Our Fight With Coccidiosis
Most warm weather in the spring gives me the urge to get out there in the dirt and the sun and plant something. But what it also brings is a constant nagging to check in the brooders on every little chick we have in our Barnstore. With warm and humid weather comes Cocci. Coccidiosis is one the most dreaded disease I have ever dealt with. I cannot tell you how much it grieves my daughter and I, and for sure, any employee we’ve ever had to deal with how quickly cocci kills our young chicks.
Normally we clean our brooders every other day, religiously, whether they need it or not. It is a practice I am adamant about keeping. I have always felt that cleanliness is the first step in healthy, no matter if it’s for human, animal or fowl. We sterilize every feed and water container, we use feed bags to line the floor of the brooders to remove each time the brooder gets clean shavings and somehow, we still end up fighting with that hateful mean disease!
Since we have many customers who want to stay as close to natural as possible, we do our best not to vaccinate our babies, unless a specific order has requested. Regardless, we have seriously discussed vaccinating all the chicks that go into our barn store for the specific disease of coccidiosis. When it comes to coccidiosis I do not take a chance with my young chicks’ lives, this stuff is painful for those sweeties, I go straight for the amprolium 20%.
Usually the first thing I spot when it comes to cocci is a chick standing to the side looking uninterested in what the others are doing. I’m always alerted when these inquisitive little creatures are no longer interested in what the others are doing. Then it will fluff up its feathers as if it’s cold trying to stay warm. They become weak and hunched over with their little heads laying on their chest. Also, they will turn pale around their face, their small comb, tiny wattles and the pink around their face has lost color. Mind you, all this happens very quickly.
The last straw is when you find blood in their poop, or instead of their poop. At this stage there is a very short time frame to save the lives of these young chicks. Once blood is spotted, they are usually dead the very next day without quick intervention. When the oocyst enters and becomes embedded into their intestine the sporozoites multiplies extremely fast. Thousands of oocysts may be passed in their droppings and then the spread is like wildfire. We have found that if you catch it in time, they can be saved if you act fast. If you are faced with coccidiosis, without hesitation get them started on amprolium 20% in their drinking water.
At our farm everyone gets moving at a running pace. All hands must work to save our youngsters. My daughter says she prefers to clean and then paint the brooders once Cocci has been found in one of its chicks. The brooders are not the only things cleaned, and sanitized, but so are the feed and water containers. Then treatment is immediately administered with amprolium 20% mixed into their drinking water. Once all the sanitizing and medication is prepared each bird inside the area with the affected bird will have their beak dipped in the medicated water to be sure they are drinking. If it has gotten so far along that the chicks are weak, more than likely they will not be eating nor drinking without help. We usually repeat several times a day for a couple of days to make sure they are drinking the medicated water.
I never use medication on our chicks, pullets, cockerels, hens, or roosters unless there is a definite reason for it. My first choice is to work with nature as much as possible. At our farm we use apple cider vinegar and garlic in their water as much as possible and rotate with vitamin and electrolytes. We feed kefir as much as possible to give them a good dose of healthy bacteria for all kinds of benefits. We give our flocks alfalfa and fescue hay during the winter months to substitute for the lack of greens. But when they get sick, I’m going for the medication, but only if it’s the wisest recourse.
In our collective experiences at our barn store, we have found coccidiosis generally doesn’t get to our chicks until between 6 to 12 weeks old. Before and after that we don’t have a problem with it. I’m not sure why it is that way, but I’m very grateful we don’t see it from the chicks under 6 weeks old. Just so you know, we never sell sick chicks, unless our customers rag us to let them take them and treat them. We have some of the most fantastic customers that not only want to nurse babies back to health, but also, adopt chicks that ordinarily cannot be sold due to a type of disfigurement.
Once I tried using medicated feed on our barn chicks to try and immunize them from the coccidiosis, but (from my own experience and observation) they did not grow right, they didn’t seem as full of energy the way I was used to seeing, and on top of that, some of those chicks still caught the cocci. I remember one customer who was killing her chicks by feeding the medicated feed and using amprolium in their drinking water. One name brand of amprolium 20% is Corid. This customer had no idea that amprolium was in the medicated feed and in the Corid, so she was double dosing her under one-week old chicks and they were dying. To top it off they were not even sick from Coccidiosis to begin with. She had good intentions, but I think the natural way is the best way if possible.
Treatment of what works for us and how we attack this disease at Egg Well Farm: Number one – Get yourself ready to deal with cocci as if it’s radioactive. Wear disposable gloves, apron, and disposable booties.
Number two- immediately get every chick in the affected brooder to drink the medicated drinking water. We only used the powder form of amprolium 20%. We have tried the liquid before and didn’t seem to have as good of results as we had with the powder. It doesn’t matter the name brand as long as it is amprolium 20%: Amprol or Corid will both work. Mix 1 ½ teaspoon into a gallon of their drinking water. Make regular visits throughout the first 2 to 3 days and dip their beaks into the water to make them drink. This mixture should be changed daily and given fresh every day. Do this for 5 days, wait 2 weeks and give the medicated mixture to them for another 3 days. Note: If they are in extreme condition when it seems they may not last, double the dosage and help them drink it often for the first day. Absolutely do not give them vitamins until 3 weeks after this has passed. These little oocysts thrive on B vitamin. If you give them vitamins anytime during treatment you will only extend the time it takes to get them back to good health.
Number three- Pull everything out of that area. Be careful about not letting any thing from the soiled and contaminated area fall in the floor onto anything that could possibly spread the disease. We put the chicks in a waiting area and then sterilize their brooder. We use a very strong bleach cleaning water to clean the walls, the top of the brooder along with the floor. My daughter doesn’t trust just cleaning and goes a step farther to paint the brooder, (we have wooden brooders). Sterilize the water jars, any platforms inside the brooder, sterilize the feed containers, and once the brooder is thoroughly dry put a feed bag down over the floor and place the clean bedding.
Number four – every time you have the chance make the chicks drink the medicated water by dipping their beaks in the water. The amprolium works fast, but they must drink it for it to work. If they’re too far along with the disease, you will have to help them. It’s very important to whenever you come in contact with the affected chicks that you use only sterile equipment and wash your hands frequently. Then be patient and be vigilant with your treatments.
Coccidiosis is a disease that starts with a microscopic egg called an oocyst, which is passed through a chicken's droppings. Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease that occurs when a microscopic parasitic organism called a protozoon attaches itself to the intestinal lining of a chicken. It damages the tissue of the gut, causing bleeding (which can be evident in their droppings). It prevents the chicken from absorbing nutrients and creates an environment in which bacteria thrives. These oocysts thrive off the vitamin B found in the chick’s intestines, so it’s very important to stop the supplements until after the chick recovers. Younger chickens (under six months) are more at risk as they haven’t yet had time to develop their natural immunity, however adult birds can also become affected. An unsporulated oocyst can lay dormant in the soil for up to a year and doesn’t become infectious unless it gets the opportunity to sit for several days in wet and humid conditions. This is especially true around and in waterers and feeders. It’s not uncommon for a chicken to appear fine one day and very sick or even dead the next.
A simple list of symptoms that identifies coccidiosis as the culprit is weak, listless and not moving around much, huddling as if cold, loss of appetite, chicks fail to grow, diarrhea, and pale skin, comb, and wattles, and if blood is found in the poop, it has progressed to serious. Treatment should start as quickly as possible once blood is spotted.
After they are back to health again and it’s been at least a week since the last treatment it’s time to get them on some vitamins and electrolytes, and they will be in serious need to have some pro-biotics to get their guts restored to good health. This disease wreaks havoc in their intestinal area, which is where the bleeding comes from. Poor babies, have so much pain.
We keep our brooders clean and well cared for and they still manage to contract
this horrible disease. We are so careful to sterilize everything it’s hard to understand how it gets to our guys. The aggressive behavior of coccidiosis is frustrating to deal with and it truly breaks my heart to see those sweeties suffer from so much pain. We have 22 brooders for our barn store and everyone who works in our barn is required to sterilize equipment, hands, brooder furniture, and the brooder itself. Still we have this problem almost every spring. Any poultry raised in crowded or unsanitary conditions would be at great risk of becoming infected once coccidiosis has been contracted. The good news is that chicks that have survived coccidiosis usually become immune.
In the past two years we've had a very successful program in place dealing with this issue. Once our chicks are ready for the grow out pens around eight weeks old, we start them on one half a teaspoon of amprolium 20% to a gallon of water for one week before putting them into the grow out pens. Then we keep them on this treatment for two more weeks. This is a total of 21 days of amprolium 20% to help them gain a strong healthy immune system toward coccidiosis. It's a relief to feel they are safe when putting them on the ground.
Please be aware that medicated feed has amprolium. If you put amprolium 20% in their water and are feeding medicated feed you would be double dosing which is probably worse than the cocci. I really don't care for the medicated feed simply because I don't like medicating something unless you actually have a need for it. That's just the way I am, but I know there are folks out there that are different.
Farmers with livestock have been dealing with this for a long while. You got this, you are perfectly capable to save those chicks when armed with a little education. It is a good idea to add amprolium 20% to your poultry health care kit. Once chicks are introduced to cocci they can build a natural immunity to the disease, but that’s if it’s slowly introduced. I’ve seen mother hens with their chicks around our barn and not one of them catches this stuff! Some of those moms are just naturally smart, or lucky. It’s beyond me to know the answers.