Inoculation is always in debate, whether to inoculate to prevent spread of diseases or assume the risk that poultry will be immune and thrive. The reality is, poultry are subject to a variety of diseases and illness, and many of these are airborne, so even the best kept flock with top notch bio-security in place can and do succumb to disease. Stresses from predators, whether by attack or nearby, can cause a decline in the chicken immune system. Even transporting from one farm to another causes stress and an otherwise healthy chicken may decline rapidly without special attention to the stressors. But more importantly, there are pathogens everywhere, and why it is very important to practice good bio-security as well as keep the immune system at optimum and when new chickens are brought in they should be kept under quarantine until they adjust to pathogens they may not have an immunity or resistance to. Your existing flock can also succumb to pathogens brought in by other birds including wild species, as proven by the devastating Avian Flu outbreaks across the nation in 2015. At that time, there was no vaccine available to the industry and all flocks that tested positive for Avian Flu were euthanized in the millions, with industry economic losses in the billions. Avian Flu did not just hit the commercial industry; there were backyard flocks reported in many areas, so this is not just an industry concern.
Is Vaccination Recommended?
The AAAP, Associated Avian Veterinarians fully endorse inoculation for disease prevention, and inoculations are available from hatcheries for the most common poultry diseases for additional cost. Marek's disease is one vaccination offered by chick hatcheries to prevent the disease. Inoculation is purely voluntary, but the service is available when chicks are ordered. Cost may vary from one hatchery to another.
Should you vaccinate?
That is entirely up to you, however arm yourself with good solid information so you are completely informed about why or why not to vaccinate. There are two sides to this debate, those that believe in a holistic approach to raising chickens and those that do not wish to take the risk of an incurable disease that may be contracted at any time with or without a holistic regimen.
Is it a good idea to vaccinate?
Yes and it is highly recommended. It isn't just your flock that can be affected. Pathogens travel on clothing, shoes, car tires, as you visit your local farms or when others visit your farm, which allows those pathogens to infect other flocks far and wide. These pathogens are highly contagious and most incurable.
Inoculate for Marek's Disease!
Marek's Disease is in the environment, it can affect various species of fowl and mortality rate if contracted can be up to 100%. This disease penetrates the feather follicles, so dander that drops from the fowl, is infected and will infect others. Those that do survive, will be basically immune to it, but if their immune system is low, they can succumb to other illnesses and expire from secondary pathogens. But once Marek's has infected your flock, any new birds that are brought in will be infected if they are not vaccinated.
Other diseases, such as New Castle or Infectious Bronchitis, can spread from flock to flock, so if there is an outbreak of some disease in your region it would definitely be a good idea to check with your veterinarian about inoculation or treatment.
If you have ever experienced an outbreak of Marek's or New Castle or Infectious Bronchitis, you will know these are not easy to get under control and will require some strong cleaning solutions and extreme bio-security to prevent further outbreak. With some diseases, you can never raise poultry in that environment again, because the pathogen continues to be active even through freezing weather for very long periods of time.
Always monitor your flocks, a daily routine of observation for any signs of illness is very important in getting quick control of any illness or disease. If you notice even one flock member sneezing, wheezing, railing, listless or floundering you must act quickly. You may notice a drop in egg production or activity, without a known cause, these should be a head's up to observe more carefully. These illnesses spread very quickly and treatment is vital to survival. You cannot wait a week or more assuming they will magically get better.
Any signs mean quick action is necessary to find the cause and treat as needed. If you are not able to determine the problem by yourself, contact your local vet.
If any chickens suddenly expire from an unknown cause, those need to be examined by your local vet or State veterinary lab, to determine whether it is disease related. The cost is usually very minimal and will bring peace of mind if the cause was not disease or illness, but will also provide you the information necessary to treat as needed.
Inoculations are for the most part only effective to ward off disease, and rarely effective after disease strikes, which is the main reason for having chicks inoculated from the start, so the vaccination has time to work into the system through the growing stages. Some diseases will rear their ugly head within a few weeks or may strike at the juvenile stage of growth, so the vaccinations are formulated to be systemic to cover these stages of growth and resistance. Vaccination should never replace the need for good bio-security measures. Keeping nesting boxes, coops and runs clean, waterers and feeders sterilized, and keeping rain water from settling in the chicken runs are all ways to prevent the spread of infectious pathogens.
Can you inoculate your own fowl?
It is not economical to vaccinate your own chicks or adults if you're raising only a backyard flock with a few chickens, since most vaccines are formulated for the poultry industry, and only available in large doses to treat hundreds if not thousands of birds at a time. To our knowledge there are no vaccines available in small quantity.
Note: Due to the new Veterinarian Directive, effective January 2017, you may have to have a prescription from your vet to obtain vaccines if you are prepared to innoculate your own chicks. Currently only water soluable antibiotics are included in the Directive, there may be more poultry health products added without notice. Check with your local supplier or your own vet periodically for any updates to the directive.
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