For the small flock owner, vaccination is generally necessary only if the birds have had disease problems in the past, may possibly be exposed to other birds (eg, at poultry shows, meat swaps, or wild bird access), or if new birds are introduced to the flock (open flock). Birds should not be vaccinated for a disease not present in their local area, because this will only introduce new organisms into the flock. Also, a sick bird’s immune system is compromised and unable to withstand the stress of vaccination.
If certain diseases are a problem in a backyard flock, vaccination may be recommended after veterinary consultation. Marek’s disease is present in almost every flock, and vaccination of chickens is strongly recommended in all cases; vaccination is key for control and is inexpensive. Backyard poultry owners may purchase chicks from hatcheries and request their chicks be vaccinated at hatch with serotype 3, or they can vaccinate their own chicks if hatched onsite. Because the virus is ubiquitous and spreads through feather dander, vaccinating birds at hatch before they are most susceptible (2–7 months) is critical to establish early immunity. There are three serotypes of Marek disease: 1, 2, and 3. Because most backyard chickens are vaccinated only for serotype 3, they may not be fully protected. In addition, vaccination does not prevent infection or shedding of the field virus.
Vaccination is an effective means to prevent and/or reduce the adverse effects of specific diseases that can cause problems in a poultry flock. Approved vaccines are allowed under the USDA organic standards. Always check with your certification agency before administering any product to your livestock
Hatcheries and poultry suppliers are usually the best sources of vaccines. Poultry vaccines are produced in large dose vials intended for commercial use. This is for the convenience of vaccine manufacturers and commercial producers who often have several thousand birds to vaccinate at one time. This, however, should not prevent vaccination of smaller-sized flocks. Think of the cost on a per bird basis rather than on a per vial basis. Plan to vaccinate the entire flock at one time. You can contact other small producers in your area and organize a group to buy a vial together and vaccinate both your flock and theirs. This also helps protect your flock because you will be sure that other flocks around your farm are vaccinated.
Features of Baby Chick Vaccines
Vaccination in backyard poultry can be somewhat confusing and challenging. There are many vaccines that are available for commercial poultry that are contra-indicated in backyard poultry.
For example, live vaccines against Infectious Bronchitis (IB) and Infectious Lagyngotracheitis (ILT) can have the capability to “revert to virulence” and cause an outbreak of disease that can spread beyond the vaccinated flock. In addition, the potential for new variants can result from “reassortants” between wild-type and vaccine strains making it even more difficult to treat affected poultry. (Reassortment is the mixing of the genetic material of a species into new combinations in different individuals.)
For these reasons, most poultry experts only recommend that backyard poultry enthusiasts vaccinate against the following (in order of importance, based on the prevalence of disease in backyard flocks):
1. Vaccination against Marek’s Disease
(either given in ovo or at 1-day of age post hatch)
2. Newcastle Disease
(18 days of age and then 6 weeks of age)
3. Vaccination against Dry Pox (4 weeks of age)
Prices of Baby Chick Vaccines
$22.95 – $60.00