A Poultry Respiratory Condition Called Mycoplasma Gallisepticum (MG) – What it is, what to watch for and what to do when it hits

A poultry respiratory condition call mycoplasma gallisepticum

MG – Mycoplasma Gallisepticum.  Can you even pronounce this?  Heck, did you even know what it was before you decided to open this post to learn about it? Here’s a twist, save this next question for last and keep it in your mind….now that you know what it is, are you prepared for what you have to do?

Trust me when I say that we had no idea what we were up against when MG hit our flock.

As poultry keepers we know that illness would be inevitable, even for flocks which have a strong holistic preventative plan in place.  We raise chickens, turkeys, guineas, quails and ducks, and everyday the flocks receive natural items to boost their immune systems.  Every. Single. Day.

Providing items such as ACV for good gut flora, fresh, or dried, garlic and beneficial herbs like oregano, thyme and sage are a basic in their waterers and feed bowls.  Colloidal Silver and certain oils at are provided to help fight & prevent any issues which we can’t physically see is crucial in our wet, very wet, part of the country.

The coop is kept clean, the structure is often checked for mold and the straw is moved often checking for trace of ammonia.  Wellness checks are performed throughout the week on all flock members, as well as everyday interaction with the poultry. We do it right around here.

At least we thought we did.

Then a chicken sneezed.  And another.  Then another.

What is Mycoplasma Gallisepticum aka MG?

First, but not foremost, it’s a respiratory infection.  Ok, before many of you help by stating that vetRX is a great item to use, let’s just nix that idea.  vetRX can sooth the bird infected, but it does not cure MG.  And for homesteader who lives a self sustaining life it means one thing, cull not only infected poultry, cull all birds that have been exposed to the infected birds.

Mycroplasmosis is a respiratory disease and not considered bacterium or virus in size; it’s one of the smallest cell bacteria having no walls.  What does this mean?  It’s so microscopic that no antibiotic can cure an infected bird that gets it.  Keep the word cure in the back of your mind for a bit.

The respiratory symtoms can be treated and may actually clear up the symptoms, but the recovered bird then becomes a carrier.  Meaning, the bacteria never leaves the body and can once again be reactivated.  Meaning, poultry which did not yet show signs of respiratory issues, but who were treated, could very well be carriers.

A poultry respiratory condition call mycoplasma gallisepticum

Treatment

None.  There is nothing available that will treat MG and the only solution is to cull.  Poultry that recover from MG remain asymptomatic carriers for life.  FOR LIFE.

Did you get that?  In short, culling just the infected birds is not enough. 

Birds not culled run the risk of activating the bacteria at a later date, starting the vicious cycle again.

Now, here’s where the impact of MG gets tough – in addition to live poultry being carriers, the bacteria can be transfer from hen, to hatching egg, to chick.  Making the new generation possible carriers for mycroplasm.  The cycle is never ending. 

Is there a cure?  Sadly, the answer is still no. 

How does a poultry contract it?

Yeah, that’s what we asked ourselves when our flock began displaying signs of being infected.  When you read the following methods in which a flock can contract MG you will understand why every flock is susceptible to contracting it.

  • A wild bird who displays signs of respiratory issues (a carrier of MG) eats or drink out of poultry feeders and waterers can expose the flock.
  • Bringing in new flock members who are carriers.  We can’t stress enough how important a 30 days quarantine time is, but even quarantine time may not reveal the issue on hand.  These new flock member could very well carry MG, but may never show signs until it’s to late.
  • Chicks purchased from feed stores, hatcheries, private parties or poultry swaps which do not come from a NPIP certification (National Poultry Improvement Plan) breeder can be a potential carrier. Though selecting NPIP certified breeders is a great preventative for minimizing disease brought to your property, only a few states require testing of MG & MS. To be more specific, most NPIP breeders are not required have to their flocks tested for MG & MS.  This is a secondary test, which is offered, but not mandated.  Make sure to ask NPIP breeders if they specifically test for MG & MS. *NPIP test only requires Pullorum and Typhoil testing.
  • Stay away from poultry swaps.  Period.  Just don’t do it.  Backyard breeders generally do not want to go the route of spending the money to get their flock tested and certified.  Now, I’m not saying these people have bad intentions, but is it worth putting your existing flock at risk?
  • Keep a clean coop.  Keep dust at a minimal and perform monthly deep cleaning.  Make sure straw saturated with ammonia is removed immediately. 
  • Make sure to have adequate ventilation in the coop.  Great ventilation consists of an opening high along the ceiling, as wide as the wall.  A second vent opening should be placed on the opposite ends of the coop facing each other.
  • Remove waste to eliminate ammonia build-up.  This can easily be done by installing drop pan under the roosting areas, hosing it down daily.  Cleaning straw or sand on a regular basis to prevent waste build will help to minimize ammonia issues.
  • Keep a closed flock.  Many homesteaders or hobby farmers tend to keep an open flock, we do.  For those who don’t know, an open flock means that all your poultry are housed, free range or share a run and eat and drink together.  Generally this works well for those of us with limited space, but with an open flock there comes possible risks, and disease can spread quickly.
  • Poor bio-security measures are often to blame for bringing diseases onto the homestead.  And in truth, with a strict regiment you can control quite a bit of bacteria brought onto your property.
    • Don’t wear property shoes off of the property.  Designate one pair of working shoes for the property, never wear them to another homestead, the neighbor’s, to the market, and NEVER to the feed store.
    • Use 1/2 inch hardware clothe for your run, prevent small wild birds from entering, stopping them from eating or drinking from poultry’s feed bowls and waterers.
    • Provide foot covers for visitors who enter the poultry’s space. Here’s a great article on protective foot wear.

A poultry respiratory condition call mycoplasma gallisepticum

What are the symptoms?

MG can be awaken in a carrier at any stage of life.  It seems that older birds tend to be more susceptible to either activating the bacteria or catching it first, but in truth there are many things which can bring it out of slumber.  The virus can be awaken in birds which are stressed, overheated or even too cold and as previously stated, older birds.  Surprisingly, even molting can be a trigger.

What symptoms can you look for?  Well, basically anything related to the typical respiratory issue. 

  • Foamy eyes or what is called an eye bubble (think tear in the corner of the eye)
  • Sneezing.   Not a single sneeze, the bird will sneeze throughout the day
  • Nasal discharge – runny nose
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Gasping
  • Raspy or rattly breathing
  • Phlegm

A poultry respiratory condition call mycoplasma gallisepticum

There is one tell all sign that will give you a good indication that mycoplasmosis has hit your flock, the birds release a smell. 

It isn’t too horrible of a scent, almost sweet and kinda yeasty, yet different.  Luckily, only a few of our chicken hens released an order, and it happen to come mainly from our older birds.

What to do with Infected Poultry & How to Sanitize the Area

What you do will depend on your homestead.  Is that a generic answer?  Yes.  Remember the question I asked in the first paragraph,  now that you know what it is, can do you what needs to be done? 

Eggs & Meat

Eggs and meat can safely be consumed by birds which have been infected with MG.  However, some state that the meat tends to have a slightly different flavor.  Not horrible in flavor, just different.

Some people will used the meat from a culled flock to feed their dogs, again the meat is safe for consumption.

Cull or Treat

Others, like ourselves, opted to cull and burn the birds, removing MG from the property completely.

If you have a small flock that has contracted MG, you have the option to treat the respiratory illness and keep the birds as pets.  Keep in mind, this option may lead to another outbreak, and adding new poultry is not wise.

Clean & Sanitize

All straw or coop material should be burned or removed from the property in tightly sealed garbage bags.  You could add it to the compost bin, but keep in mind MG has an incubation period of generally 6-21 days, still running the risk of infecting wild birds or flock members. 

The coop, feed room, feed bowls and waterers should be sanitized with active Oxine, or a heavy bleach solution if Oxine is not readily available.  All outdoor roosting spots should also be sanitized.

The run and exposed free range areas will need time to recover, which is no less than 90 days.

If you had plans on selling fertilized eggs, chicks, juvenile or adult birds from an infected flock,  my advice would be to cull the entire flock, recover the space and start your breeding program again.  As hard as that is to hear,  it’s the best thing.

Necropsy (Poultry Autopsy)

We raise poultry to provide food for our family, a blow like this has set us back terribly – emotionally and financially.  MG can happen to anyone, and that’s the truth.  You can do everything right, but crap happens. 

We put our proper out there for all to see.  People can only learn if they are able to view an entire working homestead.  If you raise livestock there’s no such thing as an illness free property, that’s not reality.  I’d go as far as to caution you to stay away from people who claim this.

We can’t pinpoint how our flock contracted mycoplasma gallisepticum, but we know that we did the right thing for our homestead to stop the cycle.

We’ve been asked if we would be sending the birds out to have a necropsy done in order confirm illness.  The answer is, NO.

I am sure many if you just frowned and shook your head in a VERY disapproving manner.  Maybe even called us irresponsible, but let me break it down to you like this.

We’re not big on inviting the government to our property.  We are already struggling with property rights here in WA state, and the last thing we want is to be a statistic for them.  Yeah, not going to happen.

Some of you may then suggest that we should have taken the birds to a avain veterinarian to have testing done.  My question to you is, who will pay the bill? 

We did the hard task of doing what homesteaders before us did.  Irresponsible?  Not for our property. 

A poultry respiratory condition call mycoplasma gallisepticum

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Without bloggers like you, information for small homesteaders and backyard farmers wouldn’t be available. Thanks for keeping it real.

  2. Good for you, on all counts. Horrible thing to have happen but for what it matters, you have another homesteader agreeing with every agonizing and heartbreaking decision you made. None of their blasted business and you would have just fueled their campaign to make everyone reliant on them.

  3. Good article thanks. Here where I live in British Columbia Canada we have a place where we can send our birds for necropsy. Every year your first necropsy (I think you can send 3 birds) is only $20, it’s detailed and you can call and discuss it with a Vet. It’s too bad you don’t have something like this. I do understand not wanting government involvement. I am sorry you had to go through this.

  4. Thanks, Ann. This was very informative and explained the topic much more in depth than what we had time for at the HOA conference. Sorry you had to make the hard decision but in the end, it’s YOUR decision for your family and homestead and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. There is no doubt in my mind that you approached the decision with great consideration and prayer. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks. I’m making the crap decision to cull my little flock of 6. So damn sad. We bought some pullets locally to boost numbers for the winter. The showed signs of bronchitis but tested pos for both bronchitis and Myco. Between testing and results all my original flock came down sick one by one. The shitty breeder took back the poor ill chickies. 3 of the hens are from my first batch that launched our little farm.

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