'It might sound a little crude, but to me, a chicken is basically a gut with a pair of lungs[.]'
I suppose when you're feeding hundreds of thousands of people, you tend to develop a pretty perfunctory relationship to the birds.
I'm not going to criticise people who farm to feed thousands.
But the article is interesting for other reasons, namely the high incidence of coccidiosis in chicks raised with coccidiostats (or 'ionophores').
By contrast, according to the above article, vaccinating with known doses of live coccidiosis at staged intervals appeared to produce uniformly healthy birds.
Of course, you don't see labels on coccidiostat-supplemented feed bags saying 'Warning: this product will eventually lose its efficacy'. For that matter, until coccidiosis 'vaccines' were produced commercially, you rarely heard about ionophore resistance. Now it's almost a point of pride: the ionophores have failed! Yay vaccine!
Coccidiosis vaccines, of course, aren't the injections most people think of when they imagine vaccinating. They're simply spray applications of controlled loads of known parasites at particular stages of chick growth. It's very hard to be that precise in a backyard.
So the question is do we have to be that precise? What about those of us hatching purely for home use?
Under the right conditions (warm and humid), large numbers of chicks raised immediately after chicks raised after chicks will be highly likely to develop coccidiosis problems even on ionophores. But what if coccidia have parasites or predators of their own?
In any ecological system, prey (or pest) species are naturally more numerous than pest-predator species, and they also tend to develop chemical resistance earlier (as they usually breed faster). Thus chemicals used against pest species often wipe out pest-predator species, while the original pest species develop resistance and flourish in ever-greater numbers, requiring new chemicals.
By this line of reasoning, it seems possible that chemicals that control coccidiosis might actually be stopping coccidia-predator bugs from flourishing. For one thing, chicks raised with hens tend to develop coccidiosis resistance earlier than brooder-raised ones. Perhaps — and this is a layperson's suggestion — the droppings of healthy adult hens might contain a good balance of organisms that help keep coccidiosis under control.
According to various coccodiosis information sheets, resistance to the organism is generally immune based, not to do with complex interactions between parasites and minuscule predators. And perhaps chicks raised with hens achieve immunity sooner not precisely because they're exposed to adult hen droppings (though this also fits the vaccine model of limited exposure) but because they're often free ranged. But still, the 'predator-pest balance' approach is an interesting line of thought for anyone trying to limit synthetic inputs.
In a way, though, this is all thinking too much. The one guarantee of life (at least in my experience) is that something will always come from left field. So in the meantime, I'll keep tinkering with my practices and writing up what I find.
The light sussex show birds now cooking in the incubator and under a hen will be the test batch for my using no coccidiostats at all. (They're at day 11 now, and googing up nicely, with every egg I set showing development.) Raising chicks off medication entirely is a big step for me, especially as this ground has now had chickens on it for quite some time.
Keep watching. If the chicks get sick, I'll medicate at once (I have some Sulphaquin), and post results. I'm not in this to prove a point; I'm in this to try to find non-chemical ways to keep chicks healthy, if possible. And by 'possible' I mean to the extent that management can take the place of ionophores.
Meanwhile, with chicks due out in just over a week and a half, it's time I ordered some high protein feed... Or if I can't find any unmedicated starter to suit, I guess I'll be making my own.