Worms can be a big issue for your chickens.
Worms are typically “endoparasites” which means they are inside your chicken as opposed to “ectoparasites” which are parasites on the outside of your chickens – such as lice or mites. There are multiple types of worms. Some worms, such as hair worms are very skinny and hard to see with the naked eye. Other worms like the Gapeworm are found in the lungs and windpipe of the chickens. As you can guess, this causes some major health issues. Not to mention it’s just gross. So let’s tackle this problem!
How do chickens get worms?
There are two ways that worms spread their ilk among your flock.
- Direct Life Cycle. Chickens will pick up worm eggs directly as they forage for food. Chickens love pecking the ground. It’s instinct for them. Unfortunately this means they pick up a lot of crap – literally and figuratively. Crap in the literal sense is what we are concerned about at the moment. Infected chickens will poop out worm eggs by the thousands and these eggs can survive for up to a year in the right conditions. A healthy chicken comes wandering along and picks up the eggs as they scratch and peck the ground. Suddenly the chicken has unwelcome guests that refuse to pay rent or clean up after themselves.
- Indirect Life Cycle. Chickens will poop out worm eggs. Then an intermediate host such as a snail, slug, centipede, or something similar comes along. They eat the eggs and ooze slowly along, happy and content, until your chicken snatches them up for lunch. Now your chicken gets the worm eggs indirectly from the snail or slug.
Different types of worms get passed along different ways but understanding how the worms spread will help you prevent them in the future. More on that later.
How do I know if my chickens have worms?
Chicken diseases can share a lot of symptoms so it can be hard to tell exactly whats wrong with them. Generally if they have a poor appetite, diarrhea, pale yolks in eggs, and in the case of gapeworms, an extended neck while gasping for breath (the worms will be restricting the airflow in the throat). You can also check your chicken’s poop to see if there’s any signs of worms. A good way to do this is to scrape up some chicken poop (fresh, preferably) and drop it into a Mason jar full of water (don’t tell your wife what you’re using the Mason jar for). That way the poop will separate and you can spot any worms more easily. They may be especially easy to see after you’ve treated your flock for them and the chickens flush the dead worms from their systems.
There is a service available on Amazon that will check samples of your chicken poop for traces of worms. It’s around 25 bucks. That’s pretty cheap. Think about it, how much would I have to pay you to sort through my chicken poop looking for worms? The idea is that you collect a sample, send it in to their lab, and they contact you with the results. Click here for more details.
How do I treat my chickens for worms?
It’s best practice to treat your chickens for worms as the weather is warming in the spring and again in the fall. This is when the conditions are ideal for worm eggs to become active. Chances are if one of your chickens has worms, the rest have them or will get them as well. Treat the whole flock. Generally it’s a good idea not to mix treatment methods. Wait a few days before switching methods.
- The old fashioned, all natural method is garlic and apple cider vinegar, typically with the “mother” still in it. The “mother” in apple cider vinegar is a chunk of fermented material from the process of making vinegar. There is no hard recipe but generally the apple cider vinegar is added to the water supply, along with ground up cloves of garlic. The theory is that the vinegar makes the chicken’s digestive system an unwelcome place for worms by raising the acidity. The garlic plays along with this as a natural cleanser of sorts. Does this work? Well, it’s disputed. Apple cider vinegar does have good pro-biotics in it from the fermentation process (sort of like yogurt) and so it may help your chickens rebuild gut flora after they’ve been cleared of worms. It may also help them if they are infested with worms because it helps their digestive system do it’s job better. Will they kill worms? Some say yes, some say no. It’s not going to hurt to try. My guess is it’s a better preventative than a cure. You can buy the traditional Bragg brand apple cider vinegar at Wal-Mart (my local store has it in stock) or you can buy it online. Brands don’t really matter that much. The bigger issue is to make sure that it’s unpasteurized and has the “mother” in it.
- A better way to treat for worms that is still “natural” and doesn’t require medication is to use food grade diatomaceous earth. It’s a fine white powder you can find at many farm stores or good old country general stores with an animal supply section. Amazon has it as well. This follows the same theory as the apple cider vinegar except that this method is accepted as more effective. Put 1/4 cup of food grade diatomaceous earth in every 32 oz of feed. Be careful not to breathe the dust in since it can be harmful to you (it’s safe for your chickens however). Repeat this for four or five days and see if you notice an improvement. You may use every few months as a preventative.
If these methods do not work you may have to go nuclear.
Here’s some items that seem to work well (although there are many types of worms so not all these products will treat for all worms. You may have to send a poop sample into your local unfortunate poultry vet.)
Durvet Strike III
Effective for the most common types of poultry worms. This works by using the antibiotic Hygromycin B which is the only USFDA approved wormer to use on laying hens which are producing eggs for human consumption. This active ingredient interferes with the worms metabolism, essentially starving them by not allowing them to digest nutrients. This means it works but it works slowly. You need to dose your flock for at least 2-3 weeks while optimally treating them for up to 6-8 weeks. Some reviewers saw an improvement in a couple days. It depends on the severity of the worm infestation. You can use this wormer and eat the eggs from your chickens at the same time. 1 lbs of treatment is meant to be added to 50 lbs of feed. The Durvet Strike III is $24.80 and has free shipping (although not Prime). It’s 1 lb of product.
This uses the same antibiotic as the Strike III pellets. Dosage instructions: 1 scoop per pound of feed. My guess is that you will find similar results with both products although this product does have 1/2 star higher rating than the Strike II pellets. However, if your hens are finicky, the pellets may blend in with their feed better than the granules of rooster booster. Some reviewers saw an improvement in a couple days. It depends on the severity of the worm infestation. The Rooster Booster cost $29 (with Prime shipping available). It’s 1.25 lbs of product.
How do I keep my chickens from getting worms?
- Keep the grass short where your chickens roam. Sunlight kills worm eggs so the less shade you have the better. Short grass is more exposed to the sunlight. Trim back the bushes around the yard and open the pasture up.
- Keep the ground dry. Wet, muddy ground is prime habitat for worm eggs. If you have a muddy area in or around the coop, put in some drainage tile or some other water management practice.
- Keep your chickens off of bare ground. This can be hard if you have an heavily populated farm yard. It’s a good idea to use a chicken tractor (a pen with wheels that can be moved around) to move your chickens to fresh pasture every couple days.
- Keep a clean coop. Worm eggs are passed from the infected chicken in its poop. You can keep the worms from spreading to other chickens in you flock if you minimize the contact uninfected chickens have with infected chicken’s feces.
- Sanitize hard surfaces. Wipe down the hard surfaces in your coop with a potent disinfect like bleach to kill worm eggs. (Note: never mix bleach with ammonia since that combination produces deadly gasses).
- Treat your chickens with the preventative measures discussed above every spring and fall. Spring and fall is when the worm eggs are most likely to infect chickens since the conditions are wet and between 30 and 95 degrees. Treat your chickens over this time – once in spring and once in fall minimum. Consider adding the ACV to the water every other week or so.
- Catch the infection early. Keep an eye on your flock. If you start seeing signs of worms, treat ASAP. Don’t wait or the conditions will worsen and the worms will be harder to get rid of.
Read more about this on the web. These are some excellent links:
Hope that helps!
Yours in poultry,