Coccidiosis is a nasty, deadly disease, and one that many poultry fear the most. From the moment chicks arrive onto the property it is our responsibility to keep them healthy, and preventing the spread of Coccidiosis becomes our main focus. Especially while they are kept in a brooder.
The chicks have been selected and now the decision needs to be made in regard to the type of feed you’ll be offering. By default the feed store will suggest a medicated chick feed, and in truth many will purchase it simply because it was suggested. The selling point many sales associated will offer, ‘Medicated feed will protect your chicks from contracting Coccidiosis, a disease which can kill them’. After hearing a statement like that how can you turn it down?
Sit back fellow chicken keepers, I’m here to give you a crash course on medicated feed, Coccidiosis, and how to prevent your flock from contracting it. It’s a surprise to many that preventing this deadly disease can be done without offering medicated feed, and the goal to raising chicks natural without it can happen.
Bringing Home Chicks
The decision has been made to raise chickens as naturally as possible, and the goal is to begin a holistic regiment the moment you’ve brought chicks home. Aside from choosing the right breed, and selecting the perfect names, there are a few major factors you will need to consider, with the first being whether or not it is necessary to offer medicated feed.
There is a time and a place in which medicated feed works, and it’s not the worse decision one can make. It is simply a lifestyle decision. In truth, those who selected it tend to be new to keeping chicken or seek the convenience of protecting their flock from Coccidiosis through a one simple step.
Protecting the health of your flock should always begin by giving them the opportunity to build a strong immune system. This can easily be achieved by providing a holistic regiment diligently, starting from the moment the chicks arrive to your home. The most important factor one should remember is, a natural lifestyle should continue throughout the span of the bird’s life.
The second decision will be selecting and setting up the brooder in order to minimize the spread of Coccidiosis. It’s important to pick a brooder which is large enough to house the amount of chicks you’ve brought home. This will ensure enough room for growth, as well as providing adequate space between the water and feed.
What is Coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is one of the most common deadly poultry diseases around, affecting and destroying the intestine of a chicken, or any poultry or livestock for that matter. A parasitic organism (protozoa) attaches itself to the intestinal lining, damaging the tissue and causing it to bleed. When left untreated the disease can kill the infected bird while infecting other members of the flock.
The infection can often be seen in the waste which is dropped, as well as through the bird’s behavior. In order to stay on top of Coccidiosis one needs to be able to identify the symptoms quickly, here are some tips in what you will need to look for.
Immune Boosting Alternatives
Raising a healthy poultry flock starts by raising healthy chicks, and this is done by creating a strong immune system. The immune system of any living creature, including chicks, can be achieved by offering a few natural alternatives. Remember, a holistic regiment should begin the moment you bring your little feathered dinosaurs home, there’s no point in waiting!
Holistic items such as herbs, probiotics, and colloidal silver can work together to optimize the health of your flock. A natural regiment is easy to implement and all the items mentioned can be grown or made within the comfort of your home. Keep reading, you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The biggest mistake many will make is not having a large enough brooder for the amount of chicks they are bringing home. An overcrowded brooder is susceptible to becoming a breeding ground for Coccidiosis, caused by the amount of waste which tends to quickly accumulate. Chicken naturally scratch and peck, keeping a brooder clean of waste will lessens the chances that chicks are pecking and consuming waste containing the coccidia parasite.
Chicks will outgrow the typical Rubbermaid brooder within a few short weeks, it’s best to have back-up brooder in place prior to this occurring. Keep in mind, chicks are not coop ready until they are fully feathered and the temperature outdoors matches the temperature in the brooder.
The size of your chick (due to the breed) and the age will determine the best brooder option. It’s best to have a brooder larger than the suggest size below, making sure to allow for wiggle room. You know, in case chicken math takes over prior to chick season ending.
- Up to 2 weeks, 1/2 sq ft per chick
- 2 weeks to 4 weeks, 1 sq ft per chick
- 4 weeks to 8 weeks 1.5 sq ft per chick
The best bedding for a brooder is pine shavings. Pine not only helps to minimize any order, it also helps to control moisture caused by spilled water and waste.
Keep a Clean Brooder
Daily cleaning of the brooder is important, consisting of removing the top layer of bedding and laying down a fresh layer. However, some brooders, depending on its size, can be cleaned every few days.
Coccidiosis thrives in moist areas, any wet bedding caused by spilled water should be removed as quickly as possible. The feces of an infected chick mixed with the moisture of the wet bedding creating a breeding ground for the coccidia parasite. Once a chick becomes infected the disease can spread like wild fire, running the risk of infecting the entire flock within a few short days.
Chicken love to scratch for feed, it’s a natural behavior and a favorite pastime for them. By placing waterers and feeders substantially apart reduces the risk that feed is not tossed into a moist area which contains waste infected by the coccidia parasite. You see, poultry will scratch and eat just about anything, including feed which has landed in poop. Poop which is infected with the coccidia parasite.
What is Medicated Feed?
Let me start by saying, when we first started keeping chicken, and prior to living a holistic life we offered medicated feed to our new flock. As new homesteaders we did not know any better, and it was a convenient method in order to protect our small flock.
Medicated feed contains a coccidiostat known as Amprolium, which the FDA does not consider an antibiotic but a thiamin blocker. The coccidia parasite needs thiamin in order to multiply within the poultry’s intestine tract. When the thiamin is not blocked the bird can become infected and a carrier of the disease.
Those who chose to provide medicated feed should know that it should be given up to the age of 16 to 18 weeks. This time frame allows the chick to reach a mature immune system, allowing them to fight off the parasite without the need of medicated feed.
Make sure to find out from the hatchery or your local feed store if the chicks you are purchasing have been vaccinated against Coccidiosis prior to purchasing them. If the hatchery does not include the vaccination as part of the purchase a buyer can request it be given for an additional fee. A chick which has been vaccinated against the disease does not, let me repeat, does not need to be provided medicated feed. Period, and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. The vaccination nulls the need for providing medicated feed in order to combat the coccidia parasite.
Chicks which have been vaccinated can be offered non-medicated chick feed, as well as natural items to begin boosting the immune system.
Is it necessary to withhold egg and meat?
The FDA states that withholding eggs and meat during the time medicated feed is offered since it is not considered an antibiotic. Also, keep in mind, depending on the breed pullets generally begin to laying around 24 weeks. This is 6 weeks from the last date medicated feed would have been offered.
Should Medicated Feed be offered to Broiler Birds?
There is no right or wrong answer for this, and in truth the decision is up to you. If the desire is to consume a broiler bird free of chemical then medicated feed should not be offered.
Broiler birds are generally fed feed which is high in protein in order to support their rapid growth. This feed does not contain a coccidiostat and will not protect from contracting Coccidiosis. How, then, are the chickens protected from contracting the disease?
The only answer would be to seek holistic options for raising poultry.
The Holistic Approach
As our homestead became established, and we became comfortable in raising poultry, the decision to offer medicated feed was no longer an option. This change applied to all poultry which we hatched or was purchased from the feed store.
The decision was easy for us to make, mainly due to the fact that we had already been living a holistic life. This natural lifestyle we embodied included how we treated the garden, in our home, for pets and other livestock on the homestead. Never once did we think this option would be a difficult task. Tedious, but not difficult. Let me add, incorporating a holistic approach to boost the immune system requires one to be diligent in following the routine.
From the Garden
When we first began keeping chickens the herb garden was doubled in size in order to provide herbs not only for ourselves, but also for our small flock.
All herbs contain medicinal qualities and can be offered to your flock. However, if you are seeking to boost the immune system seek herbs which are known specifically for containing antibacterial and antioxidant qualities. Items such oregano, thyme, peppermint, and sage are excellent options and can be provided either fresh or dried daily.
Offering herbs to your flock can be done is various methods, the easiest would be to add one tablespoon of herbs for every cup of feed. A chicken will consume what it needs when it needs it.
Another method would be to infuse fresh or dried herbs in the waterer daily, allowing them to reap the immune boosting benefits through drinking.
Fresh garlic, if provided on a regular basis, is a great immune boosting item and one we offer to our flocks. There are a few methods in which it can be offered, you’ll have to experiment which is more appealing to your flock.
- Fresh cloves crushed and added to the waterer
- Fresh cloves minced and mixed with feed
- A ferment consisting of garlic, raw honey, and astragalus root, a teaspoon per quart of water
The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion is an excellent resource for those who are new, and not so new, to growing and utilizing herbs. Amy not only talks about beneficial herbs for human purpose, but also addresses how they benefit livestock. Her chapter in regards to utilizing beneficial herbs for chickens is scientifically based and very easy to comprehend, converting those who are hesitant suddenly comfortable in their journey of incorporating herbs for chicken flock.
Colloidal Silver (CS) is know to contain antiseptic and antibacterial qualities which are excellent traits needed to combat coccidiosis. Silver in this form is known to be the purest natural antibiotic available, and is often referred to as silver water. Throughout history silver has been used as an antibiotic to fight bacteria and the growth of it, and is used in hospitals and burn centers.
Individuals who live a holistic lifestyle will incorporate Colloidal Silver as a tool to combat the spread of bad bacteria, preventing the immune system from becoming compromised and become weak.
For those of you who are wondering what Colloidal Silver is let me break it down for you. CS consists of microscopic and submicroscopic silver particles suspended in distilled water, made by 99.9% pure silver and a generator. The outcome is a product so fine that the silver particles cannot be strained, allowing for thorough absorption into the body when consumed. This pure natural antibiotic cannot be confused with a manufactured product making overdosing impossible, and I promise, it will not turn your chicken blue.
Both humans and livestock benefit greatly by incorporating Colloidal Silver as part of a holistic regiment, and it should be readily available in apothecary cabinets at all times.
Brewing CS at home will save you hundreds of dollars over a short period of time, especially if you tend to use it regularly. The process for home brewing is extremely easy, and we suggest this generator and silver rods. The kit provides clear instruction on how to brew CS at home, as well as how to identify it is ready for use.
There are various opinions in regards to dispensing Colloidal Silver since it is not regulated by the FDA; finding information on dosing will vary based on who you ask. Some provide CS daily seeking to destroy bad bacteria before it has a chance to attach the immune system, while other provide it upon the onset of illness.
With that said, CS is provided daily on our homestead, especially as the immune system is maturing, but also when it is weak – as chicks, molting season, illness, even when a bird becomes stressed. The following is the dosing amount we provide, again this is how we dose, others may have a different opinion:
- Quart Jar – 5 tablespoons
- Gallon Waterer – 1/2 cup
- Three Gallon Waterer – 1 1/2 cups
Silver water can also be used to infuse herbs and fresh garlic, and also be mixed with live bacteria found in apple cider vinegar, or with our garlic, astragalus, and raw honey ferment.
Providing items which contain healthy live bacteria creates a healthy gut system, the core for overall good health. Beneficial live bacteria, also known as natural probiotics, can be found in ferments foods and drink. Live cultures can also be found in a few dairy items, such as cultured yogurt, but keep in mind, poultry are lactose intolerant and a small amount goes along way and should not be offered daily.
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is available in two options, pasteurized or unpasteurized. When using it as a beneficial natural probiotic the raw unpasteurized option containing the mother is what is need. Raw ACV contains good healthy bacteria which is beneficial to a good gut and digestive health, creating the base for a strong immune system.
Unpasteurized ACV can be purchased in the health food section of your local market or it can be made easily in the comfort of your home. Every recipe has a base consisting of apple peels and/or cores, water, a mother as a starter (a small amount of either your existing batch or Braggs ACV) if you have it but it’s not necessary. Here’s a great step-by-step tutorial on how to make ACV at home by Learning and Yearning.
Apple cider vinegar does not need to be provided daily, especially if you’re providing other fermented items. Generally 2 to 3 times a week is all that is needed:
- Quart Jar – 1/4 of a teaspoon
- Gallon Waterer – 1 tablespoon
- 3 Gallon Waterer – 3 tablespoons
If you are fermenting foods at home, regardless of what it is, it can be shared with your flock. Kefir grains and kombucha SCOBY are also excellent fermented items and can be provide to your feather team. Trust me, they will LOVE it. Again, a small amount a couple times a week is all that is needed as a natural probiotic.
If you’re not making your own ferment foods consider providing your flock fermented chicken feed. This process allows the bonus of two for the price of one – feeding your flock while providing a natural live culture in order to build a health gut system.
There are over the counter synthetic probiotics available for chicks and livestock, however I am going to advise against them. Synthetic probiotics are not meant to be consumed daily, and does not contain the same beneficial qualities as what is found in cultured live bacteria.
The risk of chicks contracting Coccidiosis is a 50/50 probability, regardless of whether a natural regiment or medicated feed is being offered. The bonus of providing a holistic regiment is to not only combat the disease but to build a strong immune system from brooder to coop. For our homestead naturally boosting the immune system is the way to go, and in truth, very easily achieved.