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Coccidia | Coccidiosis: Natural Prevention and Treatment for Chicks and Chickens

Coccidiosis ... that single word strikes fear in every chicken keepers heart - as well it should since coccidiosis is the #1 killer of baby chicks.

But while a healthy dose of caution is necessary, never fear because I want to share with you how to prevent and treat coccidiosis naturally without using medicated chick feed, antibiotics or vaccinations.

What is Coccidia | Coccidiosis?


Let's start with a bit of information about what exactly coccidiosis is and why it's so bad:

Coccidiosis is a disease of the intestinal tract caused by the microscopic parasites called coccidia. It's is a single cell microscopic parasite which enters the chick's body through ingesting the parasite egg on the ground.  

The parasite then multiplies in the intestine and is eventually expelled through the chick's feces. At this point, other chick's will become infected when they accidentally ingest the Coccidia parasite. Chicks can all quickly become infected.

Most often spread by bringing infected hens into your flock, or by wild birds, it is then picked up by your chickens through contact with the infected feces or through drinking water with droppings in it. 

The coccidia parasite is nearly impossible to completely eradicate, however freezing temperatures, drought, sunlight and ammonia will kill the parasite.

Coccidia multiply best in warm, wet, dirty, overcrowded conditions and unfortunately nearly every chicken run contains trace amounts of the parasite. Fortunately, healthy adult chickens usually have strong enough immune systems that they won't be affected.

What are the Symptoms of Coccidia | Coccidiosis?

It normally manifests itself in baby chicks through the following symptoms:

  • messy fluff around the vent
  • yellowish, foamy diarrhea
  • ruffled feathers
  • poor appetite
  • lethargy
  • standing alone with closed eyes
  • weight loss due to inability to absorb nutrients in food
  • eventual death

The disease has a high mortality rate in baby chicks and death usually occurs within a week of first seeing symptoms, so fast treatment is a must if you suspect coccidiosis in your flock.

Even if a chick survives, permanent intestinal tissue damage often occurs. Since a chicken's immune system is centered in the intestine, survivors could have a compromised immune system for life.

This is why prevention is so very important.  


How Can I Prevent Coccidiosis?

Young chicks between 3-5 weeks old are most susceptible and apt to contract coccidiosis. Therefore, often medicated feed is recommended for the first 8 weeks of a chick's life.

Chicks can also be vaccinated early on, but neither method is something I do - nor recommend. Instead I focus on natural ways to prevent coccidiosis. 

Natural Prevention of Coccidiosis

As chickens age and are exposed to small amounts of the parasite, over time they develop a naturally immunity and will become asymptomatic when they come into contact with coccidia.  

However older hens with poor immune systems or who are stressed or otherwise unhealthy are also vulnerable.

Either way, a strong, healthy immune system is the best defense against coccidiosis, along with proper brooder/run/coop management.


Immune System Booster for Chicks

It's nearly impossible to shield chicks from coming in contact with the bacteria and in fact, exposure is exactly what they need. 

I try to get my baby chicks outside on grass as early as possible on nice, warm, sunny days to start letting them get exposed to all kinds of pathogens and bacteria in the environment.

In an article I read years ago in Mother Earth News magazine, it was recommended that you expose young chicks to manure from your adult birds because studies as far back as 1973 have shown that helps to transfer protection to the chicks.

Although I'm not sure I would go that far, I do believe that chicks hatched and brooded under a hen and raised outside in the coop with the rest of your flock clearly have a leg up as far as building resistance to all kinds of pathogens for this very reason.

And are mostly likely going to be healthier and have stronger immune systems than chicks raised indoors in a plastic tote.


More Ideas for Boosting the Immune System

Low-level exposure to the coccidia bacteria at regular intervals over the first few weeks of life allows chicks to build a natural resistance, so starting in the brooder, I started raising my chicks on a substrate of dirt instead of shavings. Not only is it far less dusty, the dirt mimics "outdoor living" for my baby chicks.

I also add some clumps of grass with the dirt attached to the brooder. This can help expose your chicks to small amounts of different pathogens that exist outside and help them start to build their natural immunity, as well as let them start learning to free range by nibbling grass and weeds. 

And don't be too quick to clean your brooder out. 

Do remove any wet or caked feed or litter daily and change the water as needed, but leave the rest of the bedding for several days to allow any coccidia and other pathogens to remain in small amounts for the chicks to come in contact with.

Feeders and waterers, however, should be kept clean and free of shavings, droppings or other debris and always filled with fresh, clean feed and water.


Natural Treatment for Chicks and Chickens

Probiotics help with digestive tract health and boost good bacteria levels to help combat the bad bacteria.

Various herbs and other natural substances have been studied and thought to help battle coccidiosis. These include:

  • apple cider vinegar 
  • cinnamon
  • garlic
  • green tea
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • turmeric

Oil of oregano, thyme, turmeric and cinnamon have recently been studied and are being tested at various large poultry farms as natural antibiotics,  while apple cider vinegar, garlic and green tea all help to boost immune systems. 

Regularly adding cinnamon, garlic, green tea and oregano to your chicks diet  all contribute to your chicks' well-being. 

Adding apple cider vinegar and garlic to their water is beneficial as well.


I like to offer my brooder babies a variety of herbs right from the start to help them get used to the taste and to provide them numerous health benefits.

Natural Prevention for Coccidia | Coccidiosis


Here are some easy ways to incorporate some natural immune system boosters into your chicks' and grown hens' diet to help ward off the disease and prevent the coccidia and other bad bacteria and pathogens from multiplying and getting the best of your chickens.

  • Brew some green tea, cool to room temperature and offer in a small dish to your chicks.
  • Brew some oregano tea using fresh or dried oregano, cool to room temperature and serve.
  • Chop fresh garlic, oregano and thyme and offer free-choice in your brooder. This helps chicks develop a taste for it. 
  • Add fresh or dried oregano and thyme, along with cinnamon and turmeric  to a favorite flock treat such as oatmeal or scrambled eggs if your chicks or chickens aren't interested in eating it by itself.
  • Stir some ground cinnamon, garlic powder, turmeric, green tea and dried oregano to their daily feed.
  • Add a few drops of oregano oil to your chick's drinking water.
  • Add a crushed garlic clove and a Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water every few days as a regular immune system boost.

When it's Time for a Vet Visit

Despite your best preventive measures, if you do notice any symptoms, collect a fecal sample and bring it to your vet. Coccidiosis can be detected or confirmed by a quick test at your regular cat/dog veterinarian office.

If you do have a confirmed diagnosis, you have some choices. At that point, while I don't feed my chicks medicated feed as a general rule, I do think that switching to the medicated feed if you know your chicks are infected with coccidiosis is a good idea.

That will help to prop up their immune system until it's strong enough to fight the pathogen on its own.

And you will want to ramp up the natural methods described above and also might want to try Kochi-Free which is an all natural coccidiosis treatment.  I keep Kochi-Free in my chicken first aid kit....just in case.  I've never had to use it. And fingers crossed, I never will.