Diary of a Poultry Farmer: Understanding booster vaccines and how to ensure they work

The other week before I left Nairobi for upcountry to vote, my farm manager sent me a list of things to do and buy.

The latter were dog food, firewood, wood shavings for the chicken house, washing detergent and salt.

I compared the list to what he had sent with my week-by-week to-do-list and noticed that some things were missing. I called him immediately.

“I can’t see any vaccines on the list,” I said, obviously perplexed.

In my mind, I knew that between week six and 12, there were four vaccines to be administered.

When I looked at the schedule again, I quickly saw that the week six fowl pox vaccine should be followed up with the second Newcastle, fowl typhoid and the first for infectious coryza at week eight, nine and 12 respectively (Seeds of Gold, July 22, 2017).

When I mentioned this to him, he responded with the usual confidence in his voice. “We’d already administered Newcastle at week three!”

I then told him that we need to repeat the Newcastle. At first, he wasn’t convinced but after explaining to him, we were on the same page.

One thing I have learnt from the good vets is that some vaccines like Newcastle and Gumboro need booster shots to make sure that they are still effectively guarding against the virus they are designed to fight.

A booster dose is given after the initial immunisation to increase immunity against that antigen back to protective levels. The shots are key in stopping the return or contraction of diseases.

Other vaccines like Marek’s, fowl typhoid and fowl cholera only need to be given once to provide lifelong protection.

I then went through the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for vaccine administration with him.

It highlights key steps and precautions for vaccine administration. As a rule, every farm must have its own.

For sure, drinking water vaccination is a practical approach if one is dealing with many birds.


This is because it isn’t labour intensive as compared to say fowl pox wing web stab, which requires that you inject one bird at a time (Seeds of Gold, August 5, 2017).

However, there’s one thing you need to know. At the end of the day, even if you are administering vaccines in mass through water, the aim is still to deliver a minimum of one dose of the vaccine to the immune system of each bird and many things can go wrong.

diaryimg2 Diary of a Poultry Farmer: Understanding booster vaccines and how to ensure they work

Standard Operating Procedure for drinking water vaccination. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

To ensure I get good results, I developed the SOP as a guide and reminder of the key steps.

It lists 10 items and precautions for water vaccine administration and it includes things such as the volume of water to use to mix the vaccine, vaccine preparation, water withdrawal period, timing of vaccination and cleaning the drinkers.

Now, I have divided the SOP into “processes” and “structures”. Structural measures relate to the physical design of the area where vaccine preparation is done, the containers to be used and items to be bought.

Process measures are duties my worker undertakes during vaccine preparation to ensure that as much of the virus contained in the vaccine is kept alive and that each bird has a chance to receive enough vaccine.

On this day, I enquired about steps three (availability of skimmed milk), five (water withdrawal time), six (timing of vaccination) and nine (protection from inactivation) for reasons I will explain.

If you recall, I always buy vaccine on the morning it is to be administered.

The problem with this is that sometimes the road traffic is heavy and by the time Cleophas, the farm manager, returns on the farm, the birds would have gone without water for up to four hours.

The problem with this is that when the birds are very thirsty by the time the vaccine is given, they tend to fight a lot and spill the water and the vaccine.

I, therefore, advised him to refrigerate the vaccine overnight and give the following morning when the birds exhibit peak activity and peak water consumption.

I was lucky there was no electricity blackout meaning the vaccine cold chain was not broken.

Vaccination is an integral part of a good poultry management programme, as it is key in the success of a farm.

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