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Is it possible to vaccinate a developing bird inside an egg?

Is it possible to vaccinate a developing bird inside an egg?

Is it possible to vaccinate a developing bird inside an egg?


Dave Jobes, Ph.D.

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The US poultry industry is enormous. We have about 280 million egg-laying birds (chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks) here in the US and each bird can produce between 250-300 eggs/year. So that means we produce over 75 billion eggs each year! While that number is huge it is only 10% of the global supply, so we produce lots of eggs around the world! Off that total, about 15 billion eggs are allowed to hatch as chicks (versus eggs used for eating, cooking, baking, etc.), so those birds need to be vaccinated to prevent a range of diseases like avian (bird) flu and other assorted bacterial and viral diseases. Believe it or not, until recently many of those new little birds were either immunized by hand or were fed the vaccines in their food, neither of which is a very efficient or cost effective way of vaccinating birds. With recent advancements in both vaccines and vaccine delivery technology, we are now able to directly immunize birds while they are still in the egg (called in ovo vaccination), using special automation technology.

Automated in ovo vaccination provides many advantages:

  1. Can scale it up very efficiently to do tens of thousands of eggs/hour

  2. Can ensure that every egg is accurately and reliably immunized

  3. Chicks are born already immunized so immunity is instilled early on, providing protection when they need it most

  4. Far less labor intensive than older methods

  5. Since there is no animal handling, the birds are not nearly as stressed, which leads to improved health for the birds overall

So how does in ovo vaccination work?

Using a chick as an example, the ideal time to immunize the chick is about one day prior to hatching, so that equates to approximately day 18.5 after the egg is laid. There are machines that take a large number of eggs (usually 144 at a time) in trays. The machines have scanners that can identify ‘bad’ eggs that are automatically removed. The rest are then fed directly into the injector machine that injects the vaccine of choice directly into the top of the egg, delivering the vaccine into the developing chick. To see the process, have a look at this video and you’ll see just how efficient this process can be.

Next time you see a chicken or other bird roaming around a farm, hopefully now you’ll appreciate the technological advances that ensure those bird stays happy and healthy...and ready to produce more eggs for you!


Injector-1  Injector-2   


Other Resources

If you are interested in learning more about the history of egg production, here is a great article to read. To learn more about avian embryo development, here is an excellent site with description, pictures and a video.