In over 35 years of chicken keeping, I had never had to personally deal with the dreaded coccidiosis. I knew others who had experienced coccidiosis in backyard chickens, but when it hit my peaceful poultry yard, I was unprepared. Don’t let this happen to you.
The rapid spreading of coccidiosis in poultry is shocking. I was reeling from the voracity of this vicious killer. I was unprepared and so was the immune system of most of my young birds.
My desire is to share what I learned with you to prevent you being caught with your pants down like I was.
Coccidiosis is one of the more common diseases faced by poultry farms. Severe cases cause large numbers of young chickens a have a high mortality rate.
The first thing I noticed was a decrease in activity and appetite. They were fluffing their feathers out as if they were hot but I had not observed any other symptoms.
My turkey poults seemed to be experiencing more issues than my Speckled Sussex chicks so I quickly separated them. I continued to keep a close watch on them but when I went out to do chores a couple of mornings later, I found a turkey poult dead.
In a flash, I began to run all conceivable culprits through my head.
Another of the 6 remaining poults was very still and had its head and neck craned back between the shoulder blades. It was panting heavily.
Again, my thought was that the heat was the culprit. We had been experiencing 100° plus temperatures with 50% or higher humidity for at least 3 weeks.
Then I saw it.
I had enough knowledge to recognize that foamy, bloody poop means the deadly disease, coccidiosis. The race was on to save the rest of the flock.
I checked my copy of Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living, as always, and read what she had to say. Then I checked with my chicken keeping friends whom I knew had dealt with this before.
WHAT IS COCCIDIOSIS IN POULTRY
Coccidiosis is an intestinal protozoal disease of chickens and other poultry caused by a microscopic parasite which attaches itself to a chicken’s intestinal or gut lining. It’s clinical disease name is coccidia.
This microscopic organism damages the intestinal tract causing bleeding. Protozoan parasites are present in every chicken yard. It can be brought into your flock by wild birds carrying avian coccidiosis.
It’s not just a problem for poultry. Coccidiosis affects all farm animals. Timber Creek Farm has a helpful article on coccidiosis in small homestead ruminants.
However, it’s the main cause of death in young chicks while adult chickens fare better, if they are healthy.
Many times, its the secondary health problems caused by the cocci infection that kill the chick, especially dehydration.
Conditions Coccidia Thrive In
The Coccidia parasite loves warm moist conditions. For hot and humid areas, like ours, the summertime is the perfect storm for this parasite to attack the digestive tract of the birds in the chicken coop.
This year, the conditions were prime. We had flooding from early winter until the first week of July. Then it went straight to extremely hot. It was 105 degrees F for days on end, not counting the heat index.
The mode of transmission is through the poop of infested animals. The simplest explanation is the eggs of the parasite, called coccidia oocysts, live in poop.
As the chicks scratch and peck around in wet bedding or wet litter, they ingest the eggs and are contaminated.
Exposure to cocci can’t be prevented. Chicks between newborn and eight weeks are easily overwhelmed by the parasite as it attacks their small intestinal lining.
Chicks who are brooded by their mom hardly ever have a problem with coccidiosis. This is because they are exposed to her poop gradually so they build a natural immunity to it.
Motherless chicks placed into any area where adult birds have been housed are at the greatest risk. They haven’t been given the opportunity to build any immunity. I believe this is why we’ve never experienced the disease before now.
I believer the extreme weather conditions created the perfect breeding ground for coccidiosis.
As I’ve learned, turkeys are far more fragile than chicks. They require much more “mothering” and gradual environmental changes.
We lost no Speckled Sussex chicks to coccidiosis! They are my favorite breed for many reasons, but their hardy health is one of the things I like best.
First Steps to Treating Coccidiosis in Poultry
It’s not our practice to use chemicals or medications like anticoccidial drugs for our livestock. We prefer to use holistic health management.
In this situation, I felt I had let my flock down. I had not taken the time to prepare my knowledge or their holistic first aid kit.
It would take time to acquire the herbs and essential oils I needed and for them to take effect. I didn’t have this time so I purchased Sulmet, an anticoccidial medication, from my local farm supply store.
I followed the directions for adding the medication to the water. I did this for the entire flock that had been affected, both the Speckled Sussex chicks and the turkey poults.
I was optimistically cautious because there had been only one bloody poop in the Sussex yard.
On the first day of treatment, everyone drank the medication. On the second day, they drank some. By the third day, everyone refused the drinking water with the medication mixed in.
The outside temps were just too hot to let them go without water. This meant a change in tactics was needed.
Another of the turkeys had died so, on the advice of a vet, each turkey was caught and medicated. Using a dropper, they each received a straight dose.
The next morning, another one was dead. Again that evening, I medicated them. The next morning all four were alive. I was hopeful.
For two more days, they received the medication. I began to see only slightly pink and less frothy stool. I was encouraged that we had beaten it.
When all four of the remaining turkeys went to bed and sang their good night song, I was even more encouraged. The next morning, I found the dead hen.
I was devastated. It was about more than the $215 investment in the turkeys. There was the feed, the medication, the time and energy, and mostly the emotional investment.
While all of this was happening, I was researching and talking to fellow chicken keepers as much as possible.
I am aware that many people do not like Sulmet. They are especially against giving it undiluted.
A veterinarian gave me instructions to do it this way since the birds would not drink the medicated water.
The dropper application is the last resort. The dose is minute. If they were going to die, it would not be because I had not done all I knew to do.
My Next Step in Treating Coccidiosis in Poultry
Based on what I had learned, the remaining turkeys were removed from their brooding yard. I put them in a rooster yard that had been vacant for almost a year.
Nothing was taken from the infested yard except the tarp that was covering it, their waterer, and feeder. I disinfected both of them with hot water then hydrogen peroxide.
- I had learned that any wooden surface can hold the coccidia and let it thrive.
- I sprinkled DE over everything in the infested yard and their new yard. Diatomaceous earth kills so many nasty things. While it alone will not eliminate the parasites which cause coccidiosis, it is a tool in the treatment and prevention of it.
- They were given new roosts.
- Their food and water was elevated on uncontaminated blocks.
- We started giving them apple cider vinegar water again, 2 tablespoons to 1 gallon. I did this for the Sussex chicks as well.
There are well-known chicken keepers who oppose the use of diatomaceous earth. I understand their points and respect them, but we simply don’t agree.
We’ve used it on our farm for many years for all kinds of purposes. We believe moderation is key in all things.
If you don’t agree with something I did, that’s fine. As my grandfather would say, “There’s as many ways of gettin’ a farm job done as there’s farmers. Ya gotta be willing to listen, help, and learn from ’em, even if it’s just to see what not to do.”
On the day I write this post, the good news is the two remaining turkeys, Crazy Cora and Cocoa Roo, are now 12 weeks old!
They are living in the grow-out yard and have a “turkey tower” which they share with their friends, the Speckled Sussex chicks.
They have normal healthy poop, as any Ma can appreciate. They are growing fast and endearing themselves to us daily.
PREVENTION OF COCCIDIOSIS
Prevention is the most important thing. Being prepared will do away with all the worry and need for treatment.
The biggest thing I did wrong was to put the poults into a recently used breeder yard. Scruffy had hatched and grew out her brood just a few weeks earlier.
Our brooder houses are made of wood and set on a concrete base for elevation. This yard is on the low side of our chicken compound and had flooded several times this year.
This created the perfect environmental conditions for the coccidiosis parasites to have a big growth rate.
LESSONS LEARNED ON PREVENTION OF COCCIDIOSIS
- It’s a good idea not to keep young poultry where an adult bird was housed within the past 6 months
- For best results, elevate chick feed and fresh water to their neck level so they can’t perch and poop in it
- Litter should be kept clean and dry
- Build their immune systems by providing apple cider vinegar water (raw, organic, unfiltered) and dusting their feed with DE and garlic
- Be sure your flock isn’t crowded. Allowing 3 – 5 feet per bird (if confined) is a good rule for average adult birds
- Keep water clean and fresh – changing it at least once a day – especially until they’re eight weeks old
- Once your chicks have been infected, they may always have compromised intestinal immunity issues.
Clinical Signs and Symptoms of Coccidiosis For a Definitive Diagnosis
- Lethargy and loss of appetite may be your first clue.
- Another first sign will be foamy stool caused by the microscopic parasitic organism as it attacks the natural resistance of the intestinal wall.
- Blood in the poop.
- You may notice the birds fluffing up their feathers as if they’re hot.
- They will also appear inactive, unresponsive, and droopy.
The reality of this intrepid intruder in your flock is they may appear perfectly normal and healthy up until death.
The poop can have two different appearances and may exhibit both.
- Slimy and mucousy, with a frothy appearance and/or pasty white or yellow.
- If you see bloody poop, you know for certain, it’s coccidiosis.
Different strains of cocci can cause varying symptoms, but these symptoms are general to all strains.
Someone told me an infected bird could be spotted before you see these signs. They’re smaller than those they hatched with, they will feel light as air and have little breast meat.
They also have a razor-sharp keel bone. I can’t confirm this with my own experience. I wasn’t looking for these signs.
Since some coccidiosis symptoms mimic vitamin and mineral deficiencies, it can be hard for some people to identify. You could always call a vet to examine their poop.
BEST WAYS TO TREAT COCCIDIOSIS
In the haste caused by my unpreparedness, I purchased Sulmet to stop the killing. I highly recommend natural ways and in the future will be prepared just in case.
I don’t want anyone else to go through what we did. But if you are not averse to chemical medications for your animals, it is an option found in feed stores.
- Offer apple cider vinegar water to chicks from day one – 2 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water.
- Remove soiled litter
- Ensure the chicks don’t get chilled. If you have them under a brooder light, be sure they’re not too hot. A weak bird may not be able to move when it gets too hot.
To my knowledge, there are only two medications available for treating coccidiosis and there is no commercial vaccines.
The End of Coccidiosis on Our Farm
The dying stopped, and healing began. Now I devoted my energies to learning how to holistically and naturally prevent and deal with coccidiosis.
My desire for you is that by following the preventative measures we shared, you will never have to face this devastating disease.
My complete sympathy and understanding lies with those whose hearts are gripped with fear at the mention of “coccidiosis”.
Should you come face to face with the arch-nemesis of every chicken keeper, you will have the resources you need to neutralize the threat.