Lana Beckard, Nutrena® Poultry Expert – It’s the time of year again to buy feed for the new chicks you’ve just purchased. You’re walking down the feed aisle of your favorite farm supply store. Finding the chick starter feed section, you have to decide – medicated chick starter or non-medicated chick starter?
The internal dialogue you’re having may be a question of safety for the chicks and/or safety for your family. After all, you grow natural meat and eggs! There are many misconceptions when it comes to medicated chick starters. So we’ve decided it’s time to bust the myths about medicated poultry feed.
To clarify, when we refer to medicated poultry feed, we’re talking about a feed that includes Amprolium. Nutrena manufactures two such options, within our Country Feeds® and NatureWise® lines.
The Enemy: Intestinal Parasites
Medicated chick starters utilize coccidiostats, which help limit the incidence of coccidiosis in young birds. Coccidiosis is an intestinal parasite that is widely spread and found just about everywhere. It multiplies rapidly in the gut and then appears in the feces. As chicks scratch and peck they ingest the coccidiosis from the feces and become infected. Symptoms of infected chicks are a red or orange tint to the feces, a drop in feed consumption and lethargy. This disease can quickly infect your whole group of birds and is often fatal if untreated; Coccidiosis is one of the leading causes of death when caring for baby chicks. One way to help protect your birds against this disease is to feed a medicated chick starter.
While the choice to feed medicated or non-medicated chick starter is solely your own, there are certain instances where it is usually a good idea to feed a medicated starter. This includes brooding large batches of chicks (more than 50 at one time), brooding large batches consecutively, living in a warm and humid environment, and if you have a history of coccidiosis in your coop.
Likewise, there is one situation where feeding medicated chick starter is not recommended – vaccinated chicks. Always ask your chick source if chicks will be vaccinated. In this case, it is not recommended to feed medicated chick starter.
Myths and Facts About Medicated Chick Starters:
Now, let’s get to some myth-busting about what medicated chick starter is, and what it is not.
Myth #1: Medicated feed will ‘cure a bird with a cold or runny droppings’.
Fact: The medication, Amprolium, will only help prevent coccidiosis, nothing else.
Myth #2: I do not want to feed an antibiotic to my chicks, so I do not feed medicated feed.
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, Amprolium is not an antibiotic. It is a thiamin blocker, and the coccidia parasite needs thiamin to multiply in the gut of a bird.
Myth #3: I do not want residual drugs in my meat or eggs.
Fact: There is no egg or meat withdrawal time for Amprolium in poultry feed. The FDA has deemed it safe to eat the eggs or meat from birds that have consumed it.
Myth #4: If I see an outbreak of coccidiosis (bloody droppings), I should start to feed the medicated feed immediately.
Fact: The dosage of Amprolium in medicated feed is not strong enough to fix an outbreak. Its purpose is to serve as a preventative measure. A stronger dose of Amprolium should be added to the water immediately if there is an outbreak, but a consult with your veterinarian may be necessary to fully address what’s going on.
Myth #5: I should always feed medicated feed.
The fact: It is a personal choice, and coccidiosis can be managed with or without Amprolium. If there are wild birds present in the store where your chickens were bought, or on your farm, it may be a good idea to introduce medicated feed. But the decision is yours.
Myth #6: It’s a good practice to feed some medicated feed and some non-medicated feed as a mixture if I don’t want to give my flock too much medicine.
Fact: Feeding a medicated feed takes the guesswork out of dosing since it is formulated carefully. Mixing medicated and non-medicated feed reduces the effectiveness of the medicated feed. If you opt to use a medicated feed, a 16-week duration is what most experts recommend. If you have not started your chicks on medicated, it is OK to switch, but it may not be as effective.
Myth# 7: I should obtain a prescription from my veterinarian for medicated chick starter to comply with the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD).
Fact: Since Amprolium is not an antibiotic, no veterinary prescription is necessary. But, as with any medication, read and follow all label instructions for maximum efficacy and safety.
Successfully brooding healthy chicks sets your flock up for a successful future. Chicks can be healthy and productive whether you choose to feed medicated or non-medicated starter feed. However, we encourage you to use this information to make a better-informed choice next time you find yourself debating your chick starter purchase.
Originally published in the April/ May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.