How and Why to Vaccinate Chickens

In England, the lion stamp on an egg means it was laid by chickens that have been vaccinated against salmonella. Photo credit: Flickr/carmen_seaby
In England, the lion stamp on an egg means it was laid by chickens that have been vaccinated against salmonella. Photo credit: Flickr/carmen_seaby

Why Vaccinate Chickens?

Chickens, just like every other animal, are susceptible to certain diseases. Some of these diseases are specific to chickens, and other diseases attack many species of bird. Where these diseases are preventable, whether your chickens are pets or a working animal, it behooves you to prevent them.

Chicken vaccinations are very safe, with very low risk of side effects. Vaccinations are also very cheap, particularly compared to the cost of potentially having to cull your flock. Or, in the worst case scenario, to losing your entire flock to disease.

There are several vectors for disease to enter your flock. Whenever you introduce new chickens, they should be isolated in quarantine for up to a month before being introduced, to prevent disease transmission.

Chicken diseases can also be transmitted from wild birds, either through direct mingling (as with a free range flock) or through their droppings, shed feathers, dander, etc. Some diseases (notably fowl pox) are spread through mosquito bites.

What Diseases Do We Have Chicken Vaccinations For?

Marek’s Disease: This is an incredibly contagious disease which attacks chicks when they are a few weeks old.  Marek’s disease is caused by a virus, which causes paralysis of the limbs, blindness, lesions, and death.  If spread unchecked, Marek’s disease can cause an epidemic that kills up to 80% of the flock.

Infectious Bronchitis: Infectious bronchitis attacks the respiratory tract as well as the urinary tract and genitals.  It causes meat birds to grow more slowly, and egg-laying birds to reduce or stop laying altogether. 

Laryngotracheitis: This is a communicable respiratory disease which causes difficulty breathing and swelling of the tissues around the eyes (conjunctivitis).  It kills by suffocation.  Laryngotracheitis can cause mortality rates of up to 70%.

Fowl Pox: also called “avian pox,” this is a virus that causes wart-like growths all over the chicken’s body.  It is not usually fatal, unless the lesions occur in the respiratory tract.  However, it causes distress to birds while it runs its course of 3-5 weeks.  While sick, meat birds will experienced impaired growth rates, and laying hens will reduce or stop laying altogether.

Fowl Cholera: caused by the pasteurella bacteria, fowl cholera strikes fast and hard.  It causes lesions, septicemia, and death.

Newcastle Disease: this virus moves so swiftly that infected birds often show no signs of sickness before they drop dead.  It can cause losses of up to 100% in an unvaccinated flock. 

What About The Salmonella Vaccine For Poultry?

A salmonella vaccine exists for poultry. It was approved for use in the United States by the USDA in 1998. And yet, to date it is relatively unknown.

The poultry vaccine has been wildly successful in the UK. In 2001, the British government announced that the vaccination program had reduced incidence of food-borne illness by a whopping 50%. Eggs which come from vaccinated chickens receive a red lion stamp (pictured above) and can command a higher price.

Needless to say, the massive egg recall of 2010 would not have been necessary had the chickens been vaccinated. Why aren't our egg producers vaccinating their flocks against salmonella? Only they can answer that question.

In the mean time if you want to vaccinate your chickens for salmonella, you may have luck if you check with your vet and county extension offices.

How To Vaccinate Chickens

If you have never given a vaccination, you will want to consult with an experienced poultry owner, a veterinarian, or ask for information and guidance at your local feed store.

Some vaccines are given by injection, either subcutaneously or intramuscular.  Other vaccines are given by drops that you add to their drinking water, or drop directly into the chickens’ nostrils.  You should always follow the directions given with the vaccine itself.  Here are some general guidelines for the recommended vaccination schedule:

At hatching: give Marek’s vaccine by injection, first fowl pox vaccine by wing web stick, and Newcastle disease drops in drinking water.

At 10-35 days: give infectious bronchitis and Newcastle vaccines combined.

At 4 weeks: give laryngotracheitis vaccine by drops, if your area is susceptible.

At 8 weeks: give fowl pox vaccine booster shot by wing web stick.

Fowl cholera: vaccinate the entire flock after a problem has been confirmed by your veterinarian.

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Comments 1 comment

Nadeem Ahmed Shaikh 4 years ago

in our country pak no many vaccin are common we are in rural areas my most chickens are dead by unknown diseas.

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