Saturday, April 17, 2010

About Coccidiosis and medicated starter feed

Coccidiosis (kahk sid e oh siss)  That's my own personal throw-down pronunciation guide there, so i hope it makes sense.

I recently blathered on BYC about my recent experimentation concerning coccidiosis and the use of medicated feed.  I thought i would share it here also.

This is mostly a direct copy/paste from my post on BYC.

I live in the "soupy south," as SpeckledHen called it.  And i have used medicated feed (in the past) for every group of chickens coming through.....and every group of medicated chickens came down with coccidiosis and had to be medicated anyway.  So i started reading everything i could find on coccidiosis in chickens, here on BYC, more professional articles and studies - whatever i could find on the web.  I wanted to really understand (as much as my not-a-scientist mind could understand) how coccidiosis really works.

I also talked with SpeckledHen, who always has good, educated things to say to back up her opinions, and i decided to try an experiment.

The previous groups of chicks who came through always got sick about 2 weeks after hitting the ground, and that lined up with what i read about the time it usually takes to overwhelm a chick's system.

But it has seemed that the older a chicken is when she is exposed, the worse it hits her.

So with my most recent addition, i stopped feeding medicated feed.  I had to switch to game bird grower to get something without amprolium, but i'm o.k. with that.  (props to those of you who are grinding your own feed - awesome!)

In addition to feeding non-medicated feed, while the chicks were still in the brooder, i started giving them small amounts of the soil that my flock regularly poops in - in their brooder, so they could scratch through it and get exposed asap.  Also, on the very first sunny warm day, i put them all on the ground in the run and let them "free range."  Then, as soon as they were feathered in - and as long as it hasn't been raining - i started letting them run the run all day every day.  They've been doing that virtually every day for about a month [about six weeks at the date of this chicken chat post], and i have - for the first time ever - had no outbreak of coccidiosis.

I'm no scientist, but i think a lot of people are going about this all wrong.  From what i've read, the way to protect a chick from being overwhelmed by cocci protozoa is by exposing them ASAP, just like a mama hen does. 

Keeping their environment perfectly spotless and keeping them from being exposed to chicken poop - even though it seems to be the right thing to do - is what seems to be making them more vulnerable in the long run.

This is preliminary.  I will want to do the same thing with several more groups of chicks - during different parts of the year - before i get on a really big soapbox about it, but this is my experience so far.  I definitely don't think the medicated feed is helping anyone; i'll tell you that.  And i will gladly pay extra to give them a feed without it.

Even the game bird grower i've been feeding has antibiotics (not amprolium - just antibiotics) in it, and i hate that too - but i talked to my feed store, and they agreed to order a different feed with actually NO MEDICATION at all in it - just for me.  smile  They currently carry nothing that has NO medication. Then i will be happier.  Since my chickens free range all day, i don't worry too much about the fact that it's manufactured.  The feed i give them is meant to be just a supplement to what they get in pasture.

I think my chickens should be able to say no to drugs.  wink

ETA:  One more thing - medicated feed is meant to help the chicken build resistance to the cocci protozoa.  If you are feeding medicated feed, it can't do its job unless you expose your chicks to the protozoa - meaning the soil and the poop.  If you don't expose them, the medication can do NOTHING to benefit your chicken.  


  1. Great Post Beth and info........ thanks!

  2. Hi Beth!,

    New to your blog. Read some of your comments on BYC and liked your thinking so I'm gonna follow your chicken talk. :) I think I can learn a lot here!
    Quoting you here: "I wanted to really understand (as much as my not-a-scientist mind could understand) how coccidiosis really works." That's the kinda thinking I like! :) I'm with you. I love to find out as much as I can about something that I suddenly find myself face-to-face with in life. My biggest problem is finding the time to do the research!

  3. Hi,
    Fellow Byc'er here..
    I 100% agree with your conclusion.
    Organics North.
    PS..One can not use medicated feed with organic birds anyway!

  4. Sharon and Organics North,

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting on our blog. I hope whatever you read here is fun and beneficial.


  5. My Dad's got 2 chickens... they bought them as eggs, knowing they were different types (think they got them online)... now they've a giant rooster and a tiny hen ~ and a load of wary cats who keep their distance!

  6. ... wish I could remember the breeds for you...

    Drugs in birdseed? Whatever next?! It's like the antibiotics they used to put (probably still do) in the animals' water on farms. It doesn't take a genuis to work out what happens ~ immunity develops and the diseases get stronger!

  7. Thanx for this information as I am new to chickens and been reading all I can(driving myself insane.

  8. Interesting, Thanks for the info. Speckledhen and you have explained things that seem hard to get through this thick head. Now I understand the process better and you have made sense out of a mystery. btw I live in the PNW we are wet alot of the time. Thanks again, another BYC'er Nanawendy

  9. Hi Ann and Nanawendy! So happy to be helpful. SpeckledHen was a God-send for me when i started raising chickens. I always appreciate how thoroughly she explains things and makes them make sense. So thank you for the compliment.

  10. Wow Beth, that makes perfect sense. Studies are showing that keeping "sterile-clean" environments for babies and young children can actually cause some to have issues like asthma and allergies. It's because they're not being exposed to things so that they can build up immunity. Thank you for posting this and linking to it on your BYC sig. :)

  11. I read your post and thought to myself "that's EXACTLY what I did" - and I didn't even know better. :)

    I chose a feed that wasn't medicated (although I would never use that brand again) and brought in soil from the backyard for them to scratch in from almost day one. It just seemed like the natural thing to do since they would be exposed to soil if they were with a mother.

    I really panicked when I subsequently read that chicks get cocci from the soil and went to a feed store to buy "organic" cocci medicine. I was told that none existed so I crossed my fingers that they wouldn't get sick.

    They didn't get sick but this could be because there had been no chickens on this soil previously OR that they were exposed to the cocci from their 3rd day of life.

    Anyway, I agree with you 100%!

    -HeritageHens (from BYC)

  12. Just found you through BYC and I love this post. I haven't been feeding my chicks medicated feed, but do worry about coccidiosis. I've seen reference before to letting young chicks get gradual exposure through dirt in their brooder, so I think I'll definitely do that. Luckily my older chicks, who have been outside during the day for weeks now, seem fine.

    I actually recently wrote a post on BYC about cleanliness and how I feel that being too clean is actually more detrimental to health, especially if the cleanliness comes about with the use of chemical cleaners. It was in reference to children and family health, but I think holds true for animals too. It doesn't matter how clean you keep your environment, animals (children) will be exposed to germs at some point. And if there first exposure ever is a large amount, they likely won't be able to handle it, whereas if they've been exposed to small amounts throughout their lives then it won't be a big deal.


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