are medicated layer feeds with Amprolium alone in it that are approved for that particular use.

I’m a big believer in probiotics (good bacteria for the gut). However, many people give their birds yogurt in order to provide a probiotic supplement. Some believe that you should start your chicks out at 2 weeks of age. Overall, this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, my belief is that a chick’s simple stomach should not be expected to process a rich food like yogurt at such an early age. The best way to provide probiotics is through the use of powdered or liquid supplements that are specifically designed for use either straight, sprinkled on feed, or diluted in the drinking water. (If placed in drinking water, you must be sure to clean your waterers at least once a day – especially for chicks.) Yogurt fed to chicks can cause a side effect of diarrhea, which can lead to pasty vent or worse, if the chick stops absorbing nutrients because his feed is passing through his gut too quickly. If you have a crop mycosis (or sour crop), you can simply take a liquid L. Acidophilus from any health food store and drench approx. 1cc down the bird’s crop, and gently massage. If yogurt is your only alternative, I’d use it. I also don’t have a problem with people giving adult birds yogurt as a treat, but it will only provide a small fraction of the good gut bacteria that they would get from a powdered or liquid supplement, used according to label directions. I’ve written a separate article on this subject as well: Probiotics – The Good Bacteria.

Pulling feathers has been a long standing tradition with many show bird exhibitors, in order to rid the bird of a broken or otherwise defective feather, in the hopes of producing a brand new one just in time for a particular show. I have found that the standard six weeks to replace a feather is somewhat variable, and depends greatly on the particular breed. Some produce feather faster, some slower, and it also depends on whether or not the bird was already in molt. Highly feathered birds, such as the Belgian d’Uccle, will typically take a full twelve weeks to produce a finished foot feather. Not every feather that is pulled will grow back. I have two rules – one is to never pull a tail feather or primary wing feather under any circumstances, and two is to make sure that I cut the feather back one week prior to pulling. That will decrease the bleeding. I never pull a tail or a wing feather because I know of several cases where the feather never grew back. This would be a devastating blow to an otherwise gorgeous show bird. To me, it just isn’t worth the risk. I would rather simply sit out one show and wait for the bird to be ready for another, than to risk the possibility that bird could never be shown again. I also never pull a badly colored feather from a youngster, since adult feathers (or the third molt) can produce completely different results, and is sometimes well worth the wait.

The subjects of DE (Diatomaceous Earth) and open wounds (cell migration) each deserve more than one paragraph, so please click the links to read each article.