By Laura Haagerty — Do you know the proper way to administer the Marek’s vaccine to your chicks? Marek’s disease is very prevalent everywhere there is poultry, and if your chickens catch it there is no cure. Once the sick chicken symptoms are apparent, it’s too late. If you order your chicks from a hatchery, the Marek’s vaccine is usually administered to chickens at the hatchery. Of course, it is easiest to order chicks already vaccinated, but if you are hatching your own birds, or didn’t order pre-vaccinated chicks, vaccinating chicks is not hard once you get the hang of it, and worth doing to prevent losses in your flocks of backyard chickens.
When you order the Marek’s vaccine, it comes in two parts, the small vial with the wafer of vaccine itself, and the large vial of dilutant. You only need to refrigerate the vaccine itself, not the dilutant.
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How to Administer the Marek’s Vaccine to Poultry Chicks
You will need:
One 3 ml syringe
A number of 1 ml syringes (I use one syringe for about every three chicks.)
Before you begin, put a layer of paper towel down onto the table on which you will work. You want a surface that won’t be slippery.
Remove the metal top from the bottles of vaccine and dilutant. Clean both with the alcohol on a cotton ball.
Step 1: Using a sterile 3 ml syringe, withdraw 3 ml of dilutant from the bottle.
Step 2: Insert the syringe into the small bottle of vaccine and insert the dilutant. Remove the syringe. Swish the small bottle around so that the vaccine wafer completely dissolves.
Step 3: Pull back on the plunger of the 3 ml syringe to fill it with about 2 to 3 ml of air. This is very important.
Step 4: Put the syringe needle tip back into the small vaccine vial (do not put it in too much.) Inject the air into the vial (this breaks the vacuum in the vial.) Leave the syringe needle in the vial, do not remove it.With the needle still in the vial, tilt the whole thing upside down and pull back the syringe plunger so as to draw back into the syringe the entire contents of the small vaccine vial.
Step 5: Remove the syringe from the vaccine vial, and insert it into the dilutant bottle. Push the plunger down so that the contents of the syringe (with the now dissolved vaccine) are released into the dilutant bottle. Gently swirl the dilutant bottle so that the vaccine is evenly distributed. Now you’re ready to use the vaccine.
Step 6: Place a layer of paper towel into the bottom of two boxes. Put all the un-vaccinated chicks into one box (the other box is to put them in once you vaccinate them, so you’ll know which ones have been done.) Take a small syringe (the 1 ml ones that diabetics use are perfect for this.) Fill it with 0.2 ml (two tenths) of the vaccine mixture (which is now in the dilutant bottle.)
Step 7: Pick up a chick and place it on the paper towel in front of you. Grasp it gently behind the neck, pulling up a small fold of skin. Cup the chick in your hand while doing this vaccination process, as they often push backwards with their feet. For the first several times it is helpful to have someone hold the chick while you do the actual injection.
This vaccination is subcutaneous. That means under the skin. You do not want to put the vaccine into the muscles or veins of the chick.
Step 8: Gently inject the vaccine into the fold of skin. You will feel a small bump growing under the bird’s skin as the vaccine goes in. If you insert the needle too far or not far enough, you will feel your fingers get wet, and you will have to start over with that one.
Take the vaccinated chick and put it into the second box, which is for the ones who have been done.
When you’re finished with them all, put them back into the brooder right away so they won’t get chilled. Watch them over the next few days for pasted vent or other reactions.
- The “chicks” in these images are actually guinea keets, and don’t generally get Marek’s disease, but were the only “chick” examples I had available at the time of this writing.
- Marek’s vaccine should only be given to health one-day-old baby chicks.
- Store wafer in fridge, not over 45 degrees.
- The Marek’s vaccine is only good for two hours after mixing, so be sure to dispose of any remaining vaccine properly.
Laura Haggarty has been working with poultry since 2000, and her family has had poultry and other livestock since the early 1900s. She and her family live on a farm in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, where they have horses, goats, and chickens. She is a certified 4-H leader, co-founder and Secretary/Treasurer of the American Buckeye Poultry Club, and a Life Member of the ABA and the APA.