Group of free-range chicken [iStockphoto]

In poultry farming today, vaccination plays a crucial role in the day-to-day management of the health of your poultry flock. Vaccination or immunisation as others prefer to call it can prevent several poultry diseases. Vaccination is a process in which the healthy chickens are ‘infected’ in a controlled manner with dead or weakened disease-causing pathogen (antigen). After vaccination, the birds’ own immune system will respond to the vaccine by activating an army of cells designed to attack and destroy the invaders before they cause damage to the birds, this is what we refer to as immunizations. Here are the 7 tips for an effective immunisation

  1. Only vaccinate healthy chicks or flock.

The principal objective of any vaccination program is to protect birds from clinical and subclinical diseases. It is therefore only logical that only healthy and vibrant chicks or flocks are prepared for vaccination. A good quality chick should be clean and active, stand firm and walk well, be alert and active and free from deformities. If your farm is registering daily mortalities of 0.3% and above in the last 7 days consistently, delay vaccination and seek help from qualified Vet. Vaccinating diseased flocks will only make a bad situation worse. 

  1. Administer at least one dose per bird- never underdose vaccines.

In all vaccination protocols, it is always advised that we only give one dose of vaccine per bird. Vaccines are drugs that should not be sold over the counter and should be administered by Vets or Paravets who will ensure that the manufacturer’s instructions are strictly adhered to. It is extremely important that the vaccines get properly distributed over the entire poultry house when administered via the water or spraying. Injectable vaccines must be handled with care, this method involves the use of a needle to insert the vaccine into the breast muscles of a chicken. Regularly check the equipment to ensure that the correct dose is administered.

  1. Chose the correct mode of vaccine for administration

Most vaccines belong to two categories, they can either be live or killed depending on the manufacturer. Both are used in poultry and can be stressful and painful for the chicks, as each vaccination will result in a defense reaction. Live vaccines are mainly administered through drinking water while killed vaccines are injected under the skin or in the muscles. It is critical that only professionals are involved in the choice of vaccine and the mode of administration.

  1. Keep your vaccines safely for good efficacy.

Nearly all vaccines have specific instructions on storage and handling requirements. Some live vaccines need to be kept in fridges at 2-8OCelcius while others like Marek’s need to be frozen in liquid nitrogen. Poor storage conditions and breaks in maintaining the cold chain is the single most impediment to any successful flock immunization.

  1. Administer appropriate strain of vaccines for the type of bird.

Of the two types of vaccines, Live and killed, Live respiratory vaccines generate higher levels of immunity and are given in the early life during growing period especially for short-living birds, while killed vaccines are more effective if ‘primed’ with an appropriate live vaccine, it is given to long-living birds like layer pullets. The complexity of this scenario makes it mandatory that vaccination is done under the supervision of a qualified animal health practitioner.

  1. Avoid heat stress during vaccine administration.

Maintaining chickens within their proper thermal comfort zone at all ages and stages of growth and production is essential for a healthy, good welfare, livability, and immunization. Hot house temperatures may result into reduced efficacy of vaccines especially during drinking water administration in the farms.

  1. Apply the correct route of administration of vaccines.

To achieve an effective vaccination, we must aim at efficiently delivering a full dose of vaccine to each bird in the group on the same time and day. There are different ways to administer vaccines to your flocks, it is crucial that the correct method is used for each vaccine. Drinking water technique only confer 80% of bird coverage while respiratory vaccines are best delivered by spray technique or by ocular and nasal drop routes.

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