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When do you use antibiotics and when do you not?

That is a question that poultry farmers all over the world are asking themselves, right across the board, the broiler industry, the egg laying industry, and the show poultry breeders.

The word  BIOSECURITY  is a buzz word you hear all over the place. What does it mean and why is it important?

BIOSECURITY  is the security you have in your poultry yard as regards health hazards.

It includes everything :

Vaccination programmes

Rodent control

Feed control

Fly control

Parasite control

Cleaning and disinfecting

Disposal of manure

The handling of disease outbreaks.

Nothing in a poultry yard works alone. Everything depends on everything else. For example: If you vaccinate your flock religiously against everything that the vet has told you but do no cleaning and leave the birds in their own faeces, you are wasting time and money, because those vaccines are only as good as the environment within which they operate. The field challenge of those diseases you are trying to beat will be so strong that the vaccinated bird’s immune system will be overrun before the vaccine takes effect. See the section on vaccines on this site: ( Vaccinations pro and con)

So basically you need to have a clean and safe environment: Clean properly (see the chapter on cleaning and disinfecting agents).

What if you have done all this, cleaned until your hands are raw, worked hard to tick all the boxes and you still have birds that look poorly, or do not thrive?

Do you immediately seek out the strongest antibiotic on the market? Do you use it on all the birds or only those affected? Do you haphazardly dose without knowing what you are dosing for or do you consult a vet?

Unfortunately you cannot consult a vet every time you have a sick bird because it will bankrupt you!

The first thing you do is carefully inspect the sick birds, isolate them from the others and do a once over. (See the chapter on diagnosing a sick bird).

Before you think of dosing, there are several options open to you:

  1. Use a half disprin down the gullet. It is anti inflammatory as well as relieves fever and pain.
  2. Give the bird a vitamin booster: Kyrophos Metatbolic V.
  3. Put the bird in a sterile cage and feed on soft food only.


There are several common ailments that affect chickens and for these you can use broad spectrum antibiotics like ESB3, or FOSBAC T or even KYROTRIM injectable.

Common ailments:

respiratory rales. This is when the bird sounds like it is gargling. It indicates there is a lot of mucus in the throat and maybe the lungs. There may be discharge from the nose and eyes and ears may be gummed up or even swollen. Eyes may be swollen, face hot, bird may be coughing or sneezing.

All these symptoms or any of them individually indicate either a dose of bacterial CORYZA, a simple respiratory infection, or something more serious like flu or bronchitis or Newcastle. It may also be ILT.

Either way you need to act quickly. The antibiotics I list below are quite adequate to deal with a simple infection like Coryza, but if you suspect something more serious, consult a vet. Dosing for a virus is useless as a virus does not react to an antibiotic. You may however treat the symptoms of a virus and hope that as it runs its course the bird will survive with the support of your meds. This is why it is important to vaccinate. Sometimes a simple dose of disprin is all that is needed.

Diarrhea and soiled vent:

This is also common but could be the symptom of something worse. Either way you need to address it. Clean the vent area and isolate the bird. Dose with any of the three antibiotics I list and give the bird soft food, brown bread and maas, no grain.

If the symptoms do not improve within three days consult a vet.

Eye infections and swollen eyes.

This is also common. Wash out the eyes with 3CP and water, one capful in a litre warm water. Dose with antibiotics and keep washing eyes until all is well. If necessary remove the hard pussy substance under the eye lids.

Lameness, bumble foot

This does not require antibiotics unless there is a serious infection. Clean feet and look for bumble foot. Remove the pussy substance from the foot. Clean thoroughly with Dettol and hot water.

ESB3 is a sulfa based medication and not an antibiotic. Triple Sulfa is also a good alternative, as it is a sulphamide not an antibiotic, also SULPHAMETHAZINE, all of which can be used on young birds even day olds. Sulfa based medications provided they are used only for the duration recommended  and at the recommended dosage, do not drain the system of vitamin and minerals.

Please remember not to mix these sulfamide drugs, use one at a time and according to directions, do not exceed dosage or duration of treatment. Give the correct dosage and wait three days. If there is no improvement or the birds are getting worse it may be time to consult a vet.

There are other options such as TYLOSINE TARTRATE, or FOSBAC PLUS T. These work well. TYLO200 injectable also works well. Fosbac is Fosphomycin and is an antibiotic, so use sparingly. Tylosin is a natural antibiotic and preferable to other more chemical alternatives. If you do go this route, give the bird a vitamin compound to replace what the antibiotic has destroyed. Fosbac  T does have a vitamin additive.


FOSBAC PLUS T: This is worked out by weight but if you are dosing only one bird use a heaped teaspoon in one litre drinking water for three days. It is important to let it run for three days even if the bird seems well, as antibiotics work only if the full timeline is respected.

TYLO 200  INJECTIBLE: Use a half ml per adult bird and 0,2ml for a bantam subcutaneous.

TYLOSIN TARTRATE or TYLAN: Use as directed on the pack. Usually 5ml per litre of drinking water. Again for three days.

These are the lesser evils if you like.

There are other options available which use herbal remedies and these are also very effective if used properly. I have cured birds before by making COMFREY TEA out of comfrey leaves. There are herbs on the market for veterinary use.


If you do not get results after 3 days you can use KYROTRIM injectable or TERRAMYCIN LA injectable. Wait three days before changing your meds. Use as directed, and do not exceed the dose.These are broad spectrum antibiotics but fairly safe to use.

Only when you have exhausted all these options should you resort to stronger antibiotics such as BAYTRIL. The active ingredient here is an antibiotic called enrofloxacin, very strong. There are sound reasons for this. If you use strong antibiotics to resolve a minor issue like the sniffles or a mild dose of Coryza, the day you need to cope with an outbreak of ILT or a really bad dose of a strain of Coryza you have not seen before, that antibiotic will not work as the bacteria will have become immune to your medication.

When using any antibiotic PLEASE make sure you continue the treatment for the full timeline usually three or five days as directed on the pack. If you do not, the infection will begin again and this time will not respond to the antibiotic you used before. Even if the bird seems well, do not stop treatment.

You may have read about multiple drug resistant TB known as MD tuberculosis in humans. It is a real problem in South Africa and in other rural areas where TB drugs are given out at hospitals and the patients sent home. As soon as they begin to feel better, they stop taking the tablets, or sell them to someone else or give them to family members. They do NOT complete the treatment, and the TB begins again, only this time it is resistant to the drugs used before. Hospitals cannot possibly monitor every patient taking every tablet at the same time every day. Antibiotics in humans work the same as in livestock, if you are given antibiotics for whatever ails you, you must complete the course.


There is a movement world wide to rather use PROBIOTICS as a deterrent before there is a problem. Probiotics work as the word suggests as a vitamin supplement does, to boost the immune system of the bird so that when challenged by disease the bird’s immunity kicks it out.

PROTEXIN is a good probiotic, but I have found that good old fashioned MAAS works just as well and is cheaper too.

The ingredients of PROTEXIN are lactose, fructose, fats and additives. Most of this you can get in maas, or yoghurt.

There are vitamin additives that you can give to your birds that may give you another alternative to antibiotics.

AVE TOTAL is a very good product produced by BEDSON which gives all the vitamins and minerals necessary for a good start in life and a booster for sick or moulting birds.

Try giving your birds a varied DIET OF FRUIT, PAWPAWS, BANANAS, BANANA PLANTS, MANGOES, GUAVAS, TOMATOES, GREENS OF ALL KINDS, ORANGES, NUTS. All these are items they will find in the wild.

If you feed the birds natural foods that they would find in the wild you are in fact giving it a basic all round diet. Our pelletised feeds and commercial rations for poultry do not give a balanced rounded diet, and pelletisation kills off most of the minerals, fats,  and all vitamins in the grains they use.  Most of the health problems we have with our birds can be solved simply by going back to basics:

Good quality grain and good quality greens and fruit. You can give commercial feeds as well but do not rely solely on these.

Try growing your owns mealworms, as this provides a good source of protein and fats, and meal worms are clean, they eat only veggies! Earthworms can carry tape worm.

You can also try using what is now being used overseas, IONOPHORES, which are not classified as antibiotics but do the same job. Ionophores are drugs that cannot be passed onto humans through a carcass they may eat. Several drugs are classified as safe in this way and information is available on the net.

Technically, ionophores are antibiotics because they are produced as a by-product of bacterial fermentation.  An important distinction, however, is that ionophores are unrelated to the antibiotics used to increase the rate of weight gain and improve feed efficiency.  Ionophores are not used in human medicine and, therefore, cannot contribute to perceived issues relating to drug resistance in man.

Ironically, ionophores are actually drugs used to treat parasitic infections such as coccidiosis.


You can buy chicken feed that is free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Most layer feeds are free of these drugs. Broiler feeds are a risk. Many of them have coccidiostats such as Amprol, though I think now they are obliged by law to declare any additives in the feed. It should be clearly written on the label. Putting antibiotics such as Amprol in the feed is dangerous. The bird ingests small doses every day and becomes immune to it. Any other antibiotic you use or sulphamide will immediately be cancelled by the Amprol. So be aware. Amprol also depleats the system of vitamins and minerals and you are not even aware this is going on.

Until your birds come out stunted and not thriving.


There have been many articles and many lectures lately on the effect that antibiotics given to poultry, cattle and sheep have on the humans that consume that meat. I strongly believe that antibiotics should not be used on livestock if that livestock is meant for human consumption. The same rule on immunity applies to the meat we eat: If there has been an exhorbitant abuse of strong antibiotics in the poultry we eat, those meds go straight into us, with the result that we are ingesting antibiotics ourselves. if we have an illness that needs medication the chances are the bacteria making us ill will not respond to the antibiotic prescribed because it will have become immune already before the bird was slaughtered for human consumption.

There is a call world wide for doctors to be more circumspect when prescribing antibiotics because of this.

As I said, nothing happens in a vacuum. What goes into the meat, does not die with the carcass. We ingest it, we accumulate it in our system, and we suffer from it.


So, to recap:

1. Read the label of the feed you buy, always, and do not be afraid to query what you do not understand.

2.Try alternative measures before antibiotics.

3. If you use antibiotics, use the milder ones first, and always give vitamin additive at the same time. Complete the three or five day course always.

4.Clean your runs and disinfect incubators and utensils thoroughly to avoid having to use medication in the first place. Dispose of all waste in a responsible manner.

5. Have a good vaccination programme in place and stick to the timelines on your programme. Do not use more than one vaccine at a time, unless specifically approved such as IB/ND, and always wait seven days before using the next one. Never vaccinate a bird already showing signs of illness.

Have a look at the chapter on this site on poultry diagnosis.




  1. Pingback: VACCINATION YES OR NO! | Chicken Wired

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