During my most recent Chickens 101 workshop, I was talking about the fact that chicks from feed stores are fully vaccinated making them sometimes safer to bring into an established flock than by getting chicks from a farm or local breeder.
I want to stress, however, that if you are following proper bio security measures (isolation from the flock for a few weeks prior to introduction, washing hands, clothing, and boots after touching new birds or visiting flocks), and that you are feeding your chicks medicated feed for the first few weeks, you can get your chicks from anywhere.
One gentleman raised his hand during this discussion and asked me what the chicks were being vaccinated for.
I was stumped.
I knew that there was a final spray at the end for pneumonia/bronchitis infections but I couldn’t tell you what the initial vaccination (the one inside the egg) is for. The only word I could come up with was Merck, but I knew that was the name of a manual I studied from in college and highly doubted that newborn chicks were being vaccinated against that monstrous book (although at times I wish I had been.)
I didn’t know the answer. Yup, it was the first time I didn’t know the answer to a chicken question (me – who even knew how to answer the lava lamp question!)
Anyway, I told the man that I would go home and look up the answer and here it is.
Hatchery chicks are exposed to disease simply because of the large, packed, quantities involved. (seriously have you seen some of the egg or meat production factory videos?) When chicks are hatched, they are hatched in enormous numbers. As anyone who has ever traveled on a plane knows, close proximity when someone is sick can spell disaster for your weekend health. For this reason chicks are given vaccinations for some or all of the following diseases:
- Marek’s disease (I was soooo close)
- Newcastle disesase –
- Infectious bronchitis
- Fowl Pox
- Fowl Cholera
- Avian encephalomyelitis
- Avian Flu
That’s a lot of diseases and while it looks alarming, remember that these are typically what’s done for the birds that are going to be kept in close quarters in the factories. From what I’ve read, the biggest threat to a home flock would be Marek’s disease and some sort of respiratory/bronchitis disease (you’ll know you have it if your chickens start sneezing.) When feed store chicks are advertised as having been vaccinated, it usually means that those two diseases, at least, are covered.
Vaccination, post purchase, is seldom practiced by small flock owners. There may be several reasons for this, including:
- Rarely have disease problems
- Unaware that disease is present
- Do not get the disease properly diagnosed
- Do not know where to purchase vaccines
- Too expensive because poultry vaccines usually come in 500 to 10,000 dose vials.
Once you have establish your flock, you most probably will not need to vaccinate your chickens. This, however, assumes that you are:
- Keeping your birds healthy (includes clean water and a healthy diet)
- Keeping a closed flock (no play dates for the ladies)
- Keeping your coop clean and well ventilated
- Making sure that other chicken owners don’t bring disease into your flock
Vaccination for your flock members should be considered if you:
- Take birds to poultry shows
- Buy birds from hatcheries, bird auctions, or other sources and add them to an existing flock
- Have had disease problems in the past
It should be noted that while I have gotten some feed store – already vaccinated chicks, in the 3 years we’ve had chickens, I have never vaccinated any member of our flock. Remember that disease doesn’t just spontaneously arise, it needs to come from somewhere and if you’re diligent, you can do a good job of keeping it out of your flock.
Vaccinations are a tricky business. (We don’t even give them to our kids following a “vaccination accident” in our house.) But they do serve a purpose, especially in large flocks. As much as I have reservations about vaccinations, I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water and so my advice to new chicken owners is to seek out those chicks that have been fully protected from some of the more nasty diseases, and then enjoy them.