Do chickens need vaccines? Well, that depends!
We all want our chickens to be healthy, right? With all the conflicting information out there, you might be completely confused whether your chickens need vaccines or not.
In this article, I’ll be tackling three of the biggest chicken vaccinations. I’ll give you my personal strategies regarding them, and I’ll answer the question: “Do chickens need vaccinations?”
Most chicken vaccines – compared to people vaccines – are not really available to backyard chicken owners.
You might find them available through a vet or a hatchery, but usually they’re given to chickens that are in the layer industry – and those companies employ vets who can administer vaccines. So, they’re more likely to have them available.
Before we discuss this subject, please remember I’m not a vet, and I’m not qualified to give you any sort of veterinary advice. This is just information I’ve learned over the years from raising chickens and I’ve had to make some of these decisions myself.
The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you whether or not you should vaccinate your chickens. You’ll discover the different options available, and then you can go ahead and make a decision yourself about whether or not it’s right for you.
Also, in this article, we’re looking at vaccines for layers. There are vaccines for broilers (meat chickens), but in all likelihood, if you’re raising chickens for meat, you probably don’t want to give them any vaccines anyways because it’s likely not part of your lifestyle.
My Go-To Resource For Health Queries
For this article, I’ve pulled information from the Merck Veterinary Manual. If you ever have any questions about different medications for chickens, or even just what the symptoms your chicken is exhibiting might mean, I have personally found the Merck Veterinary Manual to be full of value.
Whenever we encounter an issue on our farm, it’s actually the first resource we go to. If I need to look up a dosage for a medication or if I need to know what medications are available for a specific issue that we’re dealing with, it’s usually where I go. It doesn’t always have all of the answers, but it’s a really good place to start.
The first vaccine that we’ll talk about is the vaccine for Marek’s disease. This is a vaccine you’ll find the most common at hatcheries. There’s no real way to help a chicken if they contract Marek’s.
However, personally, I don’t vaccinate my chickens for Marek’s. There’s no real reason why; I just don’t do it.
We haven’t really had it be an issue on our farm. Maybe one day when it is an issue, I will change my mind. But we’ve been doing this for many years, and it really hasn’t been a problem.
Most hatcheries will offer it. Farm stores don’t, so I wouldn’t go into a farm store and ask if the chicks had been vaccinated for Marek’s when you go to buy them.
I’ve also not heard of any farm store that sells a Marek’s vaccine. It’s something that you would either have to get from a hatchery or from a vet.
Newcastle Virus and Infectious Bronchitis
The next vaccine we’ll talk about is the vaccine for Newcastle and Infectious Bronchitis. Those two, for some reason, are usually administered together.
Newcastle is on the same level as Marek’s – it’s pretty deadly. You might’ve heard that, in California, there have been lots of outbreaks of the Newcastle virus, and whole flocks have been destroyed, or people have had to euthanize their chickens.
Because it’s so deadly, people tend to vaccinate for it.
Some hatcheries offer it, some don’t. You should call the individual hatchery you’re going to purchase your chicks from and see if they offer it.
Sometimes vets offer it, sometimes they don’t, so you should research on your end to see where it’s available (and if it’s even available) for your chickens.
Similarly, a lot of companies that have lots of layer chickens want to vaccinate for infectious bronchitis to make sure that their entire flock – which could be thousands of chickens – doesn’t catch it.
Again, is it really necessary for your flock? I can’t really say. It’s going to be completely up to you to make that decision, but it’s another option.
Fowl pox is a virus where the chickens get black spots on their combs. It’s easily confused with frostbite. It’s not as deadly as Marek’s and Newcastle.
I personally wouldn’t vaccinate my flock for fowl pox. We’ve had it here, and our chickens have gone through it just fine. But you should talk to your vet about whether or not to vaccinate your own chickens. You’re going to have to make the decision for yourself.
I have not heard of a vet that gives this vaccine. We also live in an area where there aren’t a lot of chicken vets. We do have a lot of chicken farms – broiler farms – but, again, that’s a different breed than what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about layers.
Your vet might have access to it or you might have a really good poultry vet in your area who could offer these different options to you.
What I Personally Do
I don’t personally vaccinate my chickens for any of these diseases. I don’t think it’s necessary.
But your area, especially if you live in California, it might be necessary. Or you might feel like you’re doing a better job as a chicken owner for having done it. It’s completely up to you.
These are just the different options that I have found to be available to backyard chicken owners, and that you might want to consider.
So should you vaccinate your chickens? It’s up to you!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.