I’ve had a couple of cases of coccidiosis amongst my young Brahma chickens. I guess I’ve always been bit blase about parasites in my chooks since they free-range and are generally very robust and healthy. However, because of the bad weather and the Brahmas’ evident delicateness compared with my happy mongrel farm chickens, I’ve been keeping them inside. With twelve young chickens, two turkeylets and one nursemaid, Rickety Chick, that is quite an intensive population in a smallish stable perhaps.

A couple of days ago, when I went out to give them their breakfast, I found Denis (or more likely Denise, but the original name has stuck), the black Brahma, and the tiny Silver Partridge Brahma Penny in sad chicken mode. They were standing very still, hunched up, eyes closed, ignoring everything around them. Chickens are very busy birds, always pecking, scratching, investigating, so it’s easy to tell when one’s off-colour. A quiet, inactive chicken is always a cause for concern.

Denise Pen

I brought them inside and put them in front of the fire in the fancy Ikea cat bed Caiti brought back at Christmas. Denis seemed to perk up a little, so much so that I popped him back with the others for a little while. I’d let them out of the stable for a potter around, and she joined in for a while. But she was soon back to hunching up. So back indoors she came. While she was outside I’d noticed she’d done some very pale poo, quite different from usual. Armed with this observation and her other symptoms, I did some Googling and discovered that Coccidiosis appeared to be the likely culprit. This is an intestinal parasite that if left unchecked can do very nasty things to the gut lining. Usually birds are only exposed to small amounts of it at a time and they can tolerate these well. They build up natural immunity. However, if they ingest too many oocytes at once their system becomes overloaded as these eggs sporulate (become infective) and develop into sporocysts and then sporozoites. These replicate in the gut wall and become merizoites and these do a lot of damage that can be fatal. Time to act.

Now, I have to confess I have always been somewhat sceptical of herbal remedies. I’ve always preferred ‘proper’ drugs. They got me through a childhood besieged by tonsillitis and exploding eardrums so I know they work. So I wasn’t overly optimistic when I gave the chickens a dose of chicken de-parasiter that is made from ashes and a few herbs, but it’s all I had in. Being a Sunday I couldn’t zoom off to the vet for something ending in ‘cillin’, ‘cline’ or ‘ole’. I mixed the strong-smelling stuff into yogurt, as I’d read on a few forums that this latter was good for poorly chooks, and syringed a few millilitres down the chickens’ throats every few hours. They remained sad, and I went to bed without much optimism.

Brahmas outside

Why am I so dismissive of herbal remedies’ Partly because I’m married to someone who’s worked in the pharmaceutical trade for many years so I know how thoroughly regulated these products are. They can’t get away with false claims and are controlled in terms of quality and cleanliness every step of the way. I have every faith in this industry. Another reason is that I’ve tried some herbal remedies in the past without any noticeable effects, either good or bad. Ruadhri is prone to coughs and the doctor once prescribed a particular medicine. It was full of comforting sounding ingredients such as oxomemazine and sodium benzoate worked wonders. However, when I looked it up on the Net I discovered that it was banned in pretty much every country of the world except France and Ethiopia. The next time we had need of it, it had been rendered harmless and now consisted of herbs and honey and stuff. It was hopeless. Poor Rors coughed for weeks.

But back to my chickens. Next morning, to my delight, Den and Pen were heaps better. They swooped on the scrambled egg I brought them and were bright eyed and busy. So I’ve had to rethink my attitude towards herby concoctions although for good measure I shall still get in something from the vet. The two continue to do well, but I shall keep them indoors for a few more days before putting them back with the others. I shall give the stable a good clean out too, but that’s probably fighting a losing battle as oocytes are extremely tough, can last for years and can resist some disinfectants. I’ll be extra vigilant too and hope that this nasty protozoa won’t cause a problem again in the future.