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Should You Vaccinate Your Chickens?


Deciding if you should vaccinate your chickens depends on how likely they are to encounter infectious diseases. You may not need to vaccinate if you maintain impeccable biosecurity, because doing so significantly reduces your flock’s risk of acquiring a disease.

Unfortunately, many backyard chicken keepers either don’t know about biosecurity or just don’t think it’s important. As a result, their chickens may suffer from a disease that is preventable with a readily available vaccine.

Vaccines must be use or disposed of once opened, but most vaccines come in enough doses for 1,000 chickens. Some come only in 5,000 doses, while others have 10,000 doses. Either way, that’s way more chickens than most backyard keepers have.

Still, depending on how you value your flock and whether a certain disease is prevalent in your area, you might want to incur the expense, use what you need, and dispose of the rest. Or you might coordinate with other chicken keepers to share the cost.

Vaccines are available online from Valley Vet Supply and Jeffers Pet Supply, among others. Your local veterinarian or poultry Extension agent may suggest additional sources.

Besides the vaccine, you’ll need syringes and needles or other methods of vaccine application, usually available from the same sources. For best results, be sure to read and follow directions that come with the vaccine. Here are some of the diseases for which vaccines are available:

Marek’s Disease

Marek’s disease is extremely common. Vaccination against Marek’s disease is the therefore common for backyard chickens, even though it is somewhat controversial. It is one of the few vaccines offered by some hatcheries, including Cackle Hatchery®.

Chicks receive the vaccine as soon as they come out of the incubator, before they run the chance of encountering the Marek’s virus. If you hatch your own chicks, have the vaccine ready to use as soon as they hatch. If you order unnvaccinated chicks, be prepared to vaccinate as soon as they arrive in the mail.

A booster at 6 weeks of age helps increase resistance. These shots go under the skin at the back of the chick’s neck. Be aware that handling this vaccine may make your eyes itch for a couple of days.

Vaccination does not prevent chickens from becoming infected by and spreading the Marek’s virus. But it does prevent the virus from causing tumors and paralysis. And it reduces shedding of the virus by infected birds.


Coccidiosis is another vaccine some hatcheries offer. This vaccine is either sprayed on newly hatched chicks as a gentle mist, or added to their first feed. It produces a low level of infection through which chicks develop immunity, similar to a trickle infection resulting from natural exposure.

Another way to inoculate chicks with a low level of infection is through natural exposure, by introducing coccidia into the brooder. Simply stir into brooder bedding a little bit of soil from the chicken yard or bedding from a coop that houses healthy mature chickens.

Compared to the use of an anticoccidial medication, inoculation does not cause the development of drug-resistant strains of coccidia. Nevertheless, a lot of backyard chicken keepers prefer to prevent coccidiosis by feeding chicks medicated starter. Be aware chicks vaccinated against coccidiosis should never be fed medicated starter because it would neutralize the vaccine.

Fowl Pox

Where fowl pox is a problem, vaccination may be necessary. A fowl pox vaccination kit consisting of vaccine, diluent, and a two-prong wing-web stabber. The stabber injects the mixed vaccine into the wing web of chickens at 12 and 16 weeks of age.

Blood sucking insects, especially mosquitoes, spread pox. Where mosquitoes are prevalent all year, you may need to vaccinate your chickens twice. Vaccination at day old will confer temporary immunity. Revaccination then confers permanent immunity.


Laryngotracheitis often spreads at poultry shows, causing chickens to cough and gasp. Laryngo vaccine works best as a preventive in chicks past the age of 6 weeks. But in the face of an outbreak, vaccinating younger birds will protect them from infection. The vaccine is applied as eye drops.

Infectious Bronchitis & Newcastle Disease

Infectious bronchitis is similar to laryngotracheitis, but spreads more easily yet is less severe. It is one of several viruses that cause cold-like signs, including coughing, runny nose, and swollen eyes. The signs are similar to Newcastle disease, and the two vaccines are often conbined.

Avian Influenza

The United States Department of Agriculture is currently testing a number of avian influenza vaccines. The problem with vaccinating chickens against bird flu is that the virus keeps mutating. So being ready with a vaccine against the latest strain can be tricky. Plus it will probably be several years before bird flu vaccine becomes available to backyard chicken keepers.

Deciding to Vaccinate Your Chickens

With the exceptions of Marek’s disease and coccidiosis, both of which are fairly common, vaccinate your chickens only against diseases your birds have a reasonable risk of getting. Additionally, some states require exhibitors at poultry shows to vaccinate their birds against certain diseases. Your veterinarian or state Extension poultry specialist can help you work out a vaccination schedule based on the specific needs of your flock.

And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.

Gail Damerow is author of The Chicken Health Handbook, which includes detailed descriptions along with preventive methods for these and other poultry diseases.

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