Peachicks And Histomoniasis

August 2, 2010

I’ve got some upset peahens and peachicks right now.  I can’t say that I blame them.  I ran around in the aviary this morning and scooped up all the chicks in a little crab net.  (Somebody missed a chance for filming a winner for “Funniest Home Videos” I’m certain!)

I wish I could explain to the peahens WHY I took away their chicks.  The little peachicks look healthy and seem to be doing fine with their mama peahens.  But past experience has made it pretty plain that if I don’t segregate them, sometime between 6 and 14 weeks of age, the peachicks will get listless, and eventually just keel over and die.

Since the adults appear healthy, as do all the chickens and guineas, it took me a while to figure out what was going on.  As the saying goes… you don’t know what you don’t know.  And what I didn’t know about was a funky little protozoan parasite named Histomonas meleagridis.

To cut to the chase of the complicated dissertations I found in The Merck Vet Manual and other places, this punky little protozoa lives in a nematode (unsegmented worm) called Heterakis gallinarum that lives in the intestinal tracts of chickens, turkeys, and yes, peafowl.  Some of the protozoa and eggs are excreted in the droppings, then when the birds eat anything nearby, they ingest the protozoa too. 

It seems a large percentage of chickens harbor this worm, but it doesn’t seem to affect them so much. I don’t see little chicks keeling over. Same thing with guinea keets. (They’re more subject to predators and their stupid mothers leaving them behind when they can’t keep up.)

Not only are these protozoa hiding inside the poultry, they are also found in three different species of earthworms… and bet you see where that is headed. The fowl eat the earthworms, and if they didn’t have the protozoa before, well, now they do.

And if all that isn’t bad enough, the protozoa can be dormant in eggs in the ground for years. I haven’t found anything anywhere that gives any indication you can eradicate it.

So if once you ever figure out this protozoa is on your farm, you just might as well get used to dealing with it.

As it turns out, birds are most susceptible between 6 and 14 weeks of age to getting Histomoniasis, an infectious intestinal disease caused by the aforementioned protozoa. Their droppings become watery, they act sleepy all the time, and get weak. Eventually, most of them just fall over and die.

The common name for this disease is Blackhead, supposedly because sometimes the heads of affected birds turn black.

So how to treat this? Well, the Merck Vet Manual says:

 “Nitroimidazoles such as ronidazole, ipronidazole, and dimetridazole are effective for treatment or prevention but are not available in the USA.”

Not very helpful, I’m thinking. The drugs are available in other countries, just not here. So the best you can do, near as I can figure out, is take heed of the advice to frequently worm birds to reduce exposure to the heterakid worms that carry the infection.

And if you’ve got peafowl, and I suspect turkeys from what I’ve read, you’d better separate the chicks from all the other birds, until they get past the danger period of 14 weeks old.

So that’s why our four little peachicks are now in a bird cage on the back porch:

4 baby peacocks

Quarantine Headquarters!

The mama peahens are mad, and the peachicks are none too happy either… which is why I wish I could explain it’s quarantine or die!

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