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Soil fungus killing my chickens?

 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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My chickens have been struggling with a sinus problem since last September. I sent the first 8 birds that died to Texas A & M Poultry Lab for necropsy and they couldn't tell me what it was, but said pneumonia was present of unknown cause. I was told the best thing to do was to try several different broad spectrum antibiotics. I don't like using drugs on my chickens but I also didn't want them to keep dying. I tried several over a period of months with no obvious change at all. Over the course of 3 to 4 months I lost around 80 of my 160 or so rare/endangered/heritage breed chickens. I began to notice a pattern that they'd seem better, then we'd have precipitation, and then afterward they get worse and new ones would get it. It was very slow moving and didn't spread like a virus would apparently. So this got me to researching fungal issues with chickens. Then one day I was working in the yard and scraped back a bit of soil and underneath the crust was a fuzzy white mold of some kind. I am in North Texas with black clay soil in an area known for cotton root rot. I can't find any info online saying there is any correlation between fungal pneumonia in chickens and cotton root rot fungus in the soil, but I am wondering if it might be the case? I was advised to give the chickens a breathing treatment using non-activated Oxine in a cool air humidifier. I did this for both of my coops through out the night and the next day all of them were for the first time quite noticeably better though not cured. I was told this was a pretty good sign, along with everything I'd tried before being ineffective, that it was indeed fungal in nature. At this point it seems all the weaker ones have died, but nearly all the remaining birds still have a runny nose or rattled breath after every bout of precipitation. I was recently told to take corn gluten meal and spread it in the yard to kill of fungus. I have 3 1/2 acres of grassland but they stay mostly on 1 acre of it. I was then told that I should not use the corn *gluten* meal, just corn meal. I am quite unsure what to do, and don't have a lot of brain power for any more pointless research. My husband is also fighting for his life against stage 4 oropharyngeal cancer during this whole time so my time, funds and mental acuity is very limited. Plus I homeschool my 3 year old and special needs 7 year old. I would be really, really, really, really grateful if ANYONE could finally tell me how in the heck to cure my sweet birds once and for all. Does this sound like the result of a soil borne fungus? If so how do I get rid of it? Is this what they call Aspergillus fungus? Is it cotton root rot? Has anyone heard of anything like this before? They are my pets. They lay well, are sweet as can be and seem to be otherwise perfectly healthy. I just can't figure out how to beat this

Please and thank you for any help,

Melissa
 
John Elliott
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Aspergillus is a moldy grass fungus. There have been human fatalities due to aspergillosis that was traced back to the patient shoveling through some piles of moldy grass and inhaling spores. Here's the link to the Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspergillosis Antibiotics have no effect on a fungal infection, so your lack of results is a positive bit of confirmation of the fungal infection hypothesis.

Cotton root rot is caused by Phymatotrichum, which I had to look up, having never heard of it in the medical mycology course I took. I suspect it is only a plant pathogen and not an animal pathogen, but I am going to have to do some more research on this one.

What can you do? You have to get your soil back in balance if it is overloaded with a high population of Aspergillus. I would suggest burning the one acre of grassland that is the chicken pasture. Burning will sterilize the soil surface, but doesn't get rid of the soil fungi, which can still come back. To keep them from coming back, you need to find something that can compete better. The common store variety of white mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, is a mushroom that thrives on grassy fields full of herbivore poo. If you can get someone to spread cow or horse manure on the field that has been heavily inoculated with Agaricus mushrooms, they may be able to outcompete the Aspergillus.

Corn meal or corn gluten meal is not going to "kill off" fungus. The only things that kill fungus are bleach and hydrogen peroxide. They kill by oxidizing the fungus until it can't take it anymore. It would really be impractical to pour enough bleach or peroxide on your one acre to soak in 2 feet or so, which is how deep fungal hyphae can be found. Not to mention that it is not a very earth friendly or permaculture thing to do. So we're back to the only practical alternative, introducing enough competing fungi to crowd out the aspergillus.

Another place to check would be to see if there is a local mushroom grower in your area. Their spent mushroom spawn is full of hyphae that have sporulated and are waiting for something new to chow down on. If you can spread this spent mushroom spawn on your field, it may also be able to crowd out the pathogens that are dwelling in the soil.

 
Renate Howard
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Are your chickens free range? Where do they sleep at night? What kind of bedding is in there? Does it smell bad in there? How well is it ventilated? I would think that might be the source of the problem, and the fungus might be unrelated.

Do you hatch your own eggs? Because mycoplasma causes that in poultry and it is carried through the egg if the mother is infected.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,400' Zone 8a
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John Elliott wrote:
Corn meal or corn gluten meal is not going to "kill off" fungus. The only things that kill fungus are bleach and hydrogen peroxide.

You probably could beat up the fungus by using agricultural lime.
 
John Elliott
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:
You probably could beat up the fungus by using agricultural lime.


Wayne brings up another possibility. If you add enough lime to the soil to drastically change the pH, to the point where it is out of the comfort range for the fungus, they will go dormant. But we're not talking just a couple of sacks. To really see an effect, you are going to need to make a heavy application, say 6-10 tons per acre.
 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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Renate Haeckler wrote:Are your chickens free range? Where do they sleep at night? What kind of bedding is in there? Does it smell bad in there? How well is it ventilated? I would think that might be the source of the problem, and the fungus might be unrelated.

Do you hatch your own eggs? Because mycoplasma causes that in poultry and it is carried through the egg if the mother is infected.


Yes, they free range all day. I built them a cote so that they sleep high up in rafters, and there are "poop hammocks" under all the roosts so that the poop is contained and they do not walk in it. The hammocks are dumped weekly at a minimum into a compost pile that is outside of their reach separated by a fence. It does not smell and very well ventilated. I used to use the deep litter method on the floor but as soon as the sickness started I built the cote and just keep the floor clean with the exception of some pine shaving they kick out of the nests. The frame of the main coop is a 12' x 21' car port with sides made of wire fencing and the majority of it is covered in tarps for Winter and open during warm weather. It does not get wet inside the coop and I find no sign of mold in it, but when it rains the black clay surrounding it stays wet for a really long time and if you dig down inside the coop you will hit wet dirt about 4 inches down. I have hatched many of my own eggs, and usually get about a 100% hatch rate. I have been told that if it was mycoplasma I would have very poor hatches. So I don't think it is that. Also I have hatched for friends and friends have hatched them - and no one else has any problems. Great hatches and healthy chicks. Mine are also healthy until I put them outside and we get precipitation. All of this is why I am coming to the fungal conclusion. Its been a very long, confusing, frustrating process - and we have no chicken doctors in this area
 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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John Elliott wrote:
Wayne Mackenzie wrote:
You probably could beat up the fungus by using agricultural lime.


Wayne brings up another possibility. If you add enough lime to the soil to drastically change the pH, to the point where it is out of the comfort range for the fungus, they will go dormant. But we're not talking just a couple of sacks. To really see an effect, you are going to need to make a heavy application, say 6-10 tons per acre.
Even if I could do that, would that not burn the chickens feet? I have heard that using lime around them can be dangerous.
 
Renate Howard
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Can you fence them out of the fungus areas? You said you have 3 acres but they spend most of their time in one, right? Are all 3 acres that way or just the one? Can you tell if there is a thatch problem that dethatching might help with? What is growing there? I wonder if other plants would help fight the fungus, like clover, dandelions, purslane, plantain, etc.
 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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John Elliott wrote:Aspergillus is a moldy grass fungus. There have been human fatalities due to aspergillosis that was traced back to the patient shoveling through some piles of moldy grass and inhaling spores. Here's the link to the Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspergillosis Antibiotics have no effect on a fungal infection, so your lack of results is a positive bit of confirmation of the fungal infection hypothesis.

Cotton root rot is caused by Phymatotrichum, which I had to look up, having never heard of it in the medical mycology course I took. I suspect it is only a plant pathogen and not an animal pathogen, but I am going to have to do some more research on this one.

What can you do? You have to get your soil back in balance if it is overloaded with a high population of Aspergillus. I would suggest burning the one acre of grassland that is the chicken pasture. Burning will sterilize the soil surface, but doesn't get rid of the soil fungi, which can still come back. To keep them from coming back, you need to find something that can compete better. The common store variety of white mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, is a mushroom that thrives on grassy fields full of herbivore poo. If you can get someone to spread cow or horse manure on the field that has been heavily inoculated with Agaricus mushrooms, they may be able to outcompete the Aspergillus.

Corn meal or corn gluten meal is not going to "kill off" fungus. The only things that kill fungus are bleach and hydrogen peroxide. They kill by oxidizing the fungus until it can't take it anymore. It would really be impractical to pour enough bleach or peroxide on your one acre to soak in 2 feet or so, which is how deep fungal hyphae can be found. Not to mention that it is not a very earth friendly or permaculture thing to do. So we're back to the only practical alternative, introducing enough competing fungi to crowd out the aspergillus.

Another place to check would be to see if there is a local mushroom grower in your area. Their spent mushroom spawn is full of hyphae that have sporulated and are waiting for something new to chow down on. If you can spread this spent mushroom spawn on your field, it may also be able to crowd out the pathogens that are dwelling in the soil.



Thank you for all this information, I will see what I can find out about a mushroom grower or similar in our area. We had rain a couple days ago and I had a rooster drop dead on the perch and two younger ones suddenly come down ill. Hadn't had any issues since the last big ice storm. Without fail it is after every precipitation - usually a couple days later when I believe spores are released.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,400' Zone 8a
greening the desert
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Melissa Thomas wrote:
John Elliott wrote:
Wayne Mackenzie wrote:
You probably could beat up the fungus by using agricultural lime.


Wayne brings up another possibility. If you add enough lime to the soil to drastically change the pH, to the point where it is out of the comfort range for the fungus, they will go dormant. But we're not talking just a couple of sacks. To really see an effect, you are going to need to make a heavy application, say 6-10 tons per acre.
Even if I could do that, would that not burn the chickens feet? I have heard that using lime around them can be dangerous.

You know far & away more about Chickens than I do. I never thought about the birds feet. I suppose you could go the other way with the PH & apply sulfur, vinegar, or some type of acid. Growers use Lime on mushroom casing soils to control unwanted mold & fungus with good success.
Without changing the PH, I think you're in for a tough fight.
 
John Elliott
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Melissa Thomas wrote: Even if I could do that, would that not burn the chickens feet? I have heard that using lime around them can be dangerous.


Well yes, you would have to keep the chickens out for a few weeks until the lime does its thing. I think we have come up with a two prong approach to the problem: (1) lime the suspect area to hit the resident fungus hard. When you say that you have problem after every heavy rain, that is yet another indicator that the problem is fungal. (2) give the lime 2-4 weeks to work on the problem fungus. That will give you time to collect material to inoculate the area with good fungus. If you can get a load of dried out horse or cow manure, spread it out say 2-4" deep and then wait for the next heavy rain. When that heavy rain comes, get out there and pour mushroom inoculate* all over the area, the more the better. The combination of the lime shock and a bunch of new competing fungus should give the problem fungus more trouble than it has been giving you.

*How to make mushroom inoculate: Process mushrooms in the blender with water until you get a thin soup. If I have a large area to do, I use an immersion blender in a 5 gallon bucket.
 
Dan Tutor
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Sulfer is a natural fungicide as well as changing the ph of your soil. You can buy it pelletized for easy spreading, and it will dissolve in the rain. 50# bags are not too expensive! I forget right now though... I hope that may help! It will be better than lime, which is often added to mushroom casing mixtures by mushroom growers to maintain proper ph.
 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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Sorry I haven't been on to post or try any of these things yet - I appreciate all the answers and will continue keeping tabs for when I can try them. Unfortunately the cancer stuff is a bit overwhelming right now. We've been out of town at Johns Hopkins which didn't work out as hoped, and now we are starting up with a new place in Dallas. Looks like we are about to start up 6 weeks of daily chemo/radiation !@#$%^&*
 
Angelika Maier
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Are you really sure that it is the fungus?
We used antibiotics on some chickens in the past but it does not help. The chicken which survives stays weak.
If you are living in an area were the fungus is present you should aim for chickens resistant to this fungus, breed for resistance.
Sometimes porridge with garlic helps, some chicken like it some don't, but if they are hungry they'll eat it.
 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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Angelika Maier wrote:Are you really sure that it is the fungus?
We used antibiotics on some chickens in the past but it does not help. The chicken which survives stays weak.
If you are living in an area were the fungus is present you should aim for chickens resistant to this fungus, breed for resistance.
Sometimes porridge with garlic helps, some chicken like it some don't, but if they are hungry they'll eat it.
I can't be sure of anything as none of the necropsies came back with any useful information :/ But I do know that we just had massive rain, and now I have one new dead one and 2 more sick and likely to die. I won't be breeding at all except for the random broody hen that decides otherwise. At this point I just intend to keep those that survive until they are gone and then not have any more chickens until I can be sure this issue is gone. When/if that time comes I will be choosing only breeds that seemed to survive better here. Its just hard to say what that is. About 1/3 of each breed survived. The very weakest was the Isbars of which only 2 of about 10 remain. Not surprisingly some of the healthiest are those I hatched myself which were mixed breed hybrids. They seem to have what is called "hybrid vigor". I wish we had a chicken expert in our area that I could get to come out and actually look at them and help me. But we don't No local vet will even see them because they don't know anything about birds.
 
George Meljon
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Hi Melissa,

Sorry about your troubles!

To follow up on what John noted, I googled some things and want to post this link about the aspergillis. You might try the treatment recommendations on a few of the sick chickens to see if you have good results. That would narrow it down for you before you make large scale treatments on your property.

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?A=3241&

One other thought, not to be discouraging, is that it might be possible the spores are traveling to your property from a place upwind? I mention that only to help cover the bases. You have to start with where you are anyway. Good luck and God bless!
 
Daniel Clifford
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Hi Melissa,

I am very sorry to hear about your husbands health I hope that things get better for you both. The was only one thing I wanted to contribute after reading your current plan.

The birds that are already there and have survived what the other birds have not perhaps would be better choices for you to keep and breed since they are more likely to be developing or have developed some kind of immunity or resistance to whatever took out the rest of the birds.

Just food for thought, I hope that things turn up for you and wish you the best of luck.

Daniel
 
Angelika Maier
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That is what I think too. Chickens don't like wet and I don't believe it's the fungus. If it is the fungus you need chickens resistant to that fungus, you can't have the same story each year. It is best to start breeding you own in spring. Buy some bantams or aracaunas to breed with. They are good moms. We did not have luck breeding with full sized chicken.
 
Thomas A. Cahan
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.. just a thought.. what sort if waterers are the chickens using? - I have seen many similar problems which were traced back to black mold in the wateters.. the old-style metal ones cannot be cleaned thoroughly.. nor the plastic jug-style with the screw- top lid.. is there is a black film or discoloration to the plastic? - it will smell like sewage up close.. it can't be cleaned or bleached successfully- the unit should be replaced with a type with no rolled edges, seams, threads etc.. it's also best to exchange waterers every day- especially summer or warm climates.. the rain may simply release enough normally harmless amounts of local fungi to finish taking out the weakened birds.. a fortune in LS-50 won't cure sickness from mold-tainted waterers.. I hope this helps!!
 
Melissa Thomas
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Location: Near Justin, Texas
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Thomas A. Cahan wrote:.. just a thought.. what sort if waterers are the chickens using? - I have seen many similar problems which were traced back to black mold in the wateters.. the old-style metal ones cannot be cleaned thoroughly.. nor the plastic jug-style with the screw- top lid.. is there is a black film or discoloration to the plastic? - it will smell like sewage up close.. it can't be cleaned or bleached successfully- the unit should be replaced with a type with no rolled edges, seams, threads etc.. it's also best to exchange waterers every day- especially summer or warm climates.. the rain may simply release enough normally harmless amounts of local fungi to finish taking out the weakened birds.. a fortune in LS-50 won't cure sickness from mold-tainted waterers.. I hope this helps!!
I have opaque 5 gallon bucket nipple waterers and two little fountains that I use for extra water in the summer. No funkiness.
 
Thomas A. Cahan
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.. roger.. If the chickies could fly, I'd bet they'd head for a different area.. I'd be carrying their bags for them..
 
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