University of Florida

Vaccinating Small Poultry Flocks

Commercial poultry is typically vaccinated, but small flock owners rarely vaccinate their birds. This is usually 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. Unfortunately, small flocks do suffer from diseases that could be controlled by vaccines.

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

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 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, as 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. 06/2012).


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