Coccidiosis is a problem that all poultry keepers need to be wary of. Coccidia are small parasitic organisms that live in the intestines and/or bowels of many animals; including chickens, pigs, other birds, cows, dogs, cats.. Coccidia really are everywhere, and it is normal for birds to have it present in their systems, in manageable levels. Problems arise when the birds become weak and their immunity is down, this gives the coccidia a chance to take over. High numbers of coccidia result in damage to the intestinal wall, which can be quickly fatal. Cocci is passed on through chickens eating the droppings of others, which contain the minute ooyctes.
Birds of any age that become unwell are prone to bouts of coccidiosis, so it is prudent to treat any off colour birds for cocci as a precaution. But the most common time for the disease is in chicks below 12 weeks. Chicks are yet to build up an immunity to cocci, and therefore are susceptible to it. As this is such a widespread problem, most chick feeds are medicated with a Coccidiostat. However this is not always enough to prevent coccidiosis; it is still very possible for chicks that are eating medicated crumbles to die from cocci.
Therefore having a coccidiostat on hand when raising chickens is a must. My drug of choice is Amprolium. There are several other options, including Baycox; which is very effective, however expensive and hard to get in small doses. Sulpha meds, such as Suphaquin or Sulpha D are more readily available (most pet shops stock them) however they are less effective, but still helpful when given early enough.
Is easy to use, relatively cheap, safe and effective. It is a white powder which is mixed in the chicks drinking water. We buy it by the kilo from Bellsouth (see here). We rarely have an outbreak of cocci, as we are mindful of the times when the chicks are most susceptible, and give them a preventative dose at that time (preventative dose of approx 1 gram per litre of water for 1-2 days). We do this at times of stress; namely when they move brooders, or we change their feeders or waterers (new environment which may harbour cocci), when groups of chicks are combined, or when other stressful events, such as having their light turned off, take place.
One of the most common mistakes new poultry keepers make is to combine groups of young chicks without treating for cocci. Chickens from different locations carry different strains of cocci, to which they are somewhat immune. When chicks from other locations eat the droppings of other chicks (lets face it, its gross, but they do it!) then they are infected with a cocci they have no immunity to, so become ill. They don't have to go as far as eating the droppings either; it can be present in the water, on the brooder, the bedding or on the feeder and waterers. So even chicks in brooders that are cleaned daily can become ill.
The best treatment is prevention.
When to worm?
Chickens like most animals get worms. Most chickens carry some worms that aren't a problem, but being kept in the same area day in day out gives the worms a chance to build up in their systems, and the chickens reingest the worm eggs they have excreted. Some people worm more frequently, but I have found mine have done just fine with being wormed every 4 months, so 3 times per year. I try to make at least one of those wormings a product which covers tape worm as well, as a lot don't.
What to worm with?
Many products are available for worming your chickens. For a few chooks you can use one of the small bottles available from pet shops or some farm supply stores. If you have lots of chooks, this works out pretty pricey. Another thing to consider is that some products, such as the 'mectin' family also have the advantage of killing other parasites such as mites and some lice. I personally use sheep drench, which can be mixed in their water or given orally with a syringe. This is 'off label' use, in that the drench was not intended to be used with chickens. But Dr Colin Walker (Vet with Melbourne Bird Clinic) has done plenty of research into the use of Moxidectin in poultry, and has come up with an appropriate dose rate.
Using Cattle Pour On
I don't use pour on, simply for the fact that it would be one big chore running round dropping it onto the skin of a hundred odd chooks! However many people use this method quite successfully.
The idea of using pour on is that it needs to be dropped onto their skin, where it will be absorbed into their blood stream. this is how it works when poured onto cows. It will also kill worms, mites and some lice. However, it is not a one stop shop, in that lice will also need to be topically treated (as with using sheep drench).
A common brand is Cydectin Pour On (for cattle and red deer). The active ingredient is Moxidectin, at a concentration of 5g per L. An appropriate dose for chickens is 0.5mL per kg of body weight. The best way to apply this is no measure it out in a syringe (obviously without a needle attached!) and then to part their feathers and apply to skin. the easiest way to do this is to wait until they are on their perches over night, and do it by torch light.
Using Sheep Drench
Look for a drench that contains Moxidectin. Other drenches can be used, but the research Dr Walker has done seems to be Moxidectin specific. It is important to get one that doesn't have any other additives, such as Selenium. This can poison the chooks. Praziquantel is ok for them; this is found in Cydectin Plus, which also treats tape worm. But it shouldn't be any stronger than 20mg/mL. So when using Moxidectin, Dr Walker recomends a dose rate of 5mL diluted in 1L of water. This is for drench with the active ingredients of 2mg/mL Moxidectin and 18.8mg/mL of Prazinquitel, or just the 2mg/mL of Moxi if it is not the 'plus' product. Therefore a litre of water would then contain 10mg of Moxidectin. This formula can then be adapted to other drenches that are straight Moxidectin; mine for example has 1mg/mL of Moxi, so I put 10ml/L of water.
If you choose to direct dose your birds, then you need to work on giving them 1mg of Moxidectin per kg of their body weight. So if you have a drench that is 1mg/mL of Moxi, you would give a 3kg bird 3mL. I don't do this.. it is just too easy to pop it in their water!
Follow up dose
When you worm the chooks the first time, you kill all the live worms. The eggs are not affected though. Hence you have to worm them again 10-14 days later, which gives the eggs a chance to hatch (but not to lay their own eggs) then you kill all of those, breaking the life cycle of the worms. So my program is to worm them twice within a 2 week period, three times per year. This applies to all products; whether it be a product from the pet shop, Cattle Pour On or Sheep Drench.
Moxidectin is available in smaller doses from the Melbourne Bird clinic, see link http://www.melbournebirdvet.com/ . It's a lot cheaper if you can find some on the farm though!
Lice and Mites
Lice and mite are a common ailment of the backyard chook. They are carried by wild birds such as sparrows, so poultry keepers tend to fight a loosing battle against them. Lice are annoying for the birds, and will reduce laying, and result in the birds loosing condition. Mites that suck blood can render a chicken anaemic, and can lead to death. So it is best that keepers have a system for getting on top of lice and mites. I use a few methods, including Moxidectin orally, as well as powdering and dipping my birds. Active ingredients that are useful include; Ivermectin and other mectins, permethrin, pyrethrum, sulfur and spinosad. Which ever method is used, as with worming, a follow up dose must be given 10-14 days later.
Not all lice and mites are killed by an oral dose of the mectin family, however they help. Mites that suck blood are treated by most Mectins; so this includes the common red mite and scaly leg mite, but not feather mites or common lice. Feather mites and lice numbers may be knocked back by a dose of Moxidectin, as they eat feather dander, which does contain some of the drug. But not enough to wipe lice or feather mites out completely.
Therefore, it is necessary to use other topical means to keep your birds lice and mite free (well until the sparrows visit again at least!)
Powder is one method available, and is good for treating the housing and the birds, especially in winter. Pestene powder can be bought from the pet shop, for around $20 per shaker tin. I use the budget version, which is ant powder from Bunnings, for less than $5 per shaker (Garden Pro brand, active ingredient is permethrin). Certain brands of vegetable dust can also be used.The idea is to apply the powder to the chickens feathers, making sure you get it right to the skin, especially around the vent and under the wings. A cheap dust mask is also a good investment when doing this! A good idea is to sneak out and do it of a night, that way you can just pick the sleepy chooks up off their perch and there is no running around catching them.
Spraying or Dipping
Many products are available that can be used for dipping the chooks in, or spraying them with. Some people use surface spray to spray under their wings and around their vents, others dip them in permethrin based termite killer; see Poultry Matters thread.
I use sheep dip, as this is what we have available. I tend to use Coopers Fly and Lice, which is Ivermectin based, as thats what we get for the sheep. However the likes of Extinosad that is Spinosad based is likely safe too, but I haven't tried it.
Dipping is the most thorough method, but is quite a task. I try and pick a really warm day, and dip them in a bin full of the solution in the morning. That way they have all arvo to dry off before bed. You have to be careful not to put their heads under, but still get all the lice etc.