There is nothing more frustrating that having illness and health issues arise when you are making a diligent effort at coop cleanliness and proper chicken care. The simple fact that there are some illnesses beyond your control can be discouraging. While you may never have to face such issues, the possibility still remains that something such as coccidiosis will rear its ugly head.
Coccidia (or Cocci for short) is an intestinal ailment for which parasites are responsible. These parasites, which breed astonishingly fast, attack the intestinal lining of chickens which then stops the absorption of nutrients in the food they consume. This can be extremely detrimental to the health of a flock, affecting birds both young and old.
The first step in coping with Cocci is knowing how to recognize it. Unfortunately many chicken illnesses have the same or similar symptoms which can make identifying which is plaguing your birds quite difficult and Cocci is no exception. Symptoms for which you should watch include listlessness/lethargy, pale skin, weight loss, failure of young chicks to thrive, and bloody stools or bloody diarrhea. Once this disease begins its cycle, death can follow shortly thereafter so early diagnosis and treatment are essential for survival.
Coccidiosis begins when microscopic cysts are consumed and expelled from the body of a bird, which is not restricted to those in your flock. Cocci can be carried and transmitted by wild birds as well as being transported on shoes or equipment. It also thrives in contaminated food and water, which is a common source of exposure.
Preventing Cocci is truly important. There are several ways to go about protecting your flock. Birds young and old alike are vulnerable to this awful disease, so protecting them at all stages of development is necessary. Means of preventing Cocci include:
Unfortunately when it comes to diagnosis, the only way to know for sure if you have a Coccidiosis issue is through a fecal test performed by a vet. The good news is this is something that can be done quickly and inexpensively and you will be on your way to treating the issues at hand promptly, which is necessary to avoid loss of life. Follow your vet's instructions for treatment but be prepared to treat the whole flock to eradicate the problem. Treatment generally includes liquid amprolium but confirm the dosage and administration plans with your vet before proceeding. This will probably need to be followed up with a vitamin supplement such as Nutri-Drench due to lost vitamins during treatment.
- Provide clean water, such as through a nipple system, that cannot come into contact with bird waste and become contaminated.
- Keep your coop and brooder clean as well as dry. Wet environments encourage Cocci growth. Having good ventilation in your coop will help with keeping things dry.
- Avoid overcrowding. Too many birds in too little space means more birds coming into contact with waste and possibly contaminating one another.
- Always quarantine new flock members for at least two weeks and don't allow chicken keepers from other flocks to mingle with your birds. Also do not share equipment between your flock and someone else's.
- Do not feed directly off of the ground; use feeders for everything your chickens will consume.
- Include access to probiotics, especially for chicks, as these will enable the growth of good, useful gut bacteria.
- Vaccinate day old chicks for Cocci. If buying through a hatchery, this is a frequently offered service. If chicks are not vaccinated, offer medicated starter feed. Be sure not to use both of these methods! Either vaccinate or feed medicated feed because doing both will cancel one another out, leaving chicks at risk.
- When it comes time to introduce chicks to the flock, do so gradually so they can build up their immune system slowly and steadily.
Coccidia occur naturally in the environment in multiple strains. Chickens generally build up tolerance and immunity to the type they encounter on their home turf. Problems begin to occur when new strains are encountered as no immunity is in place to fight off their damaging effects. This is the biggest reason to monitor the people and items that traverse amongst your flock, and another reason to discourage the presence of wild birds by keeping feeders out of their reach. While Coccidiosis itself is tough to prevent, efforts can be made to minimize new strains from reaching your coop and that is the biggest ally you will have in this terrible fight.