A Quick Primer On Poultry Vaccines

For full preventative care, you can administer poultry vaccines to your flock. Here's what you need to know about vaccinating chickens.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Shutterstock

As poultry keepers, we do our best to ensure the health of our birds.

We provide them with nutritious feed and fresh water. And we give them a clean living environment and protection against parasites.

There is a further step we can take to safeguard our chickens’ wellness, however. It’s vaccinating them against viruses and bacteria that commonly affect poultry. 

Vaccines 101

Just like with humans, poultry vaccines contain the actual microbes that cause disease. These germs become modified, then introduced to the birds in one of four ways:

  • Spray vaccination: Mist the birds’ faces with a coarse to fine spray.
  • Water vaccination: Introduce the agent through the birds’ drinking water.
  • Eye-drop vaccination: Administer the vaccine directly to the surface of the birds’ eyes.
  • Injection: Apply the agent to the birds subcutaneously.

Many poultry farmers mistakenly believe that, once vaccinated, their flocks will be illness free. This is not the case.

“Poultry vaccines do not prevent infection,” clarifies Dr. Mick Fulton, a diplomate of the American College of Poultry Veterinarians. (He’s also an associate professor at the Michigan State University Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation.)

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“They prevent clinical signs and death. The viruses will still typically infect vaccinated birds, but at a much lower concentration than in non-vaccinated birds.” 

Is this your first time giving poultry vaccines? Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the highest rate of response from your flock.

A Quick How-To

Offer water vaccines first thing in the morning, before full daylight and after your birds have had their water withheld for a stated period of time.

When administering an eye-drop vaccination, gently hold your birds’ heads tilted to the side until the eyes fully absorb the drops.

For spray vaccines, ensure that, at the very least, droplets go into your birds’ eyes and nose.

Administer injection-type vaccinations under the skin, not on.

“Most vaccine failures are due to mistakes made in applying the vaccines,” states Dr. Fulton. “Proper handling and application can prevent a lot of problems.”

Success Rates Vary

If you are vaccinating a large flock of birds, take note that not every bird will respond to the vaccine.

“Depending on the vaccine and how it is applied, the first vaccine will cause about 80 to 85 percent to respond,” notes Dr. Fulton.

“The second vaccine will cause 90 to 95 percent to respond. And the third vaccine will cause 95 to 99 percent to respond.”

Should vaccination failure occur despite careful and repeated application, you can usually attribute it to four factors:

  • use of an expired vaccine
  • storage of the vaccine at an improper temperature
  • administration at the incorrect age
  • administration after birds became infected.

Before starting any vaccination program for your flock, thoroughly read the vaccine’s accompanying insert for storage instructions. Many need to be stored in a cold, dark place

Also check the package for the expiration date stamped on the box and bottle.

The insert will also indicate at what age you should give the vaccination. For example, you give Marek’s at hatch/one day. You administer B1 and Newcastle, however, at two and four weeks.

If you have any questions about how to properly vaccinate your chickens, contact the poultry specialist at your local extension office. They’re there to help flock owners with all aspects of rearing their birds.

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