There was something casual about Tyson Foods back when I joined them in 1963. We all wore khaki. My boss back then, Bill Martin explained that farmers were uncomfortable around folks in ties and suits. Since they were the core of our business, providing the housing and labor for the birds, it was a good idea. Don and John even wore tan outfits, (I understand Don still does).  They had our name on them so folks would know who we were. Tyson  called us servicemen, and we were a big part of the company’s management – about all of us were college graduates.
There were no names on the office doors and you had to know a guy was a vice president or someone had to tell you he held that rank. Growers in those days came by the office and settled up on their last batch. That meant they came in and got their settlement after they sold the chickens. Many knew Mr. John from the real old days and if he was in the office they would stop by and talk to him.
One of the reasons I was hired was some long time growers told Mr. Tyson they needed to hire that “cowboy-school-teacher” down at Winslow for a field man. 'He’d make a good one.' So when Tyson invited me up to the office, I told them I didn’t know much about chickens, I had a degree in agronomy (crops and soils). They said don’t worry,  they could teach me in a few weeks all I needed to know about chickens, but could I get along with farmers? I said I thought so, and they must have agreed, they hired me that day. So I became a “chicken doctor," complete with khaki uniform, a red pickup with a powerful Motorola two-way radio in it and a pair of scissors to dissect chickens with.
Basically there were two things chickens caught, either an intestinal disease like coccidia, or a gut problem. There was a coccy control ingredient in the feed, as well as arsenic, so those problems were minor, but they could flair up and hurt the birds' feed conversion. The feed conversion and the pounds of bird sold was what the farmer was paid on.
The second, and largest problem, was a respiratory infection – we called it air sac. Being a bird, chickens have in their body air chambers which flying birds have to help suspend them in the air. The modern broiler descended from jungle fowl. When the bird became infected with a pneumonia-like condition these clear membranes showed up as soapy-looking. In the processing plant any sign of little bubbles on the air sac of the opened birds going down the line, and the federal inspectors threw them in the can for dog food.
We later learned that that air sac came from a systemic infection the bird got from the hen that produced the egg called PPLO. Plural Pneumonia Like Organism. Stress, from something like a coccy infection, getting too cold or too hot or a virus challenge would set it off. We vaccinated the drinking water then for the New Castle and Bronchitis virus – but a strong reaction to the vaccine or a field challenge of these viruses  could cause an outbreak of air sac.
By the time I got there, penicillin and combiotic were already useless. Poultry disease had built an immunity to resist them. Aurea and Terramycin still worked in some cases and were given orally with either a medicator that put an ounce of medication to the gallon or farmers had barrels up in the ceiling of their poultry house where they mixed a  bag of the medicine to so many gallons of water and gravity flowed it to their birds.
Chickens snick when they have a cold; a little sneeze-like sound. You could clap your hands and for a half second all the birds in the house were quiet and you listened for that snick. If you heard lots of that sound you had problems. The in-house-term between chicken doctors was, “Those birds on the Jones place were snicking their heads off.”
We’ll talk more about the poultry problems in future columns. Hope you’re having a great summer. 
Western novelist Dusty Richards and his wife Pat live on Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas. For more information about his books you can email Dusty by visiting and clicking on 'Contact Us' or call 1-866-532-1960.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here