Learning about potential poultry disease is a step towards managing potential causes. We will continue to add helpful fact sheets.

Disinfectants_print version
Shed Disinfection

In the wild, birds are migratory and leave their waste products behind. When we keep any animals in the one place for a long period we get a build up of their wastes, and with it the potential nasties that live in the wastes. The trouble is the volume wastes like manure we can see, so it’s easy to handle them. Dryness is the best control with lots of litter, and if it remains dry, then annual removal.

But bugs live in the very small wastes like feather dander (dust) which sits on the wire and walls, and sometimes manure can get caked on some items.
So how do we start? Remember the process for the shed and for utensils is the same. Not a bad idea to deworm the birds a week before we start.

Detergents, that is froth and bubble, are the first parts of a good job. Detergents use surfactants to lift the soil off the surfaces, and once the surface is clean we can then kill the bugs (disinfection). So first we remove all the litter and loose manure.

But we avoid dusting down the surfaces. Dry dusting just mobilises the potential bugs into the air. A little spray of water on the litter will damp down dust as this is removed. A face mask is handy, because, if our aim of keeping the shed dry has been achieved, there will be some dust.
Now we get our detergent to work, a mop and bucket with detergent, or a spray mixing gun which automatically mixes detergent in water will do a great job of getting all the surfaces wet with detergent.

Almost any detergent will do the task, but today’s laundry detergents also contain enzymes so they eat up manure, and often provide excellent disinfection as well. So usually we have what we need on hand. Mix up enough to ensure good frothy mix.

Now comes the physical bit. With the wet mop, wet rag, or wet broom rub down all the surfaces to ensure the detergent can do its work in contact with the surfaces.
Next, rinse all the surfaces with fresh water, starting from the top down. Allow to dry for a short while. Now all the soil has been removed from the shed surfaces and is on the floor.

Lastly, use an active ingredient which kills any bacteria and virus on the clean surfaces. Though they are clean we cannot see the micro-organisms and so a disinfectant is used to kill what we cannot see. We need only to use enough disinfectant so that the surfaces are whetted. A fine orchard sprayer will make a couple of litres of mixed disinfectant cover the surfaces of a substantial poultry house. Remember to cover all surfaces including the top of roof beams and the wire. Leave the surfaces to dry.

The type of disinfectant will be determined by the need. If there have been no problems and the flock is small, even domestic bleach will be adequate. As the flock gets larger, the risks get greater, the sheds get bigger, and if there have been disease problems, then the disinfectants will need to be stronger.
3 main categories are used:
1/ The Chlorines (bleaches) they have excellent activity, but are easily inactivated by organic material and break down quickly.
2/ The Quats which are a more complex disinfectant but work well in most situations. Often hard to get in smaller bottles.
3/ The long chain salts (Virkon) excellent in all activity classes, but expensive. Now available in tablet form which makes it ideal for small users.

The last thing to do is some lime on the floors and around the shed. Contrary to popular belief the lime doesn’t disinfect much, but it does change the acid level and some makes the environment less friendly to the “small” bugs. A generous covering of lime on the floor of the shed, and the areas around the shed will assist in maintaining a good environment for the good bacteria in the earth and slowing the growth of bad bacteria. Allow the shed to dry and then reintroduce the birds.

When reintroducing birds check the health check of the birds. Inspect each bird, treat for external parasites, (spray or dust), treat for scaly leg mite even if you can’t see it yet (CRC or WD40 on the legs), and check the birds general health of the birds. (good body weight, clean any dirty bottoms, clear eyes, no runny noses, no bad breath, maybe a worm tablet down the throat, check toenails and trim if needed, check spurs on males and trim if needed, check leg rings are not too tight).

Water disinfection

Many diseases can be waterborne, especially when tank water and dam water are used as our water sources. Both these sources have the possibility of wild bird contamination, and the transmission of diseases carries by wild birds.
In recent times much attention has been paid to these issues in commercial poultry, and government bodies are concerned with the possibility of disease transmission by wild birds into small flocks especially in times of exotic disease outbreak.
So small producers should be aware of that potential, and take precautions, especially if they use dam water and wild waterfowl are also using the dams, and most especially if there is an exotic disease warning.

Most disinfectants will do the job, some have distinct negatives in the taste of the water, some are difficult for the small producer to use, and some are not much good if the base water is cloudy.

Importantly, use disinfects at low concentrations, so the negatives are minimised, we need to have long contact times. So for small users, a residual chlorine like Chloramine T (or Nycex) makes great sense. Just 30 grams per 1000 litres will effectively disinfect the water, about 1 gram per 20 litre drum, and maintain its activity for a long period.
We even use it with pigeons, at the same rate for long term control of Canker (Histomoniasis). The bird gets a mini mouth wash every time it drinks, effectively reducing transmission between adult and young.
1 gram equates to about 1/5 level teaspoon.
CAUTION: all disinfectants should be considered poisonous – handle, use and dispose of strictly in accordance with the labels.

Coccidiosis_print version

Bellsouth Newsletter_early 1988, article on Coccidiosis


The first things most likely to kill chicks are lack of or too much heat in the brooder, no water, or poor feed. All the above will kill chicks in the first week, when not much else will. A lot of people worry about vaccination, but in reality it is difficult and expensive to vaccinate small flocks. Different for larger operators with hundreds of chicks. However the next most likely problem tends to show itself in the period around 6 – 12 weeks of age.

All poultry are effected by a gut parasite called coccidiosis (eimeria), sometimes called coxy or cocci (pronounced cocsi). This little protozoan parasite is sort of like dysentery in humans, it gives them the runs. Most people don’t see this disease until it gets to the stage the chicks have what we call “sick chick look”. The chicks stand huddled with eyes half closed, and at that stage a careful look shows they have stained backsides from runny droppings. The trouble is by this stage, it’s too late.

The key to this disease is seeing it when it starts, when the droppings first become loose and soft. At this stage there is no long term harm to the chicks, but when it is left until the sick chick look and streaky blood in the droppings, the chick has its gut compromised. It may never recover the gut capacity.

So the key is observation. At the first sign of loose or runny droppings in any of the chicks, start a treatment program. This disease is simple to control, and mostly it gets out of control by misunderstood management.
This becomes apparent usually in the 6-12 week period, and the usual cause goes like this.
There is a product put into chick feed, called a coccidiostat. It is intended to protect the chick until its immune system can identify and cope with the eimeria parasite.
The medication in the feed has 2 levels, starter feed and grower feed. The starter feed has a high level of preventative in it so that any infection in the first 6 weeks is supressed to almost nothing and the little infection that may be present is unlikely to overwhelm the immune system of the chick.

The grower feed is designed to allow some infection but much lower than what would affect the now maturing immune system. That infection is needed to allow the lifetime development of the immune system. The problem starts because this critical period tends to coincide with several other events. Usually people tend to take the birds off heat between 4 and 6 weeks, and this often adds a little stress to the birds.

The birds at this time are changed from starter to grower food, and if this is done abruptly the chicks often don’t take well to the diet change and so slow up in their eating. This reduces the amount of preventative they are eating also.
Then the birds are also often fed grass and other foods which further dilute the food and with it the level of medication. In addition there is usually the increased ingestion of the coccidiosis eggs which will be in the environment if chickens have been kept there before.

Altogether this means the level of medication is low and the immune system is reduced by the stress. The result is the coccidiosis gets the upper hand. So successful treatment of coccidiosis consists of 3 parts:
Part 1 Careful attention to management, heat to reduce stress, diet to make sure medication levels are correct and reduction of challenge from coccidiosis organisms in the soil.
Part 2 is careful observation. It is important to treat early when the first symptoms arise. Even the best management will still sometimes require extra management by way of medication.
Part 3 is Medication. There are now only 2 medications (apart from the infeed medications) which are suited to home use. These are Amprolium and Baycox. Baycox is a great medication, and works well, but we still regard it as the drug of last resort, it works when nothing else will. But we do not want to build resistance to this drug so we try to limit its use. It also only comes in 1 litre bottle for some hundreds of dollars so it’s very expensive. Other drugs used have now become vets script only.

Amprolium is a derivative of thiamine and so is very safe, and works by causing the coccidiosis to starve. In order to do this the medication works best used continuously for 5-7 days. Often in bad cases we will use a high dose for 5 days then a half dose for another 5 days. But the key to success is continuous treatment, started early.
By the time the birds are 12 weeks of age, if reared on the floor, they will be immune to coccidiosis. Amprolium is a prevention treatment and curative.

Notes for larger breeders
Coccidiosis vaccines are now available, administered at day old. The consist of drops in the eyes of the day old chicks so they get very weak strains of coxy early, and the immune system can recognise the parasite without being overwhelmed by it. The weak strains are very easily killed by both the bird’s immune system and any medication we might want to use. This technique suits those who want to use undedicated feed and who have enough chicks to justify the vaccine price.

For breeders who have a relatively small property, one problem which starts to arise if the build-up of coxy eggs in the soil. With the right conditions the coxy eggs live longer than 1 year meaning the new birds are producing coxy eggs which add to the previous generation. Even when the birds are immune to coxy, they still shed some eggs. This means with time the level of challenge increases, and the higher the level of challenge the harder for the bird’s own immune system to control.

More recently Molodri, one of the organic products, has come onto the market reduces the level of coxy eggs excreted by the birds, and over time reduces the level of challenge to the birds. Molodri also reduces the shedding of worm eggs as well.

Bellsouth products for controlling coccidiosis

Bellsouth Newsletter_2000 print version

Summer Newsletter from 2000 discusses the emergence summertime diseases namely Mareks Disease and Mycoplasma Gallisepticum (respiratory disorder). The antibiotic names have changed since the newsletter and are now only available by veterinarian script.

Bellsouth products Broad spectrum antibiotics for Mycoplasma

Why Vaccinate for Paramyxovirus in pigeons?


Vaccination of Pigeons. Last updated 07-03-2012. Amended 01-04-2012

I have been bombarded with questions these last weeks regarding the correct methods of vaccination and all sorts of queries about the whole pigeon vaccination process for Paramyxovirus (PMV).

It’s with some degree of trepidation that I put pen to paper as there is so much being said it is almost certain that I will ruffle as many feathers as I will smooth. I am far from the world’s expert on vaccine and vaccination, but my experience in the poultry industry bears on this matter. From my view, most mass vaccination is not carried out by regular veterinarians but under the supervision of the specialist poultry vets and contractors who specialise in vaccinating the commercial flocks of Australia.

So I bring the perspective of these large scale operations. However nothing I say replaces any of the official material data sheets, and if you are unsure, you should consult your veterinarian, which is the recommendations of the Regulatory Authorities.

In addition, the present situation sees somewhere up to 1000 people vaccinating birds for the first time with little more information than couple of YouTube videos and lots of speculation.

Why vaccinate anyway? (new)

In the last week I have had a number of enquiries about what happens if I don’t vaccinate if everyone else does. I mean if everyone else is vaccinated the disease will die out right?

This question is usually answered by someone who is an epidemiologist, which I am not. An epidemiologist is a person who studies and, hopefully, understands how diseases spread. He understands how an epidemic (see the similarity of the word) happens and develops plans to prevent it. There are a few of them who consult with the CCEAD. However it is a correct and proper question which rightly precedes all others.

Is there a case for blanket vaccination?

This description is in layman’s terms so I will try to explain well.

Firstly, when an animal has never been exposed to a particular disease it is called a naive individual that is its system has never developed any defence against the disease. Sometimes we can have a whole population which is naive that is never exposed to a particular disease and therefore has no defence. That is the case here.

Secondly, sometimes a disease can be so severe that the animal’s immune system cannot respond as fast as the disease can grow, and so the disease kills the animal before the immune system can control the disease.

Thirdly and importantly, the disease usually has 2 components, its infectious nature and the level of challenge.

If a disease is quite infectious, it means it is easy to spread from one animal to another, via various vectors. Vectors can be aerosols (the birds coughs or sneezed) contact with body fluids, i.e. Saliva in the food or water, other animals, like rats, mice, insects, pets and HUMANS. This virus can live in the respiratory tract of a person, and on hands and clothes. So a person who is exposed to the virus may get no symptoms or mild sore eyes, but will be carrying the virus, though it’s hard to say exactly how long. (a guess is 3 days).  Go sneeze in the shed and it’s infected!

This PMV is quite infectious and can be spread by all the above, but mostly bird to bird by particles sneezed out in the air, or on the food and water.

Now one bird sneezes and maybe infects a few others, the disease brews for a few days then the other birds are now infectious and they start sneezing on some others, suddenly there is a whole lot of birds sneezing and passing the disease on so there is a much increased CHALLENGE. The probability is that the disease will overwhelms the immune system, so the disease will be rampant in the individuals and soon rampant in the whole population. By now we have an epidemic that is the level of the disease is so high that transmission is not now slow but increasingly rapid as the level of challenge rises.

As you know the vaccine takes about 4 weeks to reach a peak of immune system preparedness, but by then the disease is in full blown out of control epidemic, the immune system of most individuals is overwhelmed and the mortality is high, depending on the base nastiness (called virulence) of the disease.

So if we know the threat is out there and have the time, we can vaccinate.

Firstly we need to try to limit the spread by physical means.  This means no cross flock contact, destroy the main sources of the infection and go into lockdown mode. This is what is called biosecurity, really just plain common sense.

Then we have some breathing space and we can think of vaccination. No vaccination, of itself, kills the disease. It simply warns the individual’s immune system that the disease is around, and if done correctly, ensures that the individuals have achieved an adequate immune preparedness (often called immune titre or antibody titre).

This greatly reduces the time it takes for a vaccinated individual to respond to getting sneezed on. So a wild bird gets in through the trap, and it’s a tough old bird with a great immune system which has only a tiny exposure to the disease and as a result developed enough immunity so the disease is being controlled but it is still a carrier. The bird sneezes in your loft, but instead of naive individuals, all your birds are vaccinated. Your birds get the disease, hopefully at a very low level, and the immune system springs into action because it has been for-warned of the threat. It will still get some mild symptoms, or perhaps none you see, but the chances are the immune system will kill off all the disease before it kills the host, and before the host starts spreading it everywhere. The result is that the disease has arrived, but is unable to develop sufficiently to increase the challenge level and become an epidemic. So vaccination can’t ensure your bird doesn’t get the disease but assists the immune system in killing it off so they disease cannot become an epidemic.  Makes sense.

So what happens if I vaccinate only my flyers, not my stock birds?  Vaccines are effective in preventing epidemics when a high proportion of the population is vaccinated. The disease may still occasionally enter from a wild source into the large populations but if fully vaccinated there is no chance of getting up the challenge necessary to become a full blown epidemic.  If one person coughs on you in the train, you might set a sniffy nose but not get sick enough to miss work. But if 50 people do the same the challenge level is likely to be so great your immune system will not cope and you yourself will start adding to the coughing.

So back to the stock birds. Do you look after both? Then it is likely that you would move the low-level disease from the flyers to the breeders. And once in a naive population chances it is likely it will start to circulate, the challenge level grows, and then it’s a bad outlook for the stock birds. So my advice is to vaccinate.

So what if one flyer doesn’t want to vaccinate? The vaccines give best protection when a very high proportion of the population is vaccinated, like 95-98%. If the 2 % unvaccinated are individuals widely spaced, or small family groups widely spaced, e.g. a junior with a couple of pairs, it is unlikely the population size will allow sufficient challenge to cause an epidemic. But for a population of 100’s of birds to be unvaccinated is to risk an epidemic where the challenge level is so high that even the vaccine will not protect.  Remember it’s always statistics, the relationship of level of immunity, rated to level of challenge, related to population size.

So the best is to aim for full vaccination of all birds on each property, and as they will mix, vaccinate all birds that will have contact with other flocks, so that means all flyers, breeders, and show birds. Sorry it’s long but it’s not easy to tell a complex story in a few words.

What is the vaccine we can use for this PMV?

In Australia at this time we have only a vaccine used for the disease known as Newcastle disease. This disease is the chicken equivalent of the present PMV in pigeons. PMV has a large number of variants, we are fortunate that the one effecting pigeons does not affect poultry (If it did all pigeons would now have been destroyed).

The only vaccine available at this time (March 2012) is Polvac IK is an oil based killed vaccine. It is packed in a 500ml bottle which represents 1000 doses of .5ml.

Do not use the live vaccine or the multi vaccines which are available for chickens. These may have significant side effects and must not be used. The live Newcastle vaccine also requires special permits.  

Does it work?

Firstly, it is reported as having high efficacy, with minimal side effects. There has been a lot of discussion about using live vaccines, which are water based, but the testing has shown its simply not as protective, is  also much harder to handle,  and  harder to get correct dose and easier to damage.

The oil based vaccine is reported as having a slower release with a much longer release time, and this is reported to contribute to the efficiency of immune response in the pigeon.

How long does it take to work?

It takes approximately 4 week for the immune system to reach its peak of protection from the initial dose, a booster dose at this time ensures ongoing protection, and attempts to ensure any pigeons which did not respond fully will get another shot. A follow up annual injection ensures the immune system stays primed against PMV1.

Can I vaccinate the flock if I have a few birds with symptoms?

If the virus is already active the vaccine will not stop the development of disease. After the disease has passed, it is assumed the remainder of the flock will be immune or carriers. However vaccinating the remainder may stimulate the immune system of any birds which may in fact not been exposed, or have minimal immune response.   All new hatchlings should be vaccinated, and adults boosted before next racing season.

When can I vaccinate my birds? (new comment)

Some questions arise about the best time to vaccinate and as yet the absolutely correct ages are not fully understood, especially with regard to young stock. However, vaccination is a stress to the bird as is stimulating of the immune system. So it is logical that the birds should be in good health, and not under other stresses. If possible avoid moulting time, and after racing. Use of immune boosting vitamins in the drinking water a few days before vaccination is always useful, a mix with a good level of balanced B group vitamins perhaps also with electrolytes, in the same way as you would prepare birds for a stress time. Avoid vaccination is very hot weather for the same reason. It seems logical to give the booster shots after moulting, but before breeding time, to increase the possibility of some maternal antibodies being passed to the chicks (but remember it’s a killed virus so no virus can be passed to the chicks, only some of the immune warning system is passed to the chick).

When can I mix my birds with others?

It is unwise to mix the birds before the second booster dose of vaccine that is about 4 weeks and probably ideal not to mix until 6-8 weeks from the initial vaccination.

How long can I store the vaccine?

The vaccine batches we have shown expiry dates approximately 2 years away, and should be stored in a refrigerator between 2 and 8 degrees. Always check the expiry date of the vaccine. However the life of the vaccine after opening and at room temperature is quite short measured in hours not days.  According to the manufacturer, vaccine should be used all in one operation once operation, and would be in the commercial industry, but this is impractical in the pigeon operations.

Why haven’t we had this vaccine available before?

I have had a lot of people angry because the Polvac has been here all along, so why were we not able to use it? In answer, if the relevant Authorities released the product for use in an untested application, and it all went wrong, the people wanting the vaccine would soon be accusing the Relevant Authorities of being irresponsible.

As I understand it, very limited trials have been conducted in the high security research facilities with the live virus on live pigeons in order to assess efficacy and safety. Of necessity these trials have been more restricted, and smaller, and of shorter duration, than is ideal. The results of these studies (which I have not been able to obtain) were I believe influential in the release of the Polvac vaccine. If fact when we heard that the release was to be approved, we expected 3-4 weeks between the decision and the conclusion of the paperwork, and were caught out with no vaccine and very few vaccinators, and with this material not yet completed. Sometimes the Authorities can act quickly!!

I have heard someone else tried the vaccine ages ago and the trial was successful. What have you heard? The statements of some that they have tested and run their own trials is in my view a little suspect.

To be conducted on a scientific process, it is necessary to run trials with the live virus. Just vaccinating and saying I didn’t lose any birds is not good enough. Were they actually exposed to the live virus, did they also have previous immunity as a result of a previous exposure, or some other genetic resistance?

A proper trial will have live birds in multiple groups. Some groups will be called controls, some groups will be injected with the vaccine, some injected with just the oil carrier, some injected and not exposed to the live virus, and some not injected at all.  All groups will then be exposed to measured amounts of the virus and monitored. It is usual to conduct these trials with replicates, then testing to examine immune status and importantly mortalities or lack thereof. From this, analysis and statistical review will allow us to arrive at a real figure for efficacy and safety of the vaccine. But it all takes time.

Why can’t we use the specialist vaccines available overseas?

The PMV1 vaccine available overseas was rejected, on technical grounds, as I understand it the seed virus does have some issues of purity which means it may contain some viral materials of no significance in most of the world but which are simply not present in Australia. As one person put it to me there may be a cane toad in the PMV1 from overseas. Great illustration.

If I vaccinate my pigeons, will my chickens get the virus?

The oil based vaccine is a killed vaccine, so there is no chance of the virus circulating in pigeons and cross contaminating chickens.  To date there is no evidence that the PMV can cross to other species, but if you have any signs of unusual mortalities in other avian species you should contact the nearest DPI and report this. Please do not hide a problem, it will simply cause a greater problem, just as the introduction of this virus has caused a lot of harm to a lot of people, and killed a lot of birds.

Is the vaccine safe for us to use? Can I get sick from it?

There is a significant safety issue in the oil vaccine, indeed with all vaccines. Needle stick injuries are serious and an injection of the .5ml dose into the hands of the operator should be regarded as serious. Instructions should be followed regarding cleaning the wound and a trip to emergency hospital with a vaccine MSDS in hand is recommended.

It is important to notice also that the vaccine is not the only contaminant, the outside of the needle with carry blood and fluids from the pigeon and these on their own can cause severe reactions if the operator is stuck with a dirty needle.

The safety issue is one of the significant reasons for the use of auto vaccinators, which ensure correct dose without having to watch anything except the end of the needle and the injection site.

I have seen stuff about doses. Some say .2ml, some.25ml, some say .5ml. Which is right?

Another discussion of the actual dose required has been circulating. Some sources suggest smaller or larger doses. I have heard it said that any dose will be effective. The best way to explain this is not scientific but is without all the big words.

The killed particles of virus in the vaccine are recognised by the immune system as invaders and dangerous to the host pigeon. So the immune system makes “defender” cells to kill the invader. Now the level of defender cells is dependent on the challenge level. A very low level of challenge may not “trigger” the immune system to work.  So we need to make enough defender cells, without overwhelming the immune system. At the same time the immune system makes a template for the defender cells so if ever the invaders are discovered in the future the immune system knows what to make to defend, and has some idea of how many defender cells to make to meet the challenge. The vaccine is supposed to imitate the invaders.  So obviously, too few vaccine cells mean too little to trigger the immune systems preparation of the defender cells.  A repeat vaccine dose in a year ensures the immune system remembers that the invaders are out there and how much defence it needs.   I hope that explains in a simple way why dose is important.

The manufacturer’s dose is designed to produce the immune response, allowing for some decline in the viability of the vaccine cells with storage and handling. So for this vaccine Polvac IK we are using in 2012 the dose is .5ml. It is possible that other dosage versions of the vaccine may become available in the future.  So check for updates as time goes on.

If you want to do something else then consult with an avian vet.

The vaccine bottle is mighty big. I only want to do 100 birds. 

How do I go about it?

According to the manufacturer, the vaccine should be kept refrigerated until ready for use, then used in one go. However this is not practical and wasteful in the pigeon situation. So many groups are getting organised so that one bottle of vaccine is moved around and a series of flocks vaccinated one after another. This off course carries the risks of a contaminated property passing on the live virus to other sites.

This practice will require new operators and sterile equipment to be taken to subsequent vaccination locations.

1/ Boil the vaccinator for 10 minutes after each site.

2/ Use new needles for the vaccinator at each site.

3/ Use new decanting syringes at each site (that’s the syringe used to draw vaccine from the main bottle. Never use the same syringe for vaccinating the birds as is used to get the vaccine from the bottle, unless it is a new syringe)

4/ Ensure the vaccine bottle itself is wiped down with alcohol wipes.

5/ New operators at each site.

So how do I get vaccine out of the bottle?

Two techniques are used.

1/ using small syringes.  Using a brand new syringe, and a brand new sterile needle, open the packet and without touching the needle, mount it on the syringe. If you touch the needle wipe it again with a fresh alcohol wipe, or get a new needle. Insert the needle into the rubber bung and draw off the required amount of vaccine. A small syringe of say 5 ml is easy to read the graduations and contains 10 doses.


This WILL contaminate the balance of the vaccine and in a short time render the balance useless at best, and at worst simply spread contaminated vaccine and the PMV all round.

2/ Using an Automatic vaccinator. Please note always decant vaccine in a clean area, and if you have been with the birds wash your hands carefully before handling the vaccine bottle. If you are to decant vaccine cleanliness is vital so the risk of contaminating the remaining vaccine is minimised. Contaminate the vaccine and it the vaccine will be quickly destroyed.

The auto vaccinators can take about 100 doses.  Obtain a supply of large disposable syringes of 50ml. or similar capacity. We call this a decanting syringe.  Use a 10gauge needle, 20mm long. Mount the needle without touching it with your hands. Ensure the needle is sterile using alcohol wipes or a small flame. Wave the needle through a flame (cigarette lighter) for a few seconds. Insert the needle in the rubber stopper, again after wiping the stopper with an alcohol wipe. Draw off 50ml of vaccine.  You may need to squeeze the bottle for the first draw off, so the vaccine is a bit easier to get out. Leave the needle in the top of the bottle, and unscrew the syringe. This will allow some air to get back into the bottle to release the vacuum caused by removal of the vaccine.   Empty the decanting syringe into the auto vaccinator bottle (which should also be sterile before starting).   Place the vaccine master bottle back in the fridge.  If you are doing repeat small batches, leave the needle in the top of the bottle. Remove the needle after the last batch of the day has been decanted.  Use the 100 doses from the auto vaccinator on the birds.

If the 50ml decanting syringe has been carefully used and has not been contaminated by poor handling, then reuse the decanting syringe for the next batch. Wipe the needle with alcohol, wipe the vaccine bottle stopper, use a flame to make absolutely sure the needle is sterile, and draw off the next batch.

If you are unsure, use a new 50ml decanting syringe every time you to decant the vaccine.  Use a new decanting syringe for each new premises. Make sure you have a sharps container, and ensure sharps are straight from the syringe into the container.

Why should I use an automatic vaccinator?

One of the problems here is we have very little experience in the majority of people vaccinating pigeons. So there is a steep learning curve. The automatic syringe make it easy for several reasons.

1/ The master vaccine bottle is large, not like the 100 dose PMV1 bottles available elsewhere in the world. So sticking lots of small syringes into the master bottle is a recipe for contaminated vaccine. Using lots of individual disposable syringes also means more people in the team, more waste, needs more experience, but does eliminate sterilising the auto syringe.

2/ The auto vaccinators are preset dose, pull the trigger one dose.

3/ The operator does not need to watch the vaccine syringe, but can concentrate on the injection site and the fingers in that area. Needle stick injuries are serious.

4/ The Auto vaccinator can have the handle position changed to suit left hand, or different bottle angles to suit individual operators. Slacken the phillips screw on the handle, move the handle relative to the bottle, and tighten the screw.

I have had reports of the Auto Vaccinators not working correctly. (new comment). What can go wrong?

The most likely problem is related to matching vaccine type to needle size. If you use a very fine long needle, with oil based vaccines, the amount of hand pressure required to get the vaccine to flow will place a lot of strain on the seals in the vaccinator. This may cause the vaccine to build up behind the plunger resulting in incorrect dose. So with the vaccine we are using here, an oil based vaccine, use a short needle 10 -13mm 18 to 20 gauge max.

We have had a case of a dirty valve. There are two valves in the system, one in the front of the gun behind the needle, and the other in the bottom of the vaccine bottle. These valves consist of a small ball and a spring. Both are very easy to loose.    The instructions with the gun show the parts. The valves mean that the dose of vaccine in the gun must flow out the needle as the trigger is pulled. Once the vaccine is past the valve in the barrel and out the needle it cannot get back into the gun. The valve also allows the creating of a vacuum inside the barrel when the trigger is released. The vacuum causes a new dose to be drawn into the barrel through the valve in the vaccine bottle. If the valve in the bottle is dirty, it will not seal, so as the trigger is pressed the vaccine is pushed back up into the vaccine bottle, not into the bird.

Dirty valves usually mean the gun will not prime, that is they will not start drawing vaccine when the trigger is pulled.

Carefully undo the knurled nut on the valve cover, and carefully tip out the spring and ball. Spares are in the kit which comes with the gun. Use only a cotton but to clean the valve seat. Using the tip of a needle or other hard object to clean the seat where the ball sits will scratch the seat and permanently damage the gun.  Reassemble in the correct order, valves back to front will not work. Look at the assembly picture.

What size needles should I use?

The general opinion is for 21 or 22 gauge needles, either 10 or 13mm long. This size is not very common usually 21 and 22 are available in 20mm, or 25mm which brings a greater risk of insertion too far, and much greater pressure required to get the vaccine out of the needle..

I have available usually 18 and 20gauge in the short lengths,10 and 13mm  and they are used extensively with the chicken industry for this vaccine.

2 reasons, the thick needle stays sharper for more shots, and the oil based vaccine is quite viscous, it doesn’t flow well, and it comes out with less force when used in a slightly larger gauge needle. This means it sprays with less force inside the birds if a larger needle is used.

The PMV1 vaccine used overseas flows much better in the small needles.

I have heard that we should use 3mm needles.  Will they be ok? (new comment)

In my view a 3mm needle will work but requires great care for several reasons.

First if the needle is inserted parallel with the surface of the skin, as we recommend, there is a possibility the needle will not penetrate under the skin, but remain inside the skin. This will mean the vaccine may not get under the skin, but for a ball inside the skin.

Second, the temptation will be to lift the angle of the needle to ensure penetration, increasing risk of the needle spray effecting the spinal column, especially if the needle is 22 or 23 gauge.

Lastly, with the short needle there is a likelihood that the vaccine will remain too close to the injection site, resulting in the vaccine leaking out. So in my view the 13mm 18-20g is the ideal balance of parallel injection, minimum risk of damage to the spinal column, vaccine retention and minimum applicator pressure.

Should I warm the vaccine before use?

When the vaccine is refrigerated and injected into the bird at fridge temperature it can cause a reaction. It is best to allow 5-10 minutes after decanting so the vaccine is at room temperature.

 Should I change needles every bird? 

This is the practice with most small single bird vaccinations and single applications of everything including humans.

It’s not the case with chickens, needles are used until some signs of bluntness usually 1000,s of birds per needle.

I suggest a reasonable compromise, a new needle every vaccinator refill. That is about every 100 doses, or every time you change lofts.  Again have a sharps container available, and ensure the needles are taken straight off the gun into the sharps container.

Should I sterilise the needle every bird?

Certainly this is not done with chickens in similar mass vaccination, however, the value of the birds makes it worthy of consideration. Remember skin bacteria from one bird may cause a problem with other birds, and a needle stick injury with a clean needle may not cause you as much problem.

If you want to, some alcohol in a sponge or cotton wool in a dish, wipe the needle on the sponge after each injection.  Replace the pad as soon as it looks grubby.  Remember plenty of fresh air and NO SMOKING!!  Otherwise needle stick might not be the only cause of a trip to hospital.

Should I sterilise the bird?

Certainly not done in commercial poultry, but in this situation especially with those new to the process, some alcohol and water mix may be of value, less for the sterilisation, more for the visibility.   See below.

Where do I vaccinate the bird?

I have heard numerous different sites suggested for all sorts of reasons. However the preferred site in under the skin at the base of the neck.  The vaccine sits in a pool and is slowly absorbed by the bird. If you pull up the feathers so you can see the loose skin at the base of the neck, and by gently lifting the skin by pulling up the feathers the skin will lift up into a tent shape away from the neck. The syringe is inserted almost parallel to the neck under the skin, just a little way up the neck from the shoulder buts, with the needle facing the head, and the vaccine injected there.  The syringe should just enter under the skin, and remain as parallel to the surface of the skin. Inserting the needle a long way increases the risk of hitting the spine or muscles, and inserting the needle at a steep angle will not only increase the risk but can also cause spinal problems as the vaccine sprays out of the needle tip. The professional vaccinators suggest the very best way is to hold the fold of skin between the thumb and forefingers, then lay the hand with the vaccinator along the back of the bird and insert the needle into the fold of skin between the fingers. This way you will feel the vaccine pass between your fingers as you squeeze the gun.   Never done it before, I suggest you vaccinate a few scrubbers before the prime birds and perhaps get along to see someone who has done a lot of birds for  a look see.  Now also wetting the feather with a little water mixed with alcohol, say 20% alcohol and 80% water will cause the feathers to flatten and make it much easier to see the skin. The alcohol will have a bit of sterilising effect, the water prevent the trips to the hospital for vapour inhalation of worse if you insist on smoking (they say it can kill you).

Other ideas and arguments against their use.

Point the needle down towards the body.  Needs a longer needle, and it’s against the lay of the feathers so it’s harder to see the injection site and usually means the needle is held at an angle increasing the risk of insertion of the needle into the spine or spraying vaccine into the spine causing death of the bird.

Use the needle crossways. Again hard to pinch up the “tent” of skin for an injection site and usually the angle of the needle is high because if the needle angle is low it’s easy to go out the other side of the “tent”.

Into the wing web. Often hard to consistently get the needle in deep enough so the vaccine doesn’t just blow up a pocket inside the skin. If the vaccine can’t disperse quickly by being under the skin, it runs out again. A few of the online videos show the vaccine inside the skin, not under the skin. Usually vaccine some leaks back out.

Into the thigh. Birds have an interesting blood flow system where the blood from the legs goes quickly to the kidneys for filtering. This means the vaccine will be cleaned out of the blood quickly reducing the time of effect on the immune system. So as I understand it the vaccine will be less effective used in the legs. Happy for someone to show me some better science on this one if there is some.

Into the breast muscle. Used with chickens, especially when used with multi vaccines. Frowned upon with pigeons due to the risk of muscle damage, and resultant race losses!!

So how do I clean up?

Syringes can be cleaned in 5% bleach, but boiling for 10 minutes is preferable. Unscrew the barrel, and slide the two parts apart. Place in boiling water. Shake off the surplus water and when cool, wipe a small film of oil (in the parts kit) on the o ring and carefully reassemble.  Dispose thoughtfully of all the sharps making sure that some innocent person cannot find the package accidentally and take the trip to hospital in your place ( with a lot of worry as well, they don’t know that its only pigeon diseases they might get.)

Well that sort of covers most of what I have been asked, I hope it’s of help.


 All advice given here is of a general nature, as I cannot control individual situations. If you need more help with the timing of the program, you should call your veterinarian or contact an ambulance if you have a needle stick injury or inject/ingest the vaccine.

Pigeon Loft Disinfection

Fogging and spraying with disinfectant treats all the surfaces and disinfects them killing all rotovirus. Virkon S cannot disinfect dirt so any surfaces and equipment need to be clean before spraying or fogging .

Fogging provides for additional benefits it disinfects the dust in the loft air and any droplets from birds respiration or coughing.

The combination maintains the environment disease free. When fogging fog above the birds and do not point the fog at the birds.