Coccidia Prevention: Vaccine Versus Medicated Feed
Coccidiosis. Mention it to any livestock owner with a few years’ experience and they probably have a story to share with you. It is an illness that affects not just chickens, but many other livestock species as well. Coccidia is probably the most common reason for why young chicks get sick and pass. It is difficult to treat, but fairly easy to prevent in poultry. Let’s discuss the ways to prevent it to help you make a good decision for your flock.
Coccidiosis is the name of the actual infection, while coccidia is the name given to the microscopic protozoa that cause the illness. Briefly, the coccidia protozoa are ingested by the chicks from infected fecal matter, soil and old poultry litter. The coccidia can live for quite a while in the environment and there are 5 different types of coccidia that affect chickens. Coccidia is host-specific, meaning that the coccidia that infects rabbits, sheep or cattle will not infect chickens, and vice versa.
Coccida thrive in humid and warm locations, so the first line of defense is to keep that brooder litter clean and dry! Spilled waterers and a build up of chick manure will very quickly allow the coccidia in the environment to gain a foothold and explode, allowing your chicks to become heavily infected very quickly. Depending on the type of coccidia that are in the environment (each farm has its own unique “blend”), chicks can become sick as soon as 2 to 3 weeks of age. Since they must ingest the coccidia to set up an infection, chicks cannot be hatched with coccidia infections. In locations that experience a cold winter, brooding chicks then will lessen the speed at which a coccidia infection may happen. I brood chicks year round in Ohio and typically only use medicated feed from June through August. Those of you that live in the south may not be able to do that.
Since it’s inevitable that chicks will be exposed to coccidia, there are a few ways to help prevent any illness from making them sick. The most common way is to feed chicks medicated feed beginning at hatch. The medicine most commonly used in feed for preventing coccidiosis is amprolium. This medicine is also available as a liquid solution (brand name Corid) that can be added to drinking water. Using both medicated feed and medicated water is not necessary; more medicine will not offer better protection.
Another way to help prevent an overwhelming infection of coccidia is to vaccinate the chicks for coccidia. The coccidia vaccines that are available in the US are “attenuated”, meaning they are a modified-live vaccine that could actually cause a mild illness in young chicks. Feeding medicated feed to chicks that are also vaccinated for coccidia will negate the vaccine, so to do both is basically a waste of money, although it will not harm the chicks. The coccidia vaccine is a ”leaky” vaccine, meaning that 100% immunity is not possible. It’s similar to how our human flu vaccine may cause a mild illness in some people, but for most it prevents a really bad case of the flu.
At Meyer Hatchery, we offer the Mareks vaccine to day-old chicks but we do not offer the coccidia vaccine. We believe that good husbandry is a better approach to dealing with coccidia than the widespread use of medications or vaccine that may not offer the most effective type of immunity. Since the vast majority of our chick orders are for a small number of chicks, brooder cleanliness is usually not a difficult chore. When brooding several hundred or thousand chicks, the challenge is much greater to maintain clean brooders.
What experience have you had in dealing with coccidia on your homestead? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.