Chicken Quarters: Prevent Coccidiosis Infection In Your Flock

The best indicator of this potentially fatal parasitic condition can be found in your chickens’ poo.

by Rachel Hurd Anger
PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger

Normal, healthy chicken poop comes in a variety of colors and consistencies, depending largely on the forage of the day. Most of the time, chicken poop will be nice and round, not too smelly, with the lovely crest of white uric acid on top. If any poop is considered ideal, this is it. Sometimes, chicken poop is very dark, sludgy and oily—decidedly the smelliest of all chicken poop. This is the kind that will make your friends leave. In the summer when chickens increase their water intake, especially if they enjoy hydrating treats like watermelon, chicken poop can fall out of them with a splash, but it’s all quite normal and varies with their diet.

Unexplained poo changes, like watery poo without increased water intake or red chicken poop that looks bloody, are not normal. If lethargy, loss of appetite and the sudden change in the appearance of feathers are present, any or or all of these could hint to a Coccidiosis infection.

chicken poop
Rachel Hurd Anger

Coccidiosis is caused by parasites that damage the lining of the intestines. Coccidia parasites are everywhere, and their oocysts can remain dormant for a very long time waiting for a host to ingest them. When an oocyst is ingested, digestion strips off a protective layer, activating the protozoa, which invades a single cell in the lining of the intestine, destroying it and creating more oocytes. The new oocytes are excreted and can be eaten by another chicken.

Some birds recover from Coccidiosis infection just fine without treatment—an infected bird might eat a small amount of oocytes and recover before anyone ever knew it was sick. In this bird, you might see bloody tissue in the feces—this is the shed damaged lining of its intestines. Sometimes even healthy birds will shed intestinal lining, so it’s important to notice if the bloody poo appears once or more often. Many birds with severe Coccidiosis infection die quickly, most commonly within four to six days of the onset of severe infection. Several different strains of Coccidia infect different areas of the intestines, each with varying severity. Only a veterinarian should make a Coccidiosis diagnosis.

Treating Coccidiosis

The commonly prescribed treatment for Coccidiosis is the drug Sulmet. It’s a sulfa-based antibiotic with big consequences. If you decide to use it, you shouldn’t eat your chickens’ eggs again—ever. Sulmet should never be used for disease prevention or without veterinary diagnosis, and it shouldn’t be used in poultry kept for eggs.

From the Sulmet label:

Residue Warnings: Do not medicate chickens or turkeys producing eggs for human consumption. To avoid drug residues in edible flesh, withdraw medication from chickens and turkeys ten (10) days prior to slaughter for food.”

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If you treat your hens with Sulmet, you can kiss your their eggs goodbye. Note that the label does not instruct one to return to eating eggs from treated animals like it instructs how to reduce (not eliminate) human exposure in meat.

A potent and expensive herbal supplement designed to kill some parasites, including Coccidia, called Kocci Free is said to work well, though I haven’t used it. Prevention, of course, is always the best medicine.

Preventing Coccidiosis Is Best

Coccidiosis prevention
Rachel Hurd Anger

As is the first step in good flock hygiene, it’s important to keep your flocks’ environment clean to prevent disease. I’m not saying it has to be constantly sanitized, but it should be neat and tidy. Living in the backyard is messy, of course, but normal grime is fine. Filth is not. A flock living in an environment where chicken poop is allowed to build up and contaminate the coop, run, feed and water is more susceptible to Coccidiosis infection.

Keep the flock as healthy as possible with natural, attentive care so they can fight infection on their own:

  • Always provide fresh feed and clean water.
  • Keep living and feeding areas dry.
  • Supplement the flock’s diet with kitchen scraps high in nutrients.
  • Allow access to living foods through free ranging or by growing sprouts and fodder.
  • Add apple cider vinegar and fresh garlic to a non-metallic water source.
  • Offer probiotics in the form of plain yogurt or poultry probiotic supplements.

Coccidiosis And Baby Chicks

Day-old chicks can be vaccinated for Coccidia at the hatchery, but it’s not the same as the vaccine for Marek’s, which is a virus. If your chicks are vaccinated against Coccidia, do not feed them medicated chick feed. If your chicks are not vaccinated against Coccidia, medicated chick feed will reduce the risk of Coccidiosis infection, a leading killer of baby chicks. If you choose not to medicate your chicks, follow the prevention tips above, and keep the chicks separate from an established flock until they reach an appropriate age for mingling.

If you suspect Coccidiosis in your flock, seek help only from a veterinarian who can test for the parasites.

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