Poultry Vaccination Tips and Tricks

Proper vaccination is essential to prevent diseases and improve poultry performance. 

To better understand vaccination methods and ideal vaccine storage, we have to consider the composition of the vaccines.

Live vaccines contain a virus or bacteria that is alive but modified to stimulate immunity without causing disease. Live vaccines provide short-term protection and can be delivered through spray, drinking water, or wing web injection.

Killed vaccines contain an inactivated virus or bacteria with an oil carrier (adjuvant). The carrier helps optimize the immune response of the killed vaccines. These vaccines generate a long-term immune response and are injectable. 

This newsletter article will focus on tips and tricks for effective vaccination in poultry. A workshop that focused on layers and pullets inspired most of the recommendations in this article, however some aspects of vaccine conservation and use are common for all poultry. 

Vaccine Storage

According to poultry veterinarian Dr. Teryn Girard, poor vaccine storage is the number one reason for vaccination failure. 

Live vaccines must be kept at cold temperatures and can be killed by poor storage. Thermometers or a RH/Temp Data Logger in the fridge can track and prevent this. Measuring and recording minimum and maximum temperatures in the fridge daily is useful for troubleshooting vaccine storage problems. 

When storing vaccines, it is important to consider the location of the vaccine in the fridge, how full the fridge is, and how fridge temperature measurements are done.

Ideally, vaccines should be stored in the middle of the fridge. Do not store vaccines in the fridge door because temperature variations are easier to occur at that location.

A full fridge can have unequal temperature and vaccine quality can be reduced in warmer spots inside the fridge. 

Producers should record the fridge temperature at the same time every day to create a routine and avoid forgetting. Measuring at the same time of day also takes into account the temperature variations that might happen during the day.

Mixing live vaccines

Live vaccines usually come as lyophilized (freeze-dried) powder, and they have to be mixed with water before use. Some factors have to be considered when mixing vaccines:

• The water temperature of the stock solution is critical. It should be around fridge temperature (2-6°C).

• The water used should ideally be distilled water or demineralized water.

• Avoid using water with any sanitizers or contamination.

• Use a stabilizer such as a Vacc Safe tab.

• The final vaccine volume is variable. For example, for vaccines in water, it will depend on how much water the birds are consuming. For spray vaccines, it will depend on how much water your sprayer uses, how many cages and birds you have in the barn, and the length of each aisle or barn section.

Make sure all the vaccine is out of the vial by gently rinsing it in your stock solution multiple times and don’t forget to wear gloves.

Mix the vaccine in a clean stock bucket. That bucket shouldn’t be used for any other products or chores and should not have residue cleaning material in it.

Using ice to reduce water temperature before mixing vaccines is not recommended. Ice can have chlorine (some producers use Vacc Safe to make their own ice to alleviate this). Even if you use distilled water for ice, you will get uneven temperatures. If you plan to use ice, ensure it is fully stirred and melted so that you don’t have pockets of colder and warmer water. It is recommended to use refrigerated water.

Spray (aerosol) vaccination

Spray vaccination is a common delivery method for respiratory diseases like Bronchitis. The goal of spray vaccination is to get droplets on the eyes and upper airways of the birds to develop immunity. 

For the vaccine to be effective, the droplet/nozzle size should be greater than 100 microns. However, it can decrease to 80-100 microns after the first two spray vaccines for that same disease. Smaller droplets can be carried away with the air movement and not reach the birds.

Equipment pressure will also influence vaccine distribution. Therefore, it should be between 65-75 PSI (4.5-5 Bars). 

TIP: To test your droplet size, spray a piece of paper at the same distance as the birds will be and measure what you see for droplets. It is also good to test over time to ensure your sprayer nozzle isn’t clogged because that will decrease your droplet size.

When spraying, producers should walk and spray with plain water first to see how far into the barn 1L goes and develop the stock solution accordingly.

When spraying, use the solution within 1 hour of mixing.

Lower lighting can help keep the birds calm during vaccination. However, birds should not be sleeping when spraying. They should be alert and looking at the spray.

Ventilation is important if you are spraying. Ideally, producers should turn ventilation off while vaccinating and leave it off for 15 minutes after vaccinating so the droplets have time to settle on the birds.

However, in some circumstances, the barn may get too hot with the ventilation off. Vaccinating early in the morning can help prevent this challenge. Producers can do a section at a time to allow for ventilation between each group. If possible, turn emergency ventilation on so it will come on if it gets too hot. Watch the top layer of cages; panting behavior is a bird’s last resort for coping with heat. If panting is observed, the ventilation should be turned back on regardless of the vaccination process. Another option if it is too hot: minimum ventilation can be running, but another vaccination should be done later to compensate for the reduced effect due to the ventilation.

For caged pullets, ensure the pressure makes the spray reach the back of the cages. The nozzle should be around 20cm from the front of the cage. The spray should be at bird head height, and ideally, the birds should be looking at the spray. It is helpful to dim the lights in your barn and then add a red or green light to the front of your sprayer, to gain the attention of the birds.

Water vaccination

Drinking water quality is essential in water vaccination. Producers should shut off all acidifiers, sanitizers, antibiotics, and other water products 72 hours before and after water vaccination.

At a concentration designed to kill viruses and bacteria at drinking water levels, peroxide and chlorine are dangerous to vaccines. In an ideal world, producers should shut off all sanitizers 72 hours before and after water vaccination. However, we need to be mindful that some producers might be bringing untreated water (ex., if dugout water is used, producers may not want the water sanitation off for any period of time). If the water is coming into the barn with peroxide already that can’t be shut off, the first thing to do would be to measure the antibody titers in your flock – if blood titers are ok, carry on! If it is a problem, cisterns or stock solutions may be options. If you use peroxide and leave it in a tank, the peroxide will evaporate, but this does not work for chloramines. Charcoal filters may work to some degree.

The vaccine should have a stabilizer with dye to make it possible to see where the vaccine is in the waterline. Producers should charge the lines until the dye with the vaccine appears at the end of the lines.

With drinking water delivery, we want it to be in the water long enough that all birds drink. The range of 2-3 hours should be enough time for most birds to drink. A short period of water deprivation before vaccination might help birds to consume the vaccine faster.

Consider using the PIP Poultry Water App. This is a great tool that is available for free to all Albertan Poultry Producers. This app contains information that will allow you to delve deeper into understanding water sanitizers and managing water during vaccination procedures involving water.

Injectable vaccines 

Killed vaccines on-farm are injected intramuscularly. Infectious bronchitis, Newcastle disease, and salmonella can be injected into the muscle on-farm between 14-18 weeks of age.

During on-farm vaccination, the vaccine must be warmed to room temperature in a warm water bath. 

Since injectable vaccines are individual for each bird, producers should double-check the ideal dose volume for each vaccine.

Needle gauge and length should also be considered for vaccine effectiveness and to avoid bird injury. For manual injection, the needle gauge should be 18G and length ¼ inch. If machines are used, the needle gauge should be 18G, but the length should be 1 inch.

The injection needle should be changed at least every 500 birds to reduce the chance of injury to the bird and possible needle contamination. Injecting with a dull needle is painful – check it and change it when needed (including if bent or barbed) regardless of the number of birds. 

Intramuscular vaccines are best in the breast muscle. If the needle is too short, it will not get fully into the breast muscle, and it can cause bacterial contamination. If you choose to provide intramuscular vaccines into the leg of the bird, ensure proper training and handling is utilized or your birds can be severely injured.  

For more effective immunity, it is important to reduce bird stress during injectable vaccination. Producers can have the birds slightly above body weight target and give a vitamin B supplementation 2-3 days before and after vaccination to help minimize the impact of the vaccine on the birds.

If possible, producers should avoid vaccinating when there are other stressful moments such as diet or barn change. It is also important to handle the birds properly during vaccine application.

If producers have questions about their vaccination method, schedule, or titers, they should consult their poultry vet.

Information obtained from PIP and EFA’s Risk Management Flock Talk. 

Thanks to Jenna Griffin (Egg Farmers of Alberta), Dr. Teryn Girard, Dr. Hollyn Maloney and Dr. Hayley Bowling (Prairie Livestock Veterinarians) for their help with this newsletter article. 

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