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 or vaccinations.

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.

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.

It normally manifests itself as diarrhea, bloody droppings, ruffled feathers, poor appetite and lethargy and results in an inability to absorb nutrients in food.

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.

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.
Young chicks between 3-5 weeks old are most susceptible.

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

So a strong, healthy immune system is the best defense along with proper brooder/run/coop management.

Coccidia multiply best in warm, wet, dirty conditions and nearly every chicken run contains trace amounts which are nearly impossible to completely eradicate, however freezing temperatures, drought, sunlight and ammonia will kill the parasite.

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

In an article in a past issue of Mother Earth News magazine, on the sidebar it is 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 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.)  

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, add some clumps of grass with the dirt attached.

This can help expose your chicks to small amounts of different pathogens that exist outside and help them start to build their natural immunity.

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

-hanging baskets of fresh herbs and weeds provide entertainment as well as health benefits for chicks in the brooder-

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.  

Chicks between the ages of 3-5 weeks are most vulnerable and apt to contract it. 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.

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

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

-Oregano, green tea and cinnamon all help make your chicks stronger-

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.

Regularly adding cinnamon, oregano, garlic and green tea to their diet all contribute to your chicks' well-being:
  • Brew some green tea, cool to room temperature and serve.
  • Brew some oregano tea using fresh or dried oregano, cool to room temperature and serve.
  • Chop fresh oregano and thyme and offer free-choice in your brooder. This helps chicks develop a taste for it. (add it to a favorite flock treat such as oatmeal or scrambled eggs if your older 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 drinking water.
  • Add a crushed garlic clove and a Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water.
  • Offer fresh minced garlic free-choice in a dish.

Despite your best preventive measures, if you do notice any symptoms, collect a fecal sample. Coccidiosis can be detected or confirmed by a quick test at your veterinarian office.

If you do have a confirmed diagnosis, 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.

Reference Sources:
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