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

Coccidiosis is the #1 killer of baby chicks, but good brooder management and some natural preventives can help keep your flock healthy.

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.

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

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 single-celled microscopic parasites called coccidia. This 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 coccidiosis is 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, even using chemicals, 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?

Coccidiosis 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 chicks age and are exposed to small amounts of the parasite outside in their environment, over time they develop a naturally immunity, and will become asymptomatic when they come into contact with coccidia.  

However older hens or very young chicks with weaker 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.

Wet, muddy conditions will harbor coccidiosis better - and for longer - than sunny, dry conditions. That's one reason I don't recommend a solid top on chicken runs. They need the exposure to sunlight, rain, etc. to kill off pathogens and viruses.

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 began raising my chicks on a substrate of dirt over rubber shelf liner (to provide the chicks a nice "grippy" surface) 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 and Herbal Treatment of Coccidiosis 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. 

*Garlic has been recently proven to reduce coccidiosis in poultry.

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 of Coccidia | Coccidiosis in Chicks and Chickens

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 crushed garlic clove and a Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water every few days as a regular immune system boost.
Since coccidiosis can be a precursor to another potentially fatal disease called enteritis, offering garlic and clove, nutmeg or cinnamon oil can be beneficial according to this article.

Treating the Chicken Environment After a Coccidiosis Outbreak

Treating the Chick Brooder

Once you have treated your chicks, they should be moved to a completely new brooder if possible (if you're using a cardboard box or plastic tote, for example) with brand new bedding. 

If you want to reuse your plastic tote in the future, scrub it well with ammonia, then leave it in the sun to dry and air out. 

Remember that ammonia fumes are extremely dangerous for chicks and adult birds to breathe in, so don't put them back into any area until the fumes have completely dissipated.

Treating the Chicken Coop for Coccidiosis

All chicken coop bedding should be removed and disposed of (it can be composted as long as it is allowed to sit and age for at least a year before being used on the garden.

The coop should then be scrubbed thoroughly with a 10% ammonia solution (don't allow the chickens in again until all the fumes have dissipated) or steam cleaned and then rinsed down with water allowed to dry completely.

Feed and water should never be left in the chicken coop because the moisture can contribute to coccidiosis outbreaks. Always feed outside for this reason. 

Reducing the humidity levels in your chicken coop can help prevent a coccidiosis outbreak. Good ventilation and keeping the bedding as dry as possible are both good first steps.

Treating the Chicken Run or Yard for Coccidiosis 

Because infected birds will deposit the parasite in their droppings, which then can spread the illness to those who come in contact with the droppings, and because the parasite has been proven to survive for up to 9 months in the soil, it's important to also treat the chicken run or other soil the chickens have had access to after the flock has been treated.

It's difficult to get rid of something you can't see, since even removing visible manure will only remove the oocyts still in the droppings, not any that have been separated from decomposing manure, but removing as much manure as you can is beneficial. 

Warm, wet conditions are what coccidia prefer, so rinsing or hosing down the area will just make it worse. And you obviously don't want to add any chemicals to the run soil in an effort to kill the parasite. 

As a side note, other than ammonia, there aren't any safe chemical applications that can kill coccidiosis. There are several things that will kill it though. They include:

  •  extremely dry or drought conditions
  • freezing temperatures
  • extremely high temperatures
  • boiling water
  • exposure to fire
  • sunlight
Since setting your yard on fire, or dousing it with boiling water is hardly practical, the more sunlight shines on your chicken run the better. And if you live in an extremely dry or cold climate, the parasite likely won't survive long in the soil. 

However, keeping the chickens off any soil you think might be infected is a good idea for at least several months since it can take time for the parasite to die completely.

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.