Vaccinating Small Poultry Flocks

Free range chickens.  Chicken, poultry, small farms.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tom Wright.

Commercial poultry is typically vaccinated, but small flock owners rarely vaccinate their birds for a variety of reasons: vaccines are too expensive, the owners are unaware disease is present, or they don’t know where to purchase vaccines.

If left unmanaged, these diseases could lead to loss of income, death of valuable breeding stock, or an inability to participate in poultry shows. Vaccination is an effective way to prevent or reduce the effects of certain diseases in poultry.

Should Flock Owners Vaccinate?

Even though vaccines may protect small poultry flocks, some owners may not need to vaccinate their birds. Owners should consider the likelihood of their flocks being exposed to certain diseases. For example, if the flock is closed (new birds are never introduced and birds that leave don’t return), then the chance for disease is reduced. The owner should consider vaccination if one or more of the following are true for an owner’s flock:

  • The flock has a history of disease problems.
  • The owner takes birds to poultry shows.
  • The owner adds birds bought from auctions, hatcheries, or other sources to the existing flock.

Successfully Vaccinating Small Poultry Flocks

Small flock owners should follow these recommendations to successfully vaccinate poultry:

  • Handle vaccines with care and protect them from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Consult vaccine labels for instructions and expiration dates.
  • Use each vaccine’s recommended route of administration.
  • Vaccinate poultry older than 10 days because vaccinating before then likely won’t produce uniform or lasting immunity. (The one exception is the Marek’s disease vaccine, which is usually given the day of hatch.)
  • Don’t vaccinate sick birds (except in laryngotracheitis or fowl pox outbreaks).
  • Make sure water is sanitizer- and chlorine-free when using the drinking-water vaccination method—these chemicals can destroy live-virus vaccines.
  • Disinfect or burn all opened containers after vaccination to prevent accidently spreading diseases to other poultry.

Vaccines can be purchased at hatcheries and poultry suppliers. They are often sold in large dose vials for commercial uses, but this shouldn’t discourage small flock owners from vaccinating their poultry. Instead, plan to vaccinate your entire flock at the same time and share vaccines with neighboring flock owners to reduce costs.

Adapted and Excerpted From:

J. P. Jacob, G. D. Butcher, and F. B. Mather, “Vaccination of Small Poultry Flocks” (PS36), UF/IFAS Department of Animal Sciences (rev. 06/2015).

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Shirley De Leon is a Web Content Coordinator/Strategist at UF/IFAS Communications. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s in journalism summer of 2014 and went back to UF to get a Master’s in health education and behavior that same year.

She joined the IFAS Communication Web Team in July 2015 and thinks the job will allow her to bridge her love for digital content management, health and wellness, and creative writing. On her downtime, Shirley likes to read online news stories, listen to music and practice yoga.

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