Coccidiosis on pasture? Impossible!

Man, I thought I’d seen everything. But this one’s weird. The life cycle of coccidiosis is interrupted if you move the chickens to a new patch of ground every day. Coccidiosis is a in intestinal protozoan parasite, and it depends on infecting and reinfecting the victims through feces. Not just any feces, either — feces that has been aged enough but not too much. The coccidia in the poop aren’t ready to reinfect the birds until they go through a life-cycle change, which takes about three days. With daily-move pasture pens, you leave yesterdays poop behind before (to get technical about it) the oocysts can sporulate.

Well, it’s not working with one pasture pen of broilers. This has never happened to us before. Our best guess is that the chicks we were getting from Jenks Hatchery all these years had received the coccidiosis vaccine and we didn’t know it, while this year’s ones from Privett didn’t get it. If they got a good solid infestation in the brooder house, maybe it keeps getting worse for a while even with daily moves on the pasture. Don’t know for sure.

Anyway, the symptoms were the usual: pinkish spots on the poop (that’s blood, ewww!), listless chicks with dirty feathers.

Also, the fix was the usual, and seems to be working fine: Switch to medicated chick starter. Works like a charm, and the chicks look a lot perkier already.

Some people don’t like medication — they dislike it so much that they’d let their chickens suffer and die rather than cure them. I hate that.

I think that over-medication is silly and is also bad form, but coccidiosis is no joke. We do what we can to prevent it, including the deep-litter system in the brooder house and daily moves on pasture, but when prevention doesn’t work, one needs to go to the cure without hesitation.

Anyway, the chicks are doing better, and that’s the main thing!

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Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

2 thoughts on “Coccidiosis on pasture? Impossible!”

  1. Robert,

    I’m really enjoying the blog. Nice work!

    I’ve heard of different home remedies for coccidiosis, such as mixing yogurt and/or apple cider vinegar with drinking water. Any thoughts on these?



  2. I’ve heard of different home remedies for coccidiosis, such as mixing yogurt and/or apple cider vinegar with drinking water. Any thoughts on these?


    Sadly, they don’t work, and they distract people from other non-chemical methods with a better track record.

    What works well, besides drugs, is anything that breaks the cycle of reinfection via feces. Just putting chicks on free range that hasn’t seen other poultry for a while works pretty well, because there’s more attractive forage than feces available. Wire-floored brooders are also good. The manure falls through out of reach.

    I think that what got us into trouble was our practice of hot-bunking in our brooder house (a new batch of chicks goes in immediately after the old one goes out). Stirring the litter generally and stirring in hydrated lime at 1 pound per 10 square feet helps a lot (coccidia don’t like an alkaline environment, and burying them makes them inaccessible to the chicks and vice versa), and we should have done this between the two batches, but didn’t.

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