Poultry illness is no joke. Some of them run the risk of wiping out your entire flock, or even worse, your community’s flocks as well! Some diseases are non-fatal but should still be treated with the utmost caution in order to prevent further outbreak. Below we’ll talk about some of the more common illnesses and how you can treat and/or vaccinate for them.
Marek’s disease is a very common and equally devastating illness that should be vaccinated for the day the birds hatch. This is why it is most often done at the hatchery, unless you are hatching your own birds. The disease can cause birds to frequently develop paralysis in one or both of their legs. Their wings will also droop, they will become very thin, and/or their internal organs will develop tumors. Vaccinations must be done as soon as they hatch because chickens younger than 16 weeks old are at the highest risk for getting the disease. Marek’s Vaccine is given via an injection under the skin on the back of the neck. Only protecting against the appearance of Marek’s disease tumors and paralysis, it doesn’t fully protect the bird from contracting the disease. If your flock is to be affected, it may only cause a small percentage of the flock to perish, with the majority of the flock shedding the virus. Beware, if a bird who has shed the virus is introduced to a new flock where there aren’t shedders, it may revive the virus. If your farm becomes infected with Marek’s, it may never be truly clean again, meaning the virus could come back should you continue raising more birds. This all sounds grave but the good news is that the vaccine is extremely effective.
Another common virus that birds may receive a vaccine for is Newcastle Disease. This vaccine has an attenuated virus, meaning the virus is still alive yet its ability to cause disease is dramatically reduced. It can be administered in the drinking water for your birds or in eye and nose drops. Your newly hatched chicks are fine to be vaccinated by you if you hatched them. You could also have it done at the hatchery you’re getting them from. Newcastle Disease vaccines are frequently combined with an Infectious Bronchitis vaccine that is given 10 to 35 days after your birds have hatched. If you’re raising a breeding or laying flock, you may need to update your birds immunity by re-vaccinating them every 3 months or so. While some vaccines contain the attenuated virus we talked about above, they are also available in killed virus form. These types of vaccines can be given to pullets right before they start producing eggs and typically don’t need to be repeated in order to fend off poultry illnesses.
Infectious Laryngotracheitis is a virus that attacks the chicken’s trachea. It can cause the bird to gasp for air and even cough up blood. It is also a disease that you can only vaccinate for with state approval. It is a good example of one of the poultry illnesses that you shouldn’t always try and vaccinate birds for. Vaccines for this virus shouldn’t even be pursued unless there is a known outbreak on your farm or in your area. Like some Newcastle vaccines, it is a attenuated virus and mixing unvaccinated birds with vaccinated ones can reactivate the virus in the untreated birds, causing grave and devastating consequences. That is why all birds on the premises must be vaccinated at the same time and yearly boosters are strongly advised.
Fowl Pox is a non-life threatening virus. It causes round scabs and lesions on the unfeathered areas of your birds. It gives your flock fevers and can lower feed and water consumption, in turn stunting their growth and development. It’s easily preventable by vaccine and in most cases shouldn’t even be vaccinated for at all. It is transferred between birds via mosquitos and other blood-sucking insects, or via any other blood-to-blood contact between birds. If you have a very high density of mosquitoes in your area or have dealt with fowl pox issues before, it may be a good idea to vaccinate your flock. Yearly boosters are also recommended.
Lastly, Coccidiosis is a common protozoan parasite that is prevalent in most environments. Chickens can contract the illness from wet litter, poor nutrition, concurrent diseases, or a combination of many factors. The thing about most Coccidiosis vaccines in America is that they are not attenuated. These non-attenuated vaccines mean that the disease is not weakened, meaning just the vaccines can cause symptoms or even outbreak of the disease itself. Vaccines should only be used if absolutely necessary, as combined with the stress of shipment, cocci symptoms can make a freshly-hatched chick’s life a living hell. One common way people fight against coccidiosis is by using medicated chick feed. This is a common and low-risk method of protecting your birds against the parasite. While it may not have the success rate that a vaccine has, it doesn’t carry the same risk.
The important thing to understand about vaccines is knowing when and when not to use them. In some cases, a vaccine might seem like a precautionary measure that can protect your flock and investment from various poultry illnesses, when in reality it may be unnecessary and possibly even detrimental to your flock. Diseases like Marek’s and Fowl Pox are non life-threatening but should still be taken very seriously in order to contain the spreading of the disease. Diagnosis is arguably as important as treatment. Always be sure of your diagnosis or the disease you want to prevent before you attempt to treat for it or prevent against it. Providing incorrect vaccines during completely different outbreaks can make matters even worse.