Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

coccidiosis control without antibiotics

I've never lost a chick to coccidiosis. However I did once buy some point of lay pullets that had never been on the ground before (they were raised on wire), and within a week of coming here during rainy weather, all 4 birds became sick. The trouble with coccidiosis is it can do such damage to the intestinal lining that birds are rarely 100% again. That's what happened to my 4 pullets, which took 4 months to get well, and then failed to lay properly for six months after that.

The most common approach to coccidiosis control is using medicated feed. But it's not ideal in many ways, not least being resistance (where the parasite breeds to become less susceptible to the drug). Secondly, I know from any time I've started building a compost pile rich in chick starter that it fungates like crazy. I suspect that piles of spilt chick starter can really upset the balance of microorganisms in the compost, and probably in soil (which may partly explain why, when I threw a batch of spilt chick starter on the base of a choko vine by way of fertilizer, the plant died).

It's encouraging to see big farms in some areas of the globe experimenting with coccdiosis 'vaccination'. Unlike many vaccines (some of which spread disease*), the coccidiosis version is simply a spray-on dose of live coccidiosis oocysts. This limited exposure gradually encourages immunity, while the more easily controllable cocci bug in the vaccine ensures that if drugs do become necessary, the parasites won't be resistant.

But in reality this is what happens in nature when the mother hen mouths food for her chickens, and when they eat a little of her droppings to ingest her gut flora. Mother hens are pretty good (especially when given free range) at moving chicks to new ground and limiting their exposure.

Given that I can't currently use broody hens to raise my chicks, I'm keen on trying a home version of the vaccination idea. The general plan would be to expose chicks to parental droppings within the first few hours after hatch (as well as a little dose of probiotics, whether yakult or yoghurt or kefir in the water). Unfortunately I won't be able to gauge the 'dose' of coccidiosis oocysts, so this is all pretty ad hoc.

Anyway, these are just ideas at this stage... I've given probiotics and a little parental droppings to my current chicks, but haven't been game to remove the medicated starter.

When you've seen how quickly birds can become deathly ill without intervention, it's hard to just drop something that works... But the ideal would be home-raised chicks without antibiotics — it doesn't seem a tall ask, does it?

Stay tuned...

* See the DPI Qld website relating to tick fever vaccination for cattle. The site explains that vaccinating cattle for tick fever will likely introduce the disease to local ticks, which can then spread it to unvaccinated cattle. Nice way of ensuring addiction to vaccination!

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