When it comes to raising chickens, health is always a top priority. After all, healthy chickens are more productive and more profitable in the long run. Unfortunately, many diseases can wipe out a large percentage of your chickens or leave them more vulnerable to other infections, costing you time and money.
The good news is that vaccinations exist for many of the most common chicken diseases, providing effective preventative measures to keep your chickens healthy.
Curious about vaccinations your chickens should receive and when? Read on to find out which chicken vaccinations are right for your flock.
Do I have to vaccinate my chickens?
There are no rules that say you must vaccinate your chickens for certain diseases. Your choice to vaccinate your chickens will depend on many factors, including the types of chickens you raise, whether you raise birds to sell, and the immediate threats in the area where you raise your chickens.
Vaccines have long been used in the commercial poultry industry to control disease among birds who are kept together in small spaces. In recent years, backyard flock owners have also begun vaccinating their birds against many common chicken diseases.
Vaccines are designed to mimic the natural infection of many diseases, giving birds the opportunity to build up immunity to a disease without harm. However, vaccines are not a cure all and won’t prevent every infection.
It is also important to implement strict biosecurity measures to keep your birds healthy and productive.
These measures include:
- Regular cleaning and disinfection of chicken coops
- Feeding fresh food that is free of mold
- Isolating new flock members for at least 30 days
- Limiting exposure to wild birds
In some cases it is not advisable to vaccinate broilers, since many vaccine warning labels specify that birds cannot be butchered if they have just received shots. Most recommend a waiting period of 15 to 60 days for butchering.
Chicken Diseases and Vaccinations
Also known as fowl paralysis, Marek’s disease is caused by a contagious virus and is typically seen in chickens between 12 and 25 weeks old. Symptoms of the disease include tumors, irregularly-shaped pupils that often lead to blindness, and partial paralysis.
There is no current treatment for Marek’s disease, but many birds do survive the illness and remain carriers of the disease for the remainder of their lives. If you suspect one of your chickens has contracted Marek’s disease, it’s best to isolate the infected bird from your flock as soon as possible to avoid the spread of the disease to other birds.
A vaccine is available to reduce the likelihood of infection. The vaccine is typically administered to day-old chicks, both broilers and layers, below the skin of the breast.
Newcastle Disease/Infectious Bronchitis
Newcastle disease is a viral infection that is spread primarily through the droppings and secretions of infected birds. The disease can vary from mild to severe.
Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, greenish/watery diarrhea, and depression. Layers may show a marked decrease in egg production or produce thin-shelled eggs. Severe symptoms include drooping wings, swelling of the eyes or neck, muscle tremors, paralysis, or sudden death.
Since Newcastle disease is caused by a virus, there is no current treatment available. However, a vaccine can help prevent the disease when given between 14 and 21 days of age. The vaccine is administered in water. On commercial poultry farms, the vaccine is re-administered every 2 weeks to 90 days as a continued preventative measure.
Infectious Bursal Disease
A highly contagious viral disease, infectious bursal disease affects young chickens under 17 weeks of age. The virus attacks the tissues of a chicken’s immune system, resulting in suppressed immune function, along with high sensitivity to other infections such as Marek’s disease, Salmonella, E. coli, coccidia, Mycoplasma, and others.
The virus that causes infectious bursal disease is hardy, difficult to decontaminate, and can survive for months in a variety of environments.
Vaccination is recommended for chicks between 14 and 21 days old. The vaccine is administered in water.
Fowlpox is a common viral infection found in backyard chickens that have not received a vaccination. Infected birds develop white blisters on their comb, wattles, and other skin areas. Most birds survive the infection and the lesions scab, heal, and drop off in about three weeks.
Scarring can occur in some birds, so exhibition breeders usually vaccinate their flock against the disease. Mosquitos often carry the disease from flock to flock, so mosquito control is important to reduce outbreaks.
A vaccine is available for Fowlpox and is typically administered in the wing web of birds at 10 to 12 weeks of age. The vaccine exposes birds to a mild version of the active virus, so birds should be completely healthy before the vaccine is administered to avoid complications.
Avian encephalomyelitis (AE) is a viral disease that affects young chickens, as well as pheasants, pigeons, turkeys, and Japanese quail. Infection can be spread vertically (from mother to chicks) and horizontally (from chicken to chicken).
Many infections are the result of a breeder flock infection that is passed on to the eggs. Infected birds show clinical signs of infection during the first week after hatching, which can include ataxia (wobbly and clumsy walking) and leg weakness that progresses to paralysis. Afflicted birds are often destroyed since most don’t recover.
Immunization of breeder pullets is recommended at 10 to 15 weeks of age to prevent vertical transmission of the virus. The commercial live vaccine provides offspring with maternal immunity. Vaccination of table-egg flocks is also recommended to prevent decreased egg production. AE inoculations are usually combined with Fowlpox vaccine and administered through an injection in the wing web.
Acute and highly contagious, infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) is a respiratory infection caused by the herpesvirus. Chickens and pheasants are the most susceptible to the disease.
Symptoms include severe breathing difficulty, coughing, and rales. Laryngotracheitis has a 10-20% mortality rate, but in some cases up to 70% of a flock may die. Recovered survivors and vaccinated chickens are both long-term carriers of the infection.
A vaccine can be administered to control the virus and is typically administered with eye drops at 10-12 weeks of age. However, the vaccine should not be administered unless there is a known issue with the disease on your farm or in the immediate area. Implementing strict biosecurity measures can also prevent outbreaks.
A viral disease found in chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, and pheasants, avian rhinotracheitis is also known as swollen head syndrome. Signs and symptoms of the disease include decreased appetite, lack of weight gain, swelling of the head and face, ocular or nasal discharge, voice loss, and conjunctivitis. The disease is transmitted from bird to bird through the respiratory tract.
Live vaccines have been shown to reduce clinical symptoms. Inactivated vaccines are also used in breeder hens prior to egg lay.
While it can seem daunting to protect your chickens from every disease out there, vaccinations are a solid preventative measure that can lead to happier, healthier birds and better productivity of your flock. Just remember that vaccines are no substitute for strict biosecurity measures including proper disinfection, segregation of new birds, and feeding fresh, healthy food.
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