Salmonella Pullorum is a highly host adapted bacteria first discovered in 1899 and at that time was called White Bacillary Diarrhea. It wasn’t until 1929 that the name was changed to Salmonella Pullorum as it is called today. Salmonella Pullorum infects a wide variety of the Avian species.
Most of us that are associated with Fancy Poultry are well aware of this disease as a testing requirement for showing our birds. Few actually understand why the testing is required, other than to feel that it is yet another intrusion by our Government into our lives once again. You will see from the information provided that Governmental intrusion is not the reason for testing and controlling this deadly disease and that eradication is the only plausible answer to this disease.
The information provided in this article is designed to show you why we still test for this deadly disease and why you need to make sure that your flock is free from infection. It is important to understand the Organs of the body that this disease attacks and the ease with which it is spread. Salmonella Pullorum is most often spread through the hatching egg, thus producing chicks that are infected with this disease. Often the heart, liver, lungs, intestines and joints are infected as well.
The following scenario will give you a greater insight into why this disease is so important to be free of. Suppose that you have Breeders that are infected with Salmonella Pullorum and some that are not infected, but you don’t realize it. What consequences could one expect from this? Hatching season is here and you are setting eggs for the new season on the Horizon. Your expectations are running high, you have made some good pairings and you just can’t wait for the results. Hatch day is tomorrow, what are you likely to see when you open the Incubator/Hatcher? You would see chicks that are weak and barely able to get out of the shell. Some may appear perfectly normal, others will chirp a loud chirping sound almost screech like. There may be some birds that are already dead in the Hatch Tray others will appear weak. The hatch would be uneven and take longer than normal to hatch. We call this a straggled hatch. What has happened? You finish pulling the Hatch and get the birds into the Brooder.
So, lets stop here for a minute and explain that the birds that were infected with Salmonella Pullorum in the Hatcher have now spread this disease to the uninfected birds that Hatched in the same infected Hatcher. One of the major ways that Salmonella Pullorum spreads is bird to bird contact and contact with the droppings as well as the Offal (waste, egg shell, membranes, feces, etc.) from the hatch. So now we have a large percentage of the birds that survived the Hatch infected with Salmonella Pullorum.
You start searching for answers and decide it must be an Incubation problem, as you have not had this problem before. You make adjustments to the incubator and even replace the Wafer and get a new thermometer to satisfy yourself that you have fixed the problem. Meanwhile you reload the Incubator and start the cycle all over again. You still don’t have a clue that you have a big problem on your hands, but reality is going to come home to Roost real soon.
Meantime out in the brooder mortality is starting to pick up. The birds are now about 4 to 5 days old or so, this when you will start to see the mortality really pick up. You medicate with a Sulfa Drug but it does not seem to help all that much. In the next 10 to 14 days or so you will be picking up quite a few dead chicks as the disease really picks up momentum.
Lets not forget that you have the Incubator loaded with another batch of eggs that are set to hatch right about now. You open the Hatcher/Incubator and your nightmare continues. You don’t understand what is going on, you question everything that you have done. The Breeders aren’t dying so it can’t be a problem with them. You change sanitizers for cleaning the Incubator and now suspect that it must be the feed that is causing this problem. You even consider buying a new Incubator , you have been wanting a new one anyway.
Mortality will usually peak between 3 and 4 weeks of age. There are chicks acting chilled, some are sleepy and there are still those that are chirping loudly upon defecation. Chicks are not eating, and labored breathing may be observed. Water consumption is up and the white chalky droppings are starting to stick to the down around the Vent area. Some birds may appear as though they are wet this is due to muscular saturation allowing water to ooze from the skin. Some birds are exhibiting swollen hock joints and some even have swollen wing joint nodules.
Now we are about 6 weeks or so into this episode and you are starting to wish that you had never seen a chicken. The birds in the Brooders have for the most part stopped dying and some really don’t look bad. You do see a few that look unthrifty and you decide to Cull, them out in the morning. Usually a very large percentage of surviving birds are carriers and you will not for the most part be able to tell who is and who is not.
The remaining birds are looking good and seem to be growing normally. Your second, hatch of chicks are now in the Brooders and having the same difficulties as the first batch. You are done hatching for the season but you need to find out what caused this hatching problem.
We continue where we left off with all the birds now in grow out pens and not looking all that bad. You now decide that you will replace that old Incubator after all and hopefully that will cure the problem.
You start selecting birds that are in the grow out pens that you want to keep and decide to take those that you are not going to keep to the local auction for disposal. Your problem has not been solved but you still don’t know that, as the birds look all right to you at this point. Salmonella Pullorum in an older flock can spread slowly and not show any apparent signs. This leaves you with the feeling that all is well and the crisis has passed. Generally speaking at this point just merely looking at the birds will not give you a hint as to what is wrong. On the other hand on occasion the birds may show the following symptoms: Listlessness, inappetence, pale combs, diarrhea, and depression. Therefore the only sure way to find infected birds is through testing.
I think that it should be clear to you by now why we still test for this disease. It is still out there waiting to attack. While it does not have the same hold on Chickens that it once had, it is still out there in other fowl of all types. One needs to use caution when purchasing fowl from other places. It is extremely important to buy Fowl from folks who participate in the NPIP certification program. Check with your local Agricultural Extension Agent about getting started in this Program.
The incubation time for this disease can be anywhere from one day to three weeks. Mortality can start as early as 24 hours after exposure. Mortality can run as high as 100 percent in severe cases, to no mortality at all. Morbidity (birds appearing sick) may run high and some birds will spontaneously recover without any medication. In many cases infected birds will lay a normal number of hatching eggs that will hatch without incident. Some infected birds will lay lower numbers of eggs and hatch poorly. This is another reason why this disease will lead you to think that this is an Incubation Problem.
Post morteum lesions include the following, in chicks the liver will appear enlarged, and the Yolk Sac may or may not be absorbed, congestion in the Yolk Sac may be observed (coagulation and cheesy content), nodules may appear on the Heart, Gizzard and Intestines. In adult birds the lesions will appear as follows: The Ova are usually hard and encapsulated and off colored, peritonitis (infection in the body cavity), Pericarditis (infection of the Heart Sac), enlarged Kidneys and Urates in the Ureters, and enlarged Liver with a yellowish green coating.
Once again the symptoms in young chicks, pasted vent with chalky droppings, sleepy, droopy, dead chicks in hatch tray, loud unabated chirping, chicks dieing within 24 hours of hatch, labored breathing, increased water consumption, and swollen joints.
Adult birds may not show any symptoms at all. Birds may appear healthy and lay normal numbers of eggs that seem to hatch well. Remember that you cannot tell by looking at Adult Birds that are Infected with Salmonella Pullorum that they are carriers or for that matter that they are even sick. Depending on the severity of infection some birds will exhibit the following symptoms: Depression, loss of appetite, Pale Combs, Diarrhea, and increased thirst,
There is no treatment for this disease and there is no Vaccine available. Birds that test Positive for Salmonella Pullorum are destroyed and in some cases all birds on a farm may be eliminated. This is one time when Government intervention in our lives may not be such a bad thing. This is truly a devastating disease that can be easily spread and destroy many years of careful Breeding.
Peter Brown, aka The Chicken Doctor, has been doctoring chickens for over 58 years and holds an AAS in Poultry Science, and a self trained Poultry Biologist. He is the founder and owner of First State Veterinary Supply, askthechickendoctor.com, and the former Poultry Pharmacy, the only legitimate and licensed, Pharmacy strictly for Poultry! Peter is a partner with Sugar Feather Farm and offers consultations to fowl enthusiasts who have concerns or questions.