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Our brush with the deadly Ranikhet disease

What is Ranikhet

Ranikhet disease, also known in the West as Newcastle disease is a contagious and highly fatal daises of birds. In spite of the notable work done towards its control, this disease still ranks as one of the most serious virus diseases of poultry. The disease occurs in almost all countries and usually assumes a server form affecting birds of all ages. Mortality in flows varies from 50 to 100 per cent.

Our encounter with Ranikhet

This happened sometime around May of 2017. At first one of our Giriraja chicken was seen very sick. It couldn’t eat or drink anything; would just sit still and keep bobbing its head up and down slowly all the time. By 2nd day it was very sick and seemed to be certainly dying. Some of our workers suggested that its best to slaughter it. Given the bleak prospects we agreed. So that chicken was gone – killed.

But by next day, one more came down with the same symptoms and then the rooster and a some of ducks and guinea fowls too got infected. That is when I consulted couple of vets in our vicinity. Both confirmed that it was an attack of Raniket and asked me whether I had vaccinated them against Raniket, which I hadn’t. The verdict from both was unambiguous – there is no treatment for Raniket once the birds get it; the only option is prevention through vaccination. Now that I hadn’t done that the general survival rate was less than 10% of your total bird population.

Our response

At that stage I decided to just wait it out and see what happens. No more slaughtering. Apart from just observing and doing nothing, I also decided to try giving a little nati cow urine daily twice to all affected birds. Within a few days we had around 5-6 birds of our total population of 12 were infected. By then I had very little hopes that any will survive at all. I also started doubting our initial decision not to vaccinate them based on the firm belief that all our birds being nati variety, free range and mixed types – they should have natural immunity which should prevent a mass outbreak and mass causality which typical in a modern poultry environment.

The disease continued for a week or so and one of the chickens which got sick initially died. Towards the end of the week we observed two things. Firstly, it had stopped spreading; which means those who did not get it (approx. around 50%) continued to be healthy despite being in the same pen in the night. Secondly the sick ones started recovering one by one. Within the next 2 or 3 days Raniket was gone and all our chicken, ducks and guinea fowls – except for the one slaughtered and the one that died – recovered. So finally, when it all ended well, our causality rate less than 10% instead of 90% which the doctors had predicted.

The learnings

What did we learn from the episode?

  • That a natural environment of diversity and native breeds in a free-range setting does provide considerable natural immunity and disease resistance

  • That while a deadly disease can strike anyone in any environment, its spread and outcome depends on the survival laws in nature that the fit survive and the weak succumb and does not lead to mass casualty as is typical in a monoculture and caged modern environment of animal husbandry

  • That urine of native cows does have medicinal value as is believed and practiced in many traditional medicines in India

So, our encounter with the deadly Ranikhet did validate and reinforce our understanding of and belief in the power of natural living and natural farming.

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