2017 Update: Due to the 2017 Veterinarian Feed Directive, medicated chick feed may not be available in your area.
When raising chicks for the first time, there is a lot to learn and it can quickly become overwhelming. One common question I am asked, and one that I had when I first raised chicks, was “Should I should use medicated chick starter?”. If you have tried looking this up before you may have been left even more confused than when you started. Hopefully this will help clarify the difference between the two so you can make an educated decision about what is most appropriate for you.
Why are there two options of chick starter and what am I “medicating” against?
Medicated chick starter is designed to medicate chicks against coccidiosis. Coccidiosis (or cocci for short) is a protozoa that can be transmitted by the feces of adult chickens who were exposed and are now immune, or it may be found naturally in the dirt. This is a parasite that damages the gut wall in chickens, and can be fatal.
To medicate or not to medicate?
There are strong arguments both for and against medicated starter. It ultimately comes down to personal choice.
Medicated feed has a low dose of Amprolium, which disrupts and slows down the coccis’ ability replicate once inside the chicks GI tract. Amprolium is a thiamine blocker, which means that chicks will not be able to uptake thiamine (vitamin B1), either. Also, because the dose of amprolium is so low, chicks could still become infected if the levels of cocci outside are high. For chicks being raised in a brooder, inside and off the dirt and way from other chickens, feeding them medicated feed is ineffective. Chicks must be in contact with cocci (dirt) for the medicated feed to help.
Many people, myself included, have successfully raised many healthy chicks on unmedicated feed. One option is to regularly add a little dirt from the run into the brooder. This dirt, especially if you already have chickens in the run, likely contains a small amount of cocci. By introducing the chicks to it in small amounts, they are able to build an immunity. When they are finally placed outside, there is less of a chance for birds to become ill.
If you look online, you will find no shortage of individuals that believe strongly in using medicated feed. The belief is that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. If you have had confirmed cases of cocci in the past, it may be a good idea to use medicated starter. If you chose to feed medicated, just remember that they must be exposed to the dirt from the run in order for it to be effective. Feed for at least two weeks after they have been placed outside.
No matter which food you choose to use, I recommend adding a little dirt (from the run) to the brooder in the chicks first week of life to start their immune systems off right.
This post was taken from our eBook, Backyard Poultry Health Guide: Diagnosis & Treatment. For a limited time, we are offering FREE downloads of our eBook.