Vaccinations – My Research And How To Go About Vaccinating A Backyard Flock

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by ozexpat, Apr 20, 2013.

  1. ozexpat

    ozexpat CocoBeach Farm


    I am posting a lengthy discussion and a potential article on vaccinating a back yard flock.

    Here goes.

    Vaccinations – My Research On How To Go About Vaccinating A Backyard Flock

    Almost everything I have seen on vaccinations is based on regimen built on vaccinating chicks from birth. While this is fine for a large scale chicken farm, its not the most practical for the back yard chicken person who buys a few birds here and there or hatches a few eggs in an incubator every few weeks. I have spent hours on the internet trying to find information on this topic and basically draw blanks.

    So let us try and start with the basics of physiology and see if we can make sense of this.

    A vaccine is a preparation used to produce active immunity to a disease, in order to prevent or reduce the effects of infection by any natural or "wild" pathogen.

    A vaccine usually contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism. It could be made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins. The vaccine stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and "remember" it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.

    The word vaccine’s origins come from vacca – Latin for cow. Cow pox virus was used in the vaccination of humans for small pox.

    To relate this to my experience, when I start a new job in a hospital, they often draw blood titers to measure immunity. Many vaccines require multiple doses for maximum effectiveness, either to produce sufficient initial immune response or to boost response that fades over time. I have to get a Tetanus vaccine every ten years to keep up my immunity. The other way to get immunity is via direct exposure. I had full blown chicken pox as a kid and am now immune. I also have immunity to mumps but I was never symptomatic of the disease – I came in contact with enough of the virus where my body beat off the illness but stored memory of the disease and gave me immunity.

    Back to chickens.

    So should you vaccinate, and if so, what should you vaccinate against?

    Many argue that poultry kept free range in small numbers in backyards usually avoid many of the dangers that are faced every day by poultry raised under intensive conditions on large commercial poultry farms. While, this is partially true, we are more attached and more devastated at the loss of a flock due to a disease. We don’t have cramped or crowded conditions where disease festers and rapidly infects – but our chickens still coop together, drink the same water, mate and basically are in fairly constant close contact.

    Another consideration is the less birds you vaccinate, the more it costs per bird. Most vaccines are sold in packaging for 500-1000 birds. Newcastle Virus Vaccine costs nine dollars for 1000 doses or less than a penny a bird but a dollar per bird if you have 10. Marek’s is double that at at twenty dollars per vial and chronic respiratory disease causing Mycoplasma Gallisepticum Bacterin Vaccine is a bank breaking $100 per vial. To make it worse, they all have to be used within hours or less from the time they are reconstituted.

    So where should you start and where should you stop??

    Preventive vaccination is an essential part of the disease control program. Each bird owner should assess the risk of infectious agents gaining entry to the farm. There may already be infectious agents on the farm either carried by wild birds, older birds or remaining dormant in the environment. Such disease agents as Marek's disease virus, and fowl pox virus can live in a poultry shed for many months or years and reinfect chickens placed in that environment. Some disease agents can spread through the air over several miles. Examples are infectious bronchitis (IB) virus, Newcastle disease (ND) virus and fowl pox virus which can be spread by biting mosquitoes. Rats and mice can spread fowl cholera from nearby farms.

    In addition, some disease agents are egg borne and may be introduced when the farmer purchases day old chicks or pullets from another farmer or can be passed from generation to generation within a flock. Examples are avian mycoplasmosis (CRD), avian leucosis, avian encephalomyelitis and salmonellosis. Inquiries as to the disease status of the parent flocks should be made to the breeding farm. Older pullets could already be carrying infectious coryza, infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) and Marek's disease (MD) unless they have been correctly vaccinated.

    I needed to understand my area, what diseases are prevalent, and what risks my birds have. A Google search of vaccines shows many many varieties – most of which are not available to the general public and the cost versus benefit is not balanced for a back yard fancier. For me, I have narrowed it down to the three diseases I feel that I am at most risk for based on history in my microcosm. The vaccines are readily available and fairly economical.

    My chickens are in the Philippines. We live on an island that is known for game birds and chicken eating - Manokan or chicken country. Our area though is quite remote and the most densly populated but we do have chickens in the area. We get visits from the neighbors birds and our native chickens free range and can easily fly over an 8 foot fence. We also have a growing population of birds that we are hatching from imported eggs. We will do a hatch about every 10 - 12 weeks. The first birds hatched in 1/2013 and the next set are in lock down now – due 4/2313. Another set is planned for hatching mid June and mid August. The final one will be mid October. Following that, we will be breeding the imports locally to sell breeders as well as eggs. Our little farm will have other poultry. We currently have Muscovy ducks and turkeys. There are plans to add Guinea Fowl, mallard derivative duck breeds, peafowl and cotournix.

    We live on a beach side coconut farm that is 2.5 acres. If you have coconuts, you have rats and living in the tropics, we have mosquitoes.

    Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral disease that is known to affect domestic poultry and wild birds in most parts of the world. The disease is characterized by high mortality and coughing, gasping, diarrhea and nervous signs. Egg production is affected and reduced in laying bird.

    Incubation is 2 to 15 days with various speed of spread through the flock, but often is very fast. It is spread from infected birds with direct contact or from contaminated equipment, droppings, water, feed and visitors.

    We had a scare with our 37 young imported chickens when they were 7 weeks of age. One had a nasal discharge. We quickly gave the birds a broad spectrum antibiotic and hoped for the best. Three weeks later we started our vaccination program with Newcastle Disease Vaccine – very easy – just adds to water. A second vaccination of a different strain is given three weeks later. The first is Newcastle Disease (B1-Type, B1 Strain)& Bronchitis(Massachusetts Type & Connecticut Strain) , the second is B1 Type, LaSota Strain. Both are readily available for less than ten dollars for 1000 doses. For me, the first strain was available in the Philippines at our local agri-vet supply store but the second strain I will carry in.

    We will re-immunize with when each hatch gets to 2 weeks of age. We will adopt an all for one and one for all approach with NCD.

    The second risk/issue is Avian or Fowl Pox (FP). It just started showing up on a few of our birds at 12 weeks. None of the local chickens have symptom but they may have had it before and have developed immunity. We will isolate our hatch due this week and then immunize them for FP as soon as possible using the wing stab method. We will also immunize all adult birds at that time – on the chance that they don’t already have the active disease or are now over it and immune.

    Fowl pox is a serious problem for free-range stock because the virus is spread by biting mosquitoes particularly in the warmer months of the year. Weeping scabs and wart-like lesions develop on the non-feathered parts of the head, neck and legs. In many cases those individual pox lesions run together and can be severe enough to completely close the birds’ eyes, and can lead to starvation unless treated. The virus can also affect the inside of the mouth.

    It has a slow spread with incubation of 4 to 10 days. The disease spread by direct contact bird to bird or with infected water, equipment and mosquitoes. Immunity develops and persists for a variable time after recovery. In multi-age flocks the younger groups of birds tend to be more severely affected. Because of the isolation of many backyard flocks and lack of regular exposure to infection, explosive outbreaks involving all ages can occur if infection is introduced.

    Some day-old chickens may be supplied vaccinated from the hatchery. These should be revaccinated at 8-12 weeks of age. Young chickens are usually vaccinated at 1-2 weeks of age and again at 8-12 weeks of age. It is good insurance to revaccinate annually before summer.

    The wing stab method is recommended for chickens. The vaccine is reconstituted as directed and the special vaccination needle is dipped in the vaccine. An assistant holds the wing of the bird stretched away from its body and the needle is stabbed through the thin double layer of skin in the wing web. This causes minimal pain and ensures that the vaccine is introduced into the skin at the stab site. A proportion of chickens should be examined one week later to see that there has been a “take” that appears as a small dry scab at the point of needle puncture.

    This vaccine is ten dollars for 1000 doses. It should not be given within 21 days of slaughter.

    Mareks Disease (MD) is a common disease of chickens caused by a herpesvirus and is characterised by paralysis of the legs and/or wings and/or the formation of tumors throughout many organs of the body. The majority of losses occurs in pullets up to laying age but may occur throughout the life of the flock. Mortalities may be as high as 40%.

    Infection can take place immediately after hatching so vaccination must take place at one day of age. Chickens hatched under hens can acquire the disease agent from the hen or surroundings very early in their life; so again, chicks should be vaccinated as soon after hatching as possible (preferably at one day of age). Virus is further spread by aerosol and feces. We do not have a history of Mareks symptoms in our area but will vaccinate all birds with it anyway. Going forward, we will vaccinate as they come out of the incubator. Broodies will be an issue but at twenty dollars a vial, I can’t afford to open a new vial of vaccine every time a broody hen hatches a clutch. I will just cross my fingers that they don’t get infected in between incubator hatches.

    The vaccine is actually the turkey strain of the disease and must be reconstituted as described in the instruction leaflet with the vaccine. It should preferably be used within one hour. Inject under the skin on the back of the neck. Usually a fold of neck skin is pinched up between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and the injection made under the skin in a direction away from the head. Avoid injection into the muscles of the neck. Cost is twenty dollars for 1000 doses.

    The principles of disease control in an intensive production environment are largely based on prevention of disease using isolation, quarantine, single aged farms and comprehensive disinfection and vaccination programs. The same simple measures should be in place to prevent infectious disease from entering a small farm as for a large farm. A change of clothes, a disinfectant footbath and no backtracking of infection from old to young stock are fundamental requirements. Small farms should also be encouraged to adhere to the principles of separation of age groups and should also develop appropriate disinfection and vaccination programs.

    Now this is great advice but its going to be hard for me to adhere to. I will have separate pens for juvenile birds, and will tend to the youngest first. With the wanton abandonment in which our neighbors manage their few chickens and their visits over the fence, I will find it hard to provide super strict biosecurity but I will quarantine any birds that will actually enter my coups.

    A Dupont disinfectant, Virkon S will kill just about any virus and bacteria, is recommended for biosecurity. It can be used with a pressure washer or with a fogger when the birds are present. I will be using it to spray my coops with litter changes.

    My Vaccination Schedule
    MD – As soon as I get to the Philippines I will vaccinate all birds, then as day olds with each hatch. To minimize cost, I will do large hatches quarterly rather than a few eggs here and there. Cost per year with 4 hatches is $80.
    FP - As soon as I get to the Philippines I will vaccinate all birds, then as day olds with each hatch and each 1st hatch of the year. Cost $40.
    NCD - Once I get to the Philippines I will vaccinate all birds after 14 days, then hatchlings as 14 day olds and 3 weeks later with the second strain. All birds on premises will get vaccine each quarter. Cost $80.

    So to follow my schedule, I will be spending $200 per year. If I just had 10 birds, that would be a lot. I will have considerably more so the per bird cost will be about $2 per adult bird per year and all the juvies I sell will be vaccinated – an added attraction to the buyer. To get the costs down – a vaccination co-op may be established for vaccines like NCD but MD vaccination must be administered quickly so you would need team work to distribute and administer once reconstituted.


    useful articles
    common poutry myths
    how to administer mareks
  2. perchie.girl

    perchie.girl Desert Dweller

    Wow Oz you are very thorough, and your scientific method outstanding.

    I have a question about Merricks. I have done some reading myself on it.... not to the depth that you have and I have none of your background. From what I understand the vaccine doesn't prevent the disease it just keeps the birds from getting the symptoms. Doesn't that mean vaccinated birds while healthy appearing will still be able to pass the disease on. Or does the protection of the vaccination reduce the amount of the virus shed in the dander. Is there more that I dont know and should?

    I am just curious. and will be doing some more reading through the links you provided.

    Thank you for sharing this...

  3. ozexpat

    ozexpat CocoBeach Farm

    The original strains of Mareks vaccine were basically weakened turkey Mareks Virus (HTV), currently some vaccines in the USA contains the FC-126 strain of turkey herpesvirus and the SB-I strain of chicken herpesvirus. With an increased knowledge of genetics, more effective vaccines for Mareks are being developed.

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, Nimbus Sans L, sans-serif]The vaccine is non-sterilizing - meaning it does not prevent infection - it prevents symptoms. Chickens vaccinated that become infected will still infect other chickens - but they are less contagious as the shed of virus is less.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, Nimbus Sans L, sans-serif]So what does this mean? You cannot prevent Mareks from entering your flock, but you can stop your birds from dying of it. According to the Merk Veterinary[/FONT] Manual, Every flock, except for those maintained under strict pathogen-free conditions, may be presumed to be infected.

    detailed info at:
    1 person likes this.
  4. perchie.girl

    perchie.girl Desert Dweller

    Thanks Oz That's pretty much what I thought. I did not know they had a better vaccine now.

    I worry about knowing weather or not I have Marecks in the flock when the vaccine alleviates the symptoms... I worry about selling or trading a bird that carried it. If I know I have it in my flock then i can deal with the hard decisions. including how ever long it takes for the disease to be purged from the grounds.... if it can be.

    Ok I just read an article about using Oxine on the grounds to mitigate the spread of the disease. And the vaccine can be used in adult birds as well as possibly be effective in treating a bird that already has it....

    Here is the link to the article.... Its just one and I know this info has to be verified but It gives me hope....

    I still havent read your links I will tomorrow.

    deb "who is always learning"
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013
  5. Sally Sunshine

    Sally Sunshine Crossing the Road

    Aug 23, 2012
    Thank you so very much oz!
  6. Bens-Hens

    Bens-Hens Songster

    A great article Oz. I have had experience with Marrek's in our small flock. It is hard to work with, and we lost a large portion of our flock from it. We believe our mistake was mixing rescued commercial birds with backyard bred birds. We assume the older rescue birds (who were vaccinated) passed it onto the BY birds (whom were not vaccinated)

    We have gone to great lengths to hopefully remove it from our grounds.

    It was great reading further information regarding the other well know and wide spread diseases that may require vaccination. Thankfully we have not encountered any others.

    Hat tip to Oz.
  7. ozexpat

    ozexpat CocoBeach Farm

    thanks ben. reading your thread, along with the appearance of FP in my imported birds were the stimulus for me to dig deeper into the vaccination of backyard birds
  8. ozexpat

    ozexpat CocoBeach Farm

    that is a great link deb. very informative. thank you
  9. ozexpat

    ozexpat CocoBeach Farm


    Vaccinating for Mareks with the Mareks vaccine : Vaccination should take place as close to one day of age if at all possible,but may be done at any age as earlier discussed. Mareks vaccine is unique in that it does not stop a bird from becoming infected with the virus,but it stops the formation of the Tumors that are caused by the Mareks virus. Birds that are newly vaccinated should not be exposed to adult birds for at least fourteen days to allow the vaccine to take hold. The vaccine comes as a two part vaccine. One bottle contains a small freeze dried wafer which is the actual vaccine. This is a Live Virus vaccine and can not be saved once it is mixed. Once mixed the life of the vaccine is approximately two to two and one half hours. The second part of the vaccine is a bottle of diluent which is 200 cc/ml of extender. It is not just water but a broth so to speak of special growth media for the Vaccine Virus to survive on during mixing and vaccination. I would suggest to you that you split the vaccine into four equal parts so that you may get four uses out of one bottle of vaccine. Cut the small vaccine wafer into quarters as best as you can.Use care not to contaminate the Mareks Diluent. Never actually open the bottle but use a clean needle and work through the rubber stopper and draw what you need from that. Always check the Diluent bottle for contamination before using: cloudiness or something growing in the bottle. If the Diluent is contaminated or you are unsure discard the bottle and get a fresh bottle of Diluent before proceeding. Take the large Diluent bottle and transfer 50 cc/ml into a clean baby food jar or similar glass bottle. This bottle must be glass. Now take the 1/4 vaccine wafer and mix with the 50 cc/ml of Diluent in the baby food jar and you are ready to vaccinate. Remember to immediately put the remaining Diluent and the small bottle of Vaccine back in the refrigerator. You are now ready to administer the Vaccine. The dose is .2 cc 2/10 cc under the skin of the neck of each bird.Remember to keep track of time so that you don’t use Vaccine that is to old. Putting the mixed vaccine bottle in an ice bath will have some value in preserving the life of the mixed vaccine.


    This could be of economical significance but I would want to do this with a sterile field, sterile gloves and mask. I would not want to contaminate the wafer disk that I am storing and then infect my birds with the contamination.
  10. perchie.girl

    perchie.girl Desert Dweller

    Oz I thought you would key in onto that little bit of advice. I know what a sterile field is conceptually and I also know you have great experience in this within your profession. I would assume that you dont want airborn contaminants as well as contaminants brought in through particles on your clothes as well.

    How would a Lay person achieve this?

    I am assuming youd also want in addition to the Gloves and mask:

    Sterilized containers
    Sterilized working surfaces
    Sterilized Tools

    When I had a biology class in 1970.... ahem.... the way to sterilize containers was with an Autoclave.... Would a pressure cooker do?
    Or in this "Modern day" are prepackaged disposable products easily available. Possibly through an Ag supplier?

    I know airborne contaminants would be an issue as well ..... ? how much of an issue and could it be mitigated by using an exhaust fan in the room.

    Like I tell people I am a Gearhead not a Sparky.... IN this case not a BioHead.... LOL.

    I have worked in the Biomed field from a standpoint of providing hardware in the form of those supply cabinets you find throughout hospitals the ones where you either access them through an RFID card or a Keyed in access code. Medicine dispensing units as well as nurses station units. Even the one that is a little robot that trundles from room to room. My job in this area was to support the Manufacturing process of these things as well as Sustaining engineering for them.


BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: