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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Keeping ahead of cocci by moving the chicks...

 Well, with rain coming, a leaky aviary roof and chicks 2 days short of 3 weeks (at 3 weeks they tend to shed a lot more cocci oocysts), it was time to move the mob.

Meanwhile, just a reminder about the diet of these chicks: I began with the intention of keeping them off all medications. However unfortunately I've still been unable to source non-medicated starter locally. As a result I've been giving these chicks (since day old) my usual diet plus ordinary medicated chick starter on the side.

They clearly love the sprout mix (which contains lucerne chaff, molasses, lupins, sunflower seeds and other goodies), and have eaten only very small quantities of the commercial crumble. In fact, some days I haven't bothered giving them any chick starter at all. It appears the pullet mother has taught them to tackle some of the larger grains, and they all seem fond of whole sprouted wheat and the whole sunflower seeds. I'm not sure any of the chicks are yet able to eat whole sprouted corn, but I'm sure it's not likely to be long away (and at any rate all the sprouted mix is eaten during the day, including corn and peas).

But I do have doubts about the quality of the protein my diet gives them while they're not on free range and able to self-supplement. For this reason I only took the medicated feed away entirely yesterday. On the whole I'd say they've had a quarter of their diet so far being chick starter, and three quarters being my non-commercial mix.

Now here they are, a couple of days shy of 3 weeks:

Testing them for bodyweight I've found them to all be healthy solid birds, with good breast and leg flesh, and no non-thrivers. Like all of the larger breeds (especially show birds) they're slower to feather than my leghorns, which would all be fully feathered except for faces at this age. But in terms of body weight I'm very pleased.

Most importantly given their stage of growth and the conditions they've been kept in, I'm seeing no signs of coccidiosis. Their droppings are firm and normal. The best-feathered pullet was upset by the severe heat two days ago (around 40C) but even though she had droopy wings that day and the next, she's perfectly normal now. Heat stress may lower immunity and lead to cocci, and there was one day that was 40C and also brought rain. I wouldn't be surprised if she's got slight cocci symptoms, but I'm not going to treat unless the droopy wings return or I see the slightest other sign. So far, so good.

Now to put this in context, the aviary they were in until yesterday was perfectly dry until 2 days ago (when the 40C weather was topped by rain). Unfortunately the roof leaks, so that day and yesterday the floor was quite damp. (That's why they all look a bit grubby in the picture above.) It has also been used to rear 5 sets of chicks and house several adult birds, though I've cleaned it out thoroughly between groups. But the entire time these chicks were in the aviary (from day 1-2 to yesterday), I didn't once clean out the floor. Sloppy, huh! Mind you, if the bedding hadn't stayed perfectly dry, I would have been in there daily with a shovel. Most certainly after a day of rain and the heatwave only just gone, it was high time I got the birds off that floor.

All this means that these birds have surely encountered coccidiosis parasites, but haven't succumbed. With things quite mixed around in terms of feeding I can't, of course, be sure that the medications in the starter crumble haven't achieved some effect. But on the other hand I saw no signs of the birds actually eating the crumble in any real volume; the only topping-up I seemed to do was because of litter scratched into the feeder. Meanwhile all the non-medicated food I put in got eaten completely.

I'm inclined to say the combination of dry litter, probiotics, exposure to a mother hen's digestive flora and droppings, and the fact that the litter had been new to start with all helped keep these chicks ahead of disease.

Now for the real challenge: being on damp ground. All 12 chicks and the pullet mother are now in the large grower tractor, which I've also surrounded with a low shadecloth strip to stop currawongs plucking babies out through the wire. Skirting this tractor (by the way) are panels of a weld-mesh type product cut into 25cm wide strips, and pegged to the ground. This will stop most diggers (except for rats). And now that the chicks are almost 3 weeks old they're fairly safe against rats, with a few management extras (such as the wandering dog and my next job being to mow). I would still say coccidiosis is the main thing I have to watch for now.

This is day one of the chicks' being out and about. I'm also going absolutely cold turkey on the medicated starter and introducing bandsaw dust (from a butcher) for a little extra fresh protein, in case my general mix has any deficiency. The shift to a new pen alone is quite a challenge, and the withdrawal of all the medicated starter is most likely (if they've been eating much of it) another one. But if I keep a good watch on the birds and move the pen regularly I have good hopes that this will all stay well. And if I do see coccidiosis, or if the chicks go even slightly off their food, I'll be quite happy to medicate.

The point is, only if I have to. And isn't that good agricultural husbandry anyway?

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