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‘Inspect what you expect’ applied to poultry vaccination crews

12 March 2018

Poultry Health Today

We’ve all heard the phrase “inspect what you expect,” a cliché that can apply to almost any chore delegated from one person to another. We’ve learned the hard way this can also apply to poultry vaccination crews.

By Philip A. Stayer, DVM, MS, ACPV
Corporate Veterinarian
Sanderson Farms, Inc.

A few years ago, we noticed elevated mortality in replacement roosters 1 to 2 weeks after their single, 15-week handling for vaccination. Upon evaluation of the dead and dying males, we noted they tended to be emaciated and had dark, just about black, watery intestinal contents. The females commingled with the roosters, however, were in good health.

The preliminary diagnosis was a clostridial infection, so different Gram-positive antibiotics were administered. Mortality tended to dissipate about 4 weeks after vaccination, but antibiotic treatment did not speed the roosters’ return to well-being or reduce the number of affected birds.


We were applying multiple vaccines from different manufacturers simultaneously, so we requested technical assistance from all the vaccine suppliers, as well as from the primary breeder’s technical staff. One of the technical service veterinarians from a vaccine manufacturer wanted to audit the contract vaccination crew. Naturally, a company veterinarian had to accompany our guest. Because the veterinarian was a personal friend, I volunteered, though reluctantly, since the vaccination crew was coming to the farm about 4 a.m.

The crew unloaded their van and staged their handling equipment, which consisted primarily of nets and a table for mixing vaccines. The crew’s lead set up a water bath to further warm the vaccines, which had been delivered pre-warmed. Crew members segregated the roosters from the females because they received different vaccines from the pullets.

The technical service veterinarian followed his company’s auditing protocol. He checked everything, including the temperature of all vaccines to be administered. He noted that vaccine temperatures climbed as the day progressed and varied from 75° F up to 100° F. He also noted that our vaccine protocol called for two wing-web injections, two breast injections, one eye drop — and one subcutaneous neck injection with a killed autogenous Salmonella/cholera vaccine.

Ah-ha moment

When the males received the first bottles out of the water bath, the killed vaccines tended to be cooler than they should have been. Ah ha! Killed bacterins tend to be reactive, particularly bad actors like Salmonella spp. and Pasteurella spp. The roosters’ cool (< 80° F) neck injection did not dissipate after injection, again validated by the persistent visiting technical service veterinarian. The cervical location of the bacterin injection was unforgiving; the birds reacted to the vaccine as foreign material. The poor boys’ necks became so inflexible they couldn’t eat feed out of the pullet house troughs. All they could consume was readily available litter, which explained their dark intestinal contents.

The obvious fix was to educate company personnel to adequately pre-warm killed vaccines, particularly the first bottle used for the roosters. Once the vaccines were administered at the proper temperature — 80° F to 100° F for this particular vaccine — the boys started to live as well as the girls. This was a very simple example of insufficient communication that embarrassingly wasn’t caught for several months due to the inconvenience of the early morning vaccination schedule.

Funny in retrospect

We had another incident that’s funny in retrospect but wasn’t at the time. A broiler service technician who happened to be near a pullet house noticed something unusual. The entire vaccination crew was in front of their van, taking cell phone pictures of each other posing with a free-ranging peacock that had wandered onto the farm.

The incident was reported and, upon further investigation, the crew leader admitted he’d taken the bird home as a pet — a major violation of any commercial-poultry biosecurity program.

To his credit, the fellow relinquished the peacock so it could be tested for any pathogens that might threaten our commercial birds. He promised to never, ever keep captive birds at home (despite previously agreeing to the same). Fortunately, the peacock was not found to carry any worrisome infectious pathogens.

Brilliant idea?

There’s yet another tale that demonstrates the need to “inspect what you expect.” Poultry folks tend to want to improve their practices and embrace new ideas. One of our veterinarians thought that injecting vaccines into the inguinal area would be safer and could be done more efficiently than a cervical injection.

Toward this end, the veterinarian visited the vaccination crew to see how they were doing implementing this new technique. The crew members were vaccinating pullets by passing birds from person to person as each tried to apply the vaccine they were handling into the appropriate anatomical region. The problem with this approach, however, was that the inguinal area wasn’t easily accessible with this method of presentation. In fact, vaccines weren’t even getting under the skin — they were mostly just squirted onto feathers. The veterinarian pointed out the problem and assumed it would be corrected immediately.

A couple days later, another one of our veterinarians stopped in unannounced to observe the crew, only to find similar problems — plus one more that was even more significant. The crew leader seemed “off” and, in fact, was stumbling over pullet feeder troughs and footbaths on his way out of the chicken house and to the crew’s van. Long story short — liquid trickling out from under the passenger door of the van turned out to be spilled beer. The crew leader’s boss was notified and immediately took appropriate action: The crew leader was relieved from his job on the vaccination crew.

This incident, in particular, demonstrates how vaccine failures can occur due to improper vaccine administration. All three of these real-life experiences also demonstrate that “inspect what you expect” is still apropos — perhaps even more so in the poultry industry because it seems that many of the people we hire these days have minimal agriculture experience. So — because proper vaccination is essential to good flock health — inspect what you expect.

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