Probably the number one killer of backyard chickens is coccidiosis.
What is coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is an internal parasite, which rapidly multiplies and then damages the lining of the chicken’s intestine. Typically the parasite causes bloating of the intestines and kills the chicken. It is ingested by the chicken and may take days of no symptoms before it kills the chicken. Younger birds are more susceptible to it than older birds. It can wipe out a whole flock before you know what hit your birds, so prevention and early treatment works best. There are 11 known strains of coccidiosis.
What are the stages of coccidiosis?
The first and most obvious sign is diarrhea. Your birds will have diarrhea and sometimes blood in their stools. Using the prevention steps below may save baby chicks at this stage, but it is not guaranteed. Adult birds who are generally healthy can be easily turned around.
The next sign is that they stop eating and drinking. If the baby chicks reach this stage, they will probably not make it and should be separated from the rest of the chicks. Then pray it didn’t spread to the whole flock.
The third sign is that they become listless and withdrawn. I have even seen the other chickens begin to peck at the bird who is sick at this stage.
The final stage is when the chicken’s entrails come out, and they die within minutes.
Steps to naturally prevent coccidiosis
Medicated Starter Feed
First, and foremost, when you begin with baby chicks, begin with a medicated starter feed. I once used a bag of older medicated starter feed I had lying around and my whole new flock of baby chicks died. While I can’t say that was completely the reason my birds had the disease, I really recommend fresh medicated starter feed.
Adult birds may need a change in feed and extra water if they develop diarrhea.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Secondly, add raw ACV to your chicken’s water. It cannot be the regular household vinegar, because the ACV is fermented and chemically different. This balances the acid in their intestines and does help, if they can be saved. Add 1 TBL for every cup of water.
Third, squeeze garlic into their water or give the larger birds garlic pieces to eat, to kill the bad bacteria strains.
Don’t cuddle them too much
If your kids are like my son, he loooves his baby chicks. He hugs and kisses them, anticipating the day he will happily chase them across the yard. He spoils his chickens rotten, if you ask me, but I read somewhere this may also cause coccidiosis. If you think about cute chick poop and then how they jump around in it, etc. You get the picture.
I added this after one reader’s comment (below). I do not have much experience with fermented feed, however, I do agree that caring for a baby chick’s gut flora is really the answer to saving the birds.
Following these steps could save your birds. If you reach the final stage where the bird’s entrails are coming out, then you are just waiting for death and you cannot do anything for the bird at this point. If you are looking for more information on how to treat this bacteria, you can also visit the Backyard Chickens.com website.