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Mycoplasma — it’s the word you never want to hear when it comes to your chicken flock. Yet, it’s probably the ailment you need to learn about the most since it affects flocks all across the world. Learn about treating and preventing Mycoplasma in your chicken flock now, so that you don’t have to deal with it later. This tiny bacterium can wreak havoc on your chickens, and prevention is key!
Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) is the respiratory illness that chickens get and that chicken experts tell you can’t be treated — ever. I have high hopes that some new studies can be done to help eradicate this bacterium from infected flocks without the use of antibiotics, but we’ll have to wait for those studies to happen one day. In fact, because of the cellular structure of this bacterial infection, antibiotics alone typically don’t cure the chicken or flock because the antibiotics aren’t efficient enough to breakdown the entire bacteria. This is why chickens are often labeled as “carriers for life” of mycoplasma.
MG is often contracted from wild birds and geese that migrate through the area. It then settles into the respiratory tract, and the rest is history. This is why it’s important to keep bird feeders out of your chicken coop and run area so that your flock isn’t coming into contact with wild birds. MG can also be brought onto your property from other people’s clothing and shoes.
Over 65 percent of the world’s chicken flocks are often considered carriers of Mycoplasma. These chickens will not show symptoms of the bacteria until they become stressed — either due to molting, lack of protein, moving to a new coop or property, or even a stressful predator attack.
I can remember the first time we dealt with MG. We bought our very first set of chickens from a chicken swap in town. Upon bringing the chickens home, within 24 hours one of them became extremely ill. She had foamy eyes, she started coughing, and she simply wasn’t doing well. We ended up having to cull her.
Keep in mind, this chicken didn’t have these symptoms when we bought her. But because of the stress of going to a new home wore down her immune system, the symptoms of MG finally started to show.
Mycoplasma infections will typically present symptoms such as nasal and ocular discharge, coughing, stunting of growth in young birds, and general disease symptoms (fatigue, loss of appetite, gaping, etc.). Sometimes chickens will also begin to emit a rather foul smell from their head. This is a telltale sign that it could signal MG. Mycoplasma is mostly a respiratory issue when it comes to symptoms, however, its ability to spread goes much deeper than that.
MG isn’t just transferable like wildfire from chicken to chicken. It’s also transferable from chicken to embryo. Meaning, chicks that came from MG infected hens can be born with MG themselves. This is why Mycoplasma diseases are so scary, and should be taken seriously.
In a study conducted in 2017, a breakthrough was made when studying the effects of Meniran herbs (Phyllanthus Niruri L.) with Mycoplasma, specifically Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which causes Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD). When a 62.5% to 65% Phyllanthus Niruri L. extract came in contact with the Mycoplasma, it completely eradicated the bacteria.
Because of the wealth of chemical compounds in the meniran herbs — like tannins compounds, saponins, flavonoids, and alkaloids — the growth of bacteria can be inhibited and eradicated by meniran extract, according to the study.
While most of us won’t have this herb lying around our yard, there are some preventative measures we can take to help inhibit bacterial growth in our chickens before they become full-blown issues.
We can also create our own meniran tinctures and extracts if we can find the herb from a trusted source. This herb also goes by the names of Gale of the Wind, Stonebreaker, and Seed-under-leaf. It is most often found in the lower 48 states of the USA, and in tropical climates.
Naturally Preventing Mycoplasma in Your Flock
The best way to prevent Mycoplasma in your flock is to start adding natural antibacterial and antiviral herbs to your chicken’s daily feed ration. Herbs like astragalus, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, garlic, stinging nettle, yarrow, and echinacea are a great place to start.
Make sure you’re giving these herbs in their feed on a regular basis, and consider adding an infusion to their waterers once or twice a week as a preventative.
If giving herbs in feed and water isn’t your style, you can always make an antiviral/antibacterial tincture to give to your chickens in their waterer once a day for one week out of each month. This is a great way to prevent MG in your entire flock at once.
Naturally Treating Mycoplasma in Your Chickens
MG is extremely aggressive. At the first sign of symptoms, immediately quarantine your sick chicken(s) and treat the rest of the flock while treating the individual bird separately. Just know that, because of its aggressiveness, natural treatment is much harder than modern antibiotics. Prevention truly is key with natural remedies.
You can make the Phyllanthus Niruri L. tincture mentioned in the study above with a ratio of 65% dried herb and 35% liquid (80-proof vodka). Because there is more herb than liquid, you’ll need to turn the herb into a crushed-up mixture, or at least submerge the herb with a fermentation stone.
Tinctures are really easy to make! Just place the dried herbs and vodka in a glass jar and cap tightly. Set the jar in a dark place (like your pantry or a cabinet) and shake it once a day. Do this for four to six weeks, then strain out the herbs and bottle the liquid in a dark-colored bottle with an eyedropper.
Obviously, this is something that needs to be made in advance in order to have it when you need it. So you should absolutely put this on your to-do list for your chicken medicine cabinet!
Administer the tincture (two drops) orally, once a day, until symptoms subside. Or, add a dropper full of tincture to your flock’s one-gallon waterer to treat the entire flock twice a day for one month.
Ultimately, it’s always best to put preventative measures in place so that you never have to deal with the actual issue. But should the issue arise, keep in mind that the only way to know if your chicken or flock has MG is to have it tested through your local ag extension office. Should your flock test positive, you’ll have to either cull, or shut your flock off for years to come.
This is why it’s so important to keep a closed flock. Something many people try to work towards when living a sustainable life, either way. No matter what you choose to do, however, giving your flock these preventative herbs, and arming yourself with knowledge, is the best step you can take before, and when, MG arises!
Originally published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.