My first encounter with deadly New Castle Disease and how I defeated it


Sometime in January last year, a poultry disease broke out in the neighbourhood and spread like coal fire.

I like to tell this story because I have had trouble battling poultry diseases and dealing with agricultural extension officers while seeking help.

When the disease started, I assumed my flock was safe because I had strictly adhered to the vaccination schedule and I had a chain-link around my compound.

However, four days later, my nine out of 24 chicks below the age of three months died after showing the following symptoms; loss of appetite, weakness, twisted bodies and a clear discharge from the nose and eyes. They had no diarrhoea, coughing or wheezing, important signs to look out for in sick birds. Out of ignorance, I vaccinated the remaining chicks as soon I knew the disease was New Castle.

The chicks appeared to have survived. But two weeks later, they all died. However, the mature hens, about 20 that had been kept in a secluded coop survived the epidemic.

New Castle is the most lethal, contagious, viral disease in poultry. It is caused by a virus, has no treatment, and affects chickens of all ages, often wiping out the entire flock in four to five days.


The disease spreads rapidly through the air, drinking water, feeds and the droppings of other sick birds. Cars, shoes and people can also spread the infection from one farm to another.

Vaccination works by introducing the virus itself (either in weakened form or alive) into a healthy bird to stimulate the production of antibodies that then give the bird the ability to resist similar infections in the future. Sick birds should not be vaccinated, and neither should healthy birds be vaccinated during an outbreak.

Vaccinate either on a regular basis or at least one month before the rainy season starts.

Do not buy vaccines to keep in the house even if you own a fridge because you have no control over prolonged electrical blackouts.

I learnt it the hard way soon after my chicks had died. I would buy vaccines in Nairobi, courier them to my rural home in Busia, and keep them for weeks at the home of my neighbour.

At one point, the only transformer that serves the area blew up and it took four weeks to have it repaired and all the vaccines went bad. If the cold chain is broken, it only takes a couple of hours for the vaccine to become inactive.

Once reconstituted, give the vaccine within three hours. Do not use chlorinated tap water to reconstitute the vaccine because this destroys it.

Most New Castle Disease outbreaks occur once or twice a year depending on the region. Often, the outbreak coincides with the start of the rains following a long dry spell. In my rural home in Busia, this is normally around February or March after the December dry spell. Another outbreak comes around this time when the short rains start. Farmers are advised to form vaccination clusters or groups to share cost of vaccines, which go for between Sh100 and Sh200 for 100 doses.

In free range production system, vaccinated chickens are still at risk if flocks in the neighbourhood have not been vaccinated.

Therefore, mobilise your neighbours so that all of you can vaccinate your birds. Soon after all my chicks died, I locked the rest of the birds in the house, day and night, and provided food and water until the outbreak was gone, but this was just a temporary measure.