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Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated Chicks. Does it Matter?

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Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated Chicks. Does it Matter?

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Does it matter whether you buy vaccinated or unvaccinated baby chicks to create or grow your backyard flock of egg-laying hens?

healthy unvaccinated baby chicks on grass

With Easter just a couple of weeks away, I thought I would pen a few words about buying chicks for your kids this Holiday.

Like many parents, I purchased baby chicks for my kids at Easter, who quickly grew within a few weeks to egg-laying birds that we kept in a backyard coop.

As I’ve been a backyard poultry keeper for many years now, I thought I would opine on my experience with vaccinated versus vaccinated birds over the years!

Does it really matter? The answer might surprise you.

Most Hatcheries Vaccinate Chicks While Still in the Egg

Vaccination in the hatchery has always been considered by the industry to be the “best case scenario” for baby chicks. (1)

For many years, only a few vaccines were administered. These included:

  • Marek’s disease (MD)
  • Infectious bronchitis (IB)
  • Coccidiosis
  • Newcastle disease (ND)
  • Swollen head syndrome (SHS)

In recent years, new developments in chick vaccination have occurred with vaccination by eye drop, coarse spray and fine spray, subcutaneous injection at day old, and the increasingly popular ‘in-ovo’ injection a few days before the chick hatches. Below is a video of the process.

This has allowed many more injections to occur.

Vaccinated Hens Don’t Lay As Long!

In my experience keeping egg-laying hens, those that were vaccinated as chicks do not tend to lay eggs very long.

While they seem to lay normally for the first year to year and a half, after that, egg production declines sharply compared with unvaccinated hens.

By comparison, unvaccinated hens I’ve kept over the years will lay regularly until they are 5-6 years old!

Vaccinated Hens Are Sickly

Another problem with hens that were vaccinated as chicks is that they tend to be much more sickly.

To give you some idea, out of a batch of 6 vaccinated chicks I raised a little over 3 years ago, only 2 remain (and one of those is currently sick and has only ever laid deformed eggs).

Some of you might be wondering why I got vaccinated chicks to begin with.

The reason is that I was under the impression that the feed store where I bought them had unvaxed chicks. Unfortunately, this was a mistake on my part.

This mistake, however, gave me a perspective for comparison, which I am now sharing with you!

Weaker Hens Preferred by Predators

Another thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the vaccinated hens are targeted more by predators.

For example, over the last 5 years we’ve increasingly experienced hawk attacks in our neighborhood due to some heavy development in a rural area to the north of our community.

Without exception, the hens that have fallen prey to the hawks were vaccinated.

Predators instinctively know which animals are the weakest and sickest. They tend to go for these animals as it provides a higher rate of success.

Is it just a coincidence that every single hen I’ve lost to a hawk over the last few years was vaccinated? Perhaps, but given that they were more sickly anyway, I doubt that it was happenstance.

Always Insist on Unvaxed Chicks!

My recommendation to those who keep backyard hens is that it is worth it to spend the time seeking out unvaccinated chicks.

And, of course, once you have these cuties, be sure to feed them organic unmedicated feed!

You spend a lot of time raising these babies into adults, and sickly birds that don’t lay as long are not a good investment in my experience.

In addition, who knows what the decreased nutritional value of their eggs might be due to this medicalization?

For example, one of my vaxed hens consistently lays deformed eggs (and always has). I’ve never had an unvaxed hen lay this type of egg.

Even if the egg looks normal, however, are the yolk and white actually the same? We have no idea at this point. I haven’t found any research that has looked into it.

Where to Get Unvaccinated Chicks

There are three ways to ensure that the baby chicks you select for your family to grow up into egg layers are unmedicalized.

Feed Store

Some feed stores will have unvaccinated chicks.

Hint: These establishments will almost always be independently owned.

However, some locally owned feed stores will have vaccinated chicks too, so be sure to ask and don’t assume (which was my mistake!).

Hatcheries

While fewer and fewer hatcheries are offering unvaccinated chicks, there are still a few around.

Hoover’s Hatchery is the one I recommend looking into (you select vaccination status at checkout).

The minimum purchase is 15 chicks, so buying with a friend or two is a good idea if you only want a few chicks at a time.

Hatch Your Own!

Another great option is to hatch your own chicks.

All you need is a rooster and a DIY egg incubator to get started.

We got a large, formidable, and yet gentle cockerel from a local rooster sanctuary. You don’t even have to raise them from a chick if you don’t want to.

Note that hatching chicks laid from unvaccinated hens is going to produce the best results!

Have you noticed a difference at your house between the health and egg-laying capacity between vaccinated and unvaccinated hens?

Please share your experience with us!

References

(1) Vaccination in the Hatchery

(2) Poultry Vaccinations

(3) Hoover’s Hatchery

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