COCCIDIOSIS IS A PARASITE THAT PLAGUES MANY POULTRY KEEPERS. IT IS NOT A BACTERIAL INFECTION, AND ANTIBIOTICS WILL NOT KILL THE PARASITE. ANTIBIOTICS OR COCCIDIOSTATS CAN ONLY SUPPORT THE SYSTEM SYMPTOMATICALLY, AND WILL REDUCE THE DAMAGE THAT THE PARASITE DOES TO THE INTESTINAL LINING.
Allowing your birds access to a grassy area and plenty of fresh air is the best deterrent for coccidiosis. These birds are foraging among wheat plants grown in the pens when the birds were not in this house. Growing grass or wheat also prevents organisms like coccidia from spreading as the plants absorb bacteria and all pathogens as they grow, and oocysts will not survive. Rotate your houses and allow them to rest between flocks.
COCCIDIOSIS IS ONE OF THE MOST MIS NAMED AND MOST MALIGNED DISEASES OF THE POULTRY WORLD. IT IS ALSO ONE OF THE MOST COMMON AND THE EASIEST TO ERADICATE…WITH A LITTLE EFFORT …IN THE BACKYARD FLOCK. BROILERS ARE A DIFFERENT PROBLEM ALTOGETHER DUE TO THE VAST CONCENTRATION OF BIRDS.
Coccidiosis is a disease caused by a microscopic protozoa or parasite. It is classified as a protozoan disease. This means you cannot deal with this disease by antibiotics alone nor will drugs eliminate future outbreaks.
It is a costly disease in the broiler industry but easier to eradicate if you have a show poultry or layer or small concern.
The cause is a microscopic animal called the coccidia. There are many species of coccidia, nine in all, and they are all host specific.
This means that one type may infect chickens but will not transfer to turkeys on the same farm. There are species of coccidia that infect humans, domestic pets and domestic animals such as cattle or pigs.
AFTER AN OUTBREAK OF COCCIDIOSIS THE FLOCK WILL DEVELOP A RESISTANCE TO THAT SPECIFIC COCCIDIA, BUT WILL REMAIN SUSCEPTIBLE TO OTHER SPECIES OF COCCIDIA. THIS MEANS A FLOCK MAY EXPERIENCE SEVERAL OUTBREAKS, ALL CAUSED BY DIFFERENT COCCIDIA SPECIES.
Chickens are susceptible to nine species of coccidia.
COCCIDIOSIS is transmitted by direct or indirect contact with droppings of infected birds. When infected by ingesting droppings, the organisms invade the lining of the intestines and produce tissue damage in the form of lesions on the intestinal walls, as they undergo reproduction. Within a week of infecting the bird, the coccidia shed immature descendants that are known as OOCYSTS.
The OOCYSTS shed in the droppings do not infect other birds at this stage, not until they have passed through a maturation process (sporulation) in the litter. This takes one to three days depending on warmth and moisture in the litter, longer in dry conditions. After sporulation the coccidia are infective if consumed by a new host bird. If conditions are not favourable, for example if the bedding is very dry and clean or changed regularly, oocysts do not develop. However they can survive dormant a really long time, even up to 12 months! (Hopefully by then your birds will have moved on!)
The number of infective coccidia consumed by the bird will determine the severity of the resulting infection. Some infections may be so mild as to pass unnoticed by the farmer while others may produce severe lesions that are fatal.
OOCYSTS are capable of surviving in the soil for periods UP TO ONE YEAR depending on how favourable the conditions are. They need moisture and anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions to thrive.
Five of the nine species that affect chickens are very aggressive and infect different parts of the intestine:
EMERIA ACERVULINA resides in the upper part of the small intestine and is usually found in birds 8 weeks or older.
EMERIA NECATRIX is found in the middle portion of the intestine and is responsible for the tell tale bloody droppings associated with coccidiosis. It attacks very young birds.
EMERIA TENELLA resides in the cecal tonsil or blind pouches of the intestines and causes what is known as cecal bloody coccidiosis. It is found in birds 5 to 8 weeks old. It is sometimes confused with blackhead or salmonellosis due to similar lesions.
EMERIA BRUNETTI does its damage in the lower small intestine and the cloaca or rectum of the bird. It infects at 8 weeks more or less. It can be confused with haemorrhagic anaemia syndrome. You may also find a hen will lay eggs that suddenly appear covered in blood, and the hen is thought to be egg bound when in fact she has emeria brunetti coccidia, as this sometimes attacks older birds.
These are the top five. Number six is less common.
EMERIA MAXIMA causes damage in the middle or lower portion of the intestine. It infects at any age.
Coccidiosis is transmitted not only by infected dropping but oocysts can be carried by man, litter, contaminated equipment or flying birds. Even a bird that has recovered from an outbreak remains infectious and they never really recover from the disease, they just learn to live with it.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you are aware of the cycle of these pests, you can take measures to ensure they do not have conditions that will help them thrive. Remember you have approximately 3 days between the shedding of the oocysts and re infestation with a new host. Make the most of the three days!
1. Have conditions that are aerobic, that is allow oxygen to circulate in the houses, the bedding or litter of your birds. If you are aware there is an infection present already, move the birds at once, remove all bedding and burn it, make sure there is no faeces left, and medicate the birds in that flock with either Terramycin water based for three days or ESB3 for three days, or FOSBAC T for three days.
2. Make sure bedding is always turned, always dry and cleaned often. Remove soiled droppings and DO NOT ALLOW YOUR OTHER BIRDS TO SCRATCH IN THE COMPOST HEAP WHERE YOU HAVE JUST DUMPED THE DROPPINGS REMOVED FROM THE HOUSES. Compost heaps must be fenced off. Houses should be off the ground, have slatted floors that allow droppings to fall through to the underside of the houses and these areas should be fenced off so the birds cannot scratch there.
3. There are coccidiostats available to add to feed or water. AMPROL has been used for years but I am not a fan of this drug and never recommend using it. Rather use sulfa based medication. A word of warning here, NEVER use sulfa drugs in conjunction with other sulfa drugs, use them singly and independently. Mixing sulfa or any drugs is dangerous and may lead to permanent kidney damage in the birds. Never use sulfa drugs for a period longer than the recommended time allowed. If you need to change on recommendation from a veterinary consultant, wait three weeks before trying something else.
4. Treat your pens and ground areas with STALOSAN F or even agricultural lime. These kill off oocysts and the STALOSAN also absorbs moisture and makes it impossible for oocysts to survive . Minimise wet bedding by having drinkers outside the house. (STALOSAN is a BEDSON product available in SA from IMMUNOVET SERVICES).
5. Never overcrowd your birds which allows too great a concentration of droppings. Let your birds roam outside in the sunshine, and allow them in at night. That way, any oocysts left in the house ( which presumably will be cleaned while birds are out) , will sit in dry bedding . This will prevent the oocysts from developing into coccidia, and hopefully by the time the litter is of a favourable moisture and heat content, you will have burned or discarded that litter and those birds will not be in that house. If you need to have other birds in that same house, remove bedding and clean and disinfect with VIRUKILL or VirkonS. NEVER simply transfer birds into a house that has already been occupied without first removing bedding and thoroughly disinfecting the house.
6. Constantly monitor the droppings in the houses, look for bloody droppings and act immediately with antibiotic or sulfa drugs in the water. If possible remove birds from the infected house and relocate them to a clean dry pen. Sometimes this is the most effective remedy. Move your birds often, do not allow them to remain in the same wet, soiled bedding for weeks. Antibiotics will treat the symptoms of coccidiosis but will not kill the parasites.
7. Never allow different age groups or different species of poultry to cohabit. Have a different area for guinea fowls, turkeys ducks and chickens and keep them in the same age flock they were hatched.
8. There are vaccines available now but since there are 9 types of coccidia identified so far, it is doubtful the vaccine will cover birds for all of them.
9. You can treat coccidiosis as you would a bacterial infection, but remember that the treatment will only improve the damage done to the bird’s intestine and heal him of that. The coccidia unfortunately will not be destroyed by the antibiotic and will remain. The only improvement will be that the bird will be more or less immune to that particular coccidia, and will live a healthy life WITH the parasite. You can inject with Ivermectin but only in older chicks, as it is too strong for any bird under 3 months. It is the most effective parasitic but it has yet to be proved that the coccidia are destroyed as a result of the ivermectin.
10. Do not ignore the onset of coccidiosis, because it can lead to worse infections, such as clostridia outbreaks which will lead to necrotic enteritis.
Usually Terramycin injectable, Terramycin LA for cattle, or powder form for drinking water does work, or ESB3 which is a triple sulfa medication, or FOSBAC plusT (tylosin), all of the above will be acceptable to heal the damage done to the digestive tract. Dosage to not exceed the dosage given on the pack and not to exceed 3 days. In the case of Terramycin LA, inject only birds older than 3 months, at a rate of 0,4 ml subcutaneously. Older birds can take 0,5 ml. FOSBAC is usually calculated on the weight mass of the infected flock, but in the case of individual birds you can add 5ml of powder per litre drinking water for three days. There are other medications available which you can purchase from the feed place where you buy your feed, or at a veterinary clinic. If you are unsure, consult a veterinarian. TERRAMYCIN powder form is not reliable but will do if you have nothing else. In adult birds it can cause problems as the terramycin binds with the calcium in the body, and if the bird is a laying hen, she could produce soft shelled or malformed eggs or no eggs at all. It is not so bad for young chicks, but do not exceed the three days recommended.
PLEASE USE THESE SPARINGLY AND NOT ALL THREE AT ONCE!
Please remember NOT to overdose, and never more than three days. If the problem persists, consult a veterinarian and tell him what meds you have been using, and for how long.
Birds infected with coccidiosis will usually be huddled and not keen to move if prodded. They will have an unnatural way of walking, sometimes stepping as though they are stepping over an imaginary object in their path. They may be cold to the touch and wings will droop, eyes will be closed.
There may be bloody droppings in evidence but this is not always the case, and will depend on which coccidia you have present. There will be weight loss and loss of appetite.
It is a parasite, and the function of any parasite is not to kill the host. You may have deaths in your pen however, because the secondary damage done to the intestinal lining of the chicks may be too great for the birds to survive. Some chicks do recover and become more or less immune to a certain type of coccidia. There is a method of immunisation used a lot where layers are kept in large numbers, and in broiler operations where the farmer does not see the point of treating birds that will live for only 12 weeks. It involves allowing the infected birds access to the healthy ones. I find this method offensive to animal husbandry in general and to poultry in particular because those birds that are severely infected are left to die, and others are encouraged to be in contact with the carcasses so as to become infected in turn. It is then a waiting game to see which will be strong enough to survive. Survival of the fittest.
This method of so called control exacerbates the problem and does not solve it. You can eradicate coccidiosis with the methods I described above.
In 20 years of dealing with poultry I can remember only one outbreak of coccidiosis at the very beginning of my experience with poultry, when I had absolutely NO idea what I was dealing with. Since then with research, knowledge is power after all, and with use of the methods I have shared above, I have never again lost any bird to coccidiosis. NEVER. I have had up to 1000 birds here at any one time, all different age groups, from egg to adult, and have had no coccidiosis at all. It can be done.
Don’t just accept it. get rid of it.
It requires effort, yes, and consistency in the long run but it is so much better in the long run for the flocks you have.
DOs and DON’TS:
Do: keep track of all your flocks from egg to adult. Never allow staff to tell you what goes on, do it yourself and be hands on….or don’t do it at all and breed something else.
DO: Make sure all houses and pens are cleaned correctly, that bedding is dry, drinkers outside if possible but if not, make sure drinkers are cleaned and removed every day to clear out any beetles or other parasites that live under drinkers.
DO: Try to allow access to green grass and sunshine. Make all conditions in the pens aerobic. The tell tale signs will be flies and smell: if there is a smell, the conditions are not aerobic and you will get flies and probably coccidiosis.
DON’T: Rely on your neighbours for the phone call that tells you there is a smell coming from your pens.
DON’T: Leave birds in the same pens with wet bedding and anaerobic conditions.
DON’T: Go on holiday without making sure someone is responsible for the same biosecurity you would have yourself.
DON’T: Believe what you hear, that coccidiosis is endemic and therefore you just give the birds antibiotic and be done. Prevent rather than cure. Added to this I would say that if you dose continuously with varied antibiotics for coccidiosis, the day you have a serious problem or an injury, the birds will not respond to the antibiotic you have because they will have become immune. This will force you to use a far stronger dose, a longer period of medication, or a far stronger antibiotic altogether, and this snowballs believe me. Any medication has an effect on growth, on weight, on viability.
DON’T: Believe that coccidiosis is a bacterial disease that you must treat with medication. It is PROTOZOAN infestation.You would not believe the literature out there that is completely off base!