Update: saw a droopy chick this morning; sulphaquin added to the water. Pen also moved. Remainder appear normal but I might as well treat the lot.
Gradual exposure wasn't managed well this time around.
See further update below original post...
This is the seventh day of steady heavy rain, and it's taking its toll.
For the first time I've seen a sign of possible coccidiosis — a chick with blood-tinged droppings. None of the birds is sick or hunched, but things can move quickly once coccidiosis is there.
It's time to go back to basics. I may have to medicate the bleeding bird but in any case I'll move the tractor to fresh ground (i.e. ground that hasn't had chickens on it before).
If I move the tractor daily onto unexposed ground I should be able to stay ahead of the parasites, since coccidia have a 48 hour interval between being deposited on the ground and becoming infective.
However I'll have to make sure no new birds are tenured on this spot in the near future, as where the tractor was sitting is now probably quite heavily seeded with oocysts. It's a little reminder that 30 meat chicks is a high number, and I would probably have been smarter choosing to only brood 15 — or else be a bit quicker with managing pen movements.
Having said that... there were a few reasons why I didn't move the pen earlier. The first is that the chicks were quite young and I didn't want them to get stressed by a sudden move so soon after getting comfortable. Secondly the temporary cold brooder I set up in the tractor was pegged to the ground and partly supported by the tractor structure (via bungee cords), so I wasn't able to move it without dismantling the whole thing (that was silly but I was in a rush). Thirdly toward the end of the week I caught one of the many lurgies my girl brings home from school, and everything became a bit much. To top it off the rain turned the various chook pens into stinky mush.
This morning, feeling better, I've moved the tractor to fresh ground and spread mulch on all the worst areas in the adult pens. At least that's the two worst jobs out of the way. :-)
Here's the pen in its new position. Tomorrow I'll move it again.
Now for the revamped portable cold brooder... Later this morning I went to Bunnings and bought a set of 4 compost bin panels made of galvanised wire mesh. Using these I rigged up a better cold brooder which consists of a rectangular box on top of 4 legs (the legs are wired onto the box and are made of galvanised brackets). The whole thing cost less than $40 but will be useful if ever I'm brooding a large number of fast growing birds in future (I'll post a photo shortly). Best of all it's a complete unit and very light so it's easy to move — just pick it up, take it out of the tractor, move the tractor, then put it back in. It's also large enough to accommodate all 30-odd birds for another 3 weeks if need be (though they're feathering very well and probably don't need much of an igloo any more).
Around the edges of the base of the box I've hung dishclothes cut into a fringe so birds can come and go between the legs. In the shallow rectangular box (with no lid) that forms the top of the cold brooder I've spread about 8cm thick of hay; on top of that I've sat a tarpaulin. The hay breathes out through the sides under the tarp, but it's also quite airy because of the loosely hanging curtain fringe.
As for the coccidiosis, that's something I'll be watching very closely. If I see birds looking unwell I'll medicate (I have a bottle of sulphaquin in the shed). But so far they're eating well...
... and drinking well.
It would be better all round if I can manage the coccidiosis away before it's too bad; but whatever the case, it's the chicks' health and comfort that matters, and I don't see the point in being hard line about medications.
But so far I don't feel they need that kind of intervention.
I do, however, feel that artificial methionine in chick starter is best avoided — at least until someone with a research capacity settles the topic of whether dementia, heart disease, artherosclerosis, fatty liver and other conditions (associated with higher blood methionine) might be connected to what we feed our meat birds.
After adding sulphaquin to the water, I noticed by the afternoon that there were about 5 droopy chicks, and even the healthiest birds looked just a tiny bit off colour. However by the next day (second day of treatment) the droopers had all improved, and on the third day (which was plain water) I could see no cocci signs in the birds, only in the droppings, which contained remnants of shed intestine.
I'm feeding them a majority medicated starter and backing the grains off somewhat. When the digestion is upset, whole grains can be a bit too much of a challenge. The birds seem to think this too, as they're definitely preferring the commercial feed right now.
Having exposed them to adult droppings while in the brooder, I was expecting that the chicks would have a little more immunity than they proved to have. But perhaps that drenching downpour would have set back any growing birds — certainly I would have kept them in the brooder longer if I'd realised heavy rain was on the cards.
In future I think adding handfuls of adult pen soil to the brooder, and gradually increasing the amount, may be a way to prepare them for the tractor stage. But I've also been leaning toward natural brooding for some time now, having bred and kept a few sitting-inclined hens. The fact that none of the hen-raised anconas has developed cocci is significiant, I think, especially since their pen was even wetter during the downpour than the ground under the tractor holding the meat birds. While there are fewer anconas than meat birds (hence a lower droppings rate) their pen is also much smaller, so these droppings are quite concentrated. For some reason these chicks are doing extremely well with the same diet (half medicated, half home mix).
In future I'll be keeping chick numbers around the 15 mark, I think — it's much easier to manage that number without them outgrowing the brooders and much easier to regulate cocci loads when I set them a new challenge (such as tractor life).
And as I've said earlier, I'll brood naturally where possible. The health of the anconas under their malay-ISA hen seems to make that a no-brainer if I want to keep medication use low, but still have healthy birds.