Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
How to treat parasites such as coccidiosis quickly and effectively in egg-laying chickens to prevent severe illness and death.
In my many years of keeping a small flock of chickens for fresh eggs, the primary illness I’ve had to deal with (fortunately rarely) is coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease where the coccidian protozoa invade the intestinal tract of birds. It also can happen with other livestock as well.
The disease can spread quickly in the flock via contact with soil or infected feces.
In my experience, the primary early symptoms are lethargy and diarrhea. Affected chickens may also have a pale comb and walk slowly and awkwardly with their tails down like they are in discomfort.
If not treated quickly, the diarrhea can become bloody with death a very real possibility (I lost one hen to coccidiosis before I learned how to treat it effectively).
There are several ways to best avoid parasites like coccidiosis in egg-laying hens in my experience.
Free Ranging Rotation
The most important way to avoid coccidiosis is by rotating your laying hens to a fresh patch of ground every day for free ranging.
Keeping them in the coop or small run 24/7 is a recipe for parasites!
No wonder commercial operations have them on medicated feed constantly.
Unfortunately, fresh sections of yard daily for free-ranging is not always possible if the plot of land you use to keep your hens is of limited size.
Even if you have quite a bit of room, chickens can still become infected as the protozoa are in the soil as well as feces.
In my experience, the risk of an outbreak is highest during periods of stress such as summer heat or excessive amounts of rain.
Thus, while rotation will definitely minimize parasite risk, it is probably not going to be 100% effective…at least in my experience.
Another way to minimize parasites in egg-laying chickens is to keep heritage breeds.
A heritage breed such as Buff Orpington is more resistant to disease (and stress in general) than hybridized breeds that are favored for commercial production.
An example of a mixed breed bred for higher laying capacity is the Black Rock which is a cross between two heritage breeds (Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock).
While this is a good strategy, once again, it will not be 100% effective.
While I’ve only had 3 outbreaks of coccidiosis in 10 years, all the chickens affected were heritage breeds.
Build Natural Immunity by Avoiding Medicated Feed
Most chick starter available for raising chicks contains added medication for parasites.
However, the use of medicated feed as a chick starter only works as a preventative if your chicks are simultaneously exposed to coccidia protozoa (there are several kinds).
Most people new to keeping chickens do not realize that keeping your chicks on medicated feed actually impairs the development of their immune system. This results in adult hens more prone to disease.
Avoiding medicated feed allows the chicks to develop resistance/immunity to coccidiosis. The process happens gradually as they grow.
Thus, once the chicks grow into pullets and adult laying hens, the chances of having an outbreak in your flock are minimized.
I have never used medicated feed and have never had a coccidiosis outbreak in my chicks or pullets in over 10 years.
I’ve only had three coccidiosis outbreaks in my hens in the same period of time, only in adult layers and it was quickly eliminated on an as-needed basis.
There is really no need for constant use of medicated feed!
Hatch Your Own Chicks
Another way to have a flock of layers that is most resistant to disease is by hatching your own chicks.
Most people buy chicks at a local feed store where they are shipped in from large hatcheries.
These chicks are subjected to medicated feed, vaccinations, and the undo stress of shipping in a box without food or water (some don’t make it not to mention the sheer inhumaneness of the process!).
Avoiding all this stress by hatching and raising your own chicks will invariably produce a sturdier flock.
If this is something that interests you, this article on how to build an inexpensive chicken egg incubator may help.
Chickens that are raised by a hen almost never get coccidiosis. The only time this will happen is when they are exposed to a new strain of oocysts in the soil.
I am hoping to embark on doing this with my next batch of chicks in the Fall.
Now that we have a rooster, I have fertilized eggs that a broody hen can hatch and raise.
I hope for an even sturdier flock than I’ve had in the past as time goes on!
Treating Parasites in Laying Hens
If, despite your best efforts, an outbreak of coccidiosis occurs in your hens, be prepared that you must act quickly.
In my experience, the best medication for treating an outbreak of coccidiosis in a laying flock is Amprolium.
I treat immediately when signs appear of an outbreak, as there is no time to waste. This parasite can kill a weakened chicken quickly especially if the weather at the time is adding to the stress.
The good news is that I typically see results within a day or so. It works very fast!
Note: Amprolium is the same drug that is in most types of medicated feed (it is not an antibiotic, it is an anti-parasitic). (1)
However, in this situation, you are ONLY using it when you need it.
The chicks/pullets/hens are not on it constantly which can impair the natural development of resistance.
I would LOVE to know a natural alternative to this medication (I’ve tried garlic and DE), but I have not found one as of yet that works as quickly.
Please share your method if you keep hens for eggs and have a good strategy for quickly resolving coccidiosis once it has infected your flock!
Beware of False Information
While there are many sources on the internet for how to dose amprolium to egg layers, below is the dosage and length of treatment that has worked best for me over the years.
I’ve seen several sources where the dosage is simply not strong enough to do the job.
Thus, I am documenting what really works here because I have noticed that some truly credible sources for this type of information appear to be disappearing from the internet.
You’ll notice that the two references I have listed below are both from a web archive. This means the original source is no longer available!
Could it be that using amprolium for backyard chickens is being suppressed? I don’t know, but I did notice that the bags/bottles of amprolium that you buy online now say “for calves”, whereas the EXACT same product I bought 8 or so years ago (this stuff lasts forever if you use it as-needed only) says for POULTRY as well.
Hmmmm. Definitely seems odd, at least to me!
While folks like to say that “the internet is forever”, a web archive can actually be “wiped” at the drop of a hat. I’ve seen it happen over the years when information is considered “inconvenient” to a particular narrative.
Thus, I wanted to have this information specifically detailed on this blog for my own reference in the future as well as for those of you who might need it too!
When treating coccidiosis in my own birds (don’t forget roosters too!) I use the “normal” outbreak dose for 5 days, followed by the minimum preventative dose for an additional 7 days.
This is because I know what to look for and I treat immediately at any sign of an outbreak. Thus, the situation has not risen to the level of “severe” yet.
The liquid dose of Amprolium is 9.6%.
This translates into two teaspoons per gallon for a severe outbreak and one teaspoon per gallon for a normal outbreak. (2, 4)
One-half teaspoon per gallon is the minimum post-treatment dose to be used for the following one or two weeks.
The powder dose for Amprolium is 20%. This is what I use.
A small bag of Amprolium will last you for years if you heed the outbreak minimization steps described above. You won’t need to use it much!
For a severe outbreak, the dosage is 1.5 teaspoons per gallon of water.
Use 3/4 teaspoon per gallon of water for normal outbreaks.
I administer the normal outbreak dose for five days, then I use the minimal dose of 1/3 teaspoon per gallon for an additional 7 days. (3)
Here is the specific math for various strengths of treatment.
Use this amount of amprolium powder based on the level of illness in your flock.
0.024% = no less than 1.5 teaspoons per gallon (severe outbreak)
0.012% = no less than 3/4 teaspoons per gallon (normal outbreak)
0.006% = no less than 1/3 teaspoon per gallon (minimal dose)
Use this amount of amprolium liquid based on the level of illness in your flock.
0.024% = no less than 2 teaspoons per gallon (severe outbreak)
0.012% = no less than 1 teaspoon per gallon (normal outbreak)
0.006% = no less than 1/2 teaspoon per gallon (minimal dose)
Drinking Water Access
While it is suggested to provide no other source of drinking water for your chickens during treatment, my method is to provide medicated water in the coop and run only.
I don’t separate the infected chickens as I don’t have a secondary coop. I treat the whole flock at once.
They do have access to fresh water (from a nearby lake and/or rain puddles) when they are out of the run free-ranging. This has not seemed to inhibit the effectiveness of treatment.
The medicated water should be mixed fresh daily.
Do You Need to Toss Eggs During Treatment?
You do not need to toss eggs laid during the treatment period.
Some people do not feel comfortable doing this, however.
Our family eats the eggs from hens undergoing treatment given that the amount they ingest is tiny.
Perhaps you want to split the difference and toss the eggs from the active treatment period (5 days) and then resume egg consumption when they are on the minimal post-treatment dose (7-14 days).
Do whatever makes you the most comfortable!
However, I would suggest that any eggs you buy from the store even if pastured and organic would be far less healthy (the organic egg washing process alone is toxic) than eggs from your own natural-living hens getting a short round of amprolium.
Post Treatment Care
Amprolium puts a nutritional strain on your flock because it works to kill the protozoa by blocking the uptake of Vitamin B1.
Feeding scrambled eggs to your hens or small pieces of chopped raw liver for a few days post-treatment will compensate quickly and help them get back to their normal level of vibrancy again.
Natural Coccidiosis Treatment?
As I mentioned before, I have tried garlic and diatomaceous earth as a natural alternative to amprolium. I am not a fan of ingesting essential oils (I use externally only), so I have not tried that approach.
Unfortunately, in my experience, this did not work quickly enough to prevent further spread and severity in the flock.
Perhaps these methods would have eventually worked, but I did not feel I had the time to wait and see as this would have potentially risked death.
If you know of a treatment that works well and fast, please share in the comments!
(1) Antiprotozoal drugs
(2, 3) Anticoccidial treatment in livestock
(4) Amprovine 9.6% Solution, CORID® 9.6% Oral Solution