From time to time your chickens will get worms, and I don’t mean the juicy kind they find in the garden. I’m referring to intestinal worms. Eek!
Poultry worms are a common occurrence, especially if your flock free range frequently. I realise this is a gross subject, but if you keep chickens then you really should swot up on the signs of a worm problem in your flock and how to treat when it does occur.
How do chickens get worms?
- Eating worm egg hosts such as earthworms and snails
- Picking up worm eggs from the ground via infected poultry droppings
Signs to look out for:
- Dirty feathers around the vent / diarrhoea
- Anaemia (pale combs and wattles)
- Visible worms in droppings
- Drop in egg production
- Weight loss
- Loss of condition
Poultry worms you may come across:
Large roundworm is a long worm that lives in the small intestine. I’ve come across them in droppings of new chickens I brought in, they look rather like spaghetti (sorry pasta lovers). The worm burrows into the gut wall which causes inflammation and damage if left untreated, reducing the intake of nutrients. A bird passing live worms in the droppings is heavily infected.
Hairworm is a small worm about the width of a hair, hence the name. Found in the upper digestive system such as the crop, hairworm can cause a lot of internal damage, even in small numbers. Signs are green diarrhoea and anaemia with birds hunched and looking unwell.
Caecal worm is found in the caecum of chickens. Tiny little worms, they can be seen wriggling in caecal droppings. They’re quite common and usually harmless to healthy chickens in low numbers. If a natural worming approach doesn’t clear them (see below) then a medicated poultry wormer may be needed.
Tapeworm rarely affect chickens, however they can and live in the intestine. Tapeworm segments can be seen in the droppings, they’re odd tubular things that sort of wiggle a bit, only once in all my years of chicken keeping have I seen this. Seriously gross. The hen was treated by a vet for a stronger dose of wormer. If you are concerned your chicken has tapeworm then you should seek veterinary advice.
Gapeworm is commonly seen in pheasants and turkeys, but they also affect chickens. The blood-red worms attach themselves to the trachea (throat), causing gasping (gaping) and neck stretching as the chicken struggles to breathe. Left untreated they can be fatal by suffocation. They can be picked up from other birds coughing up the adult worms or via hosts such as earthworms and snails.
Control and treatment of poultry worms:
- Frequently move free ranging birds / moveable runs to fresh ground
- Add a couple of crushed garlic cloves to the drinking water to create a hostile environment in the gut
- Inspect droppings, including caecal droppings for visible signs of worms
- Heat, drought and a hard frost can destroy worm eggs or prevent them from maturing
- Keep grass short during summer to allow UV from sunlight to destroy eggs
- Include herbs in your flocks diet for a natural approach to worming
- Feed raw pumpkin/squash seeds, they contain cucurbitin, an amino acid that can eliminate parasitic worms such as tapeworm and roundworm. There are varying opinions on this method of worming, I don’t have much evidence it actually works.
- If worms are frequently seen in the droppings or a faecal sample is positive for worms, I recommend feeding layers pellets with added Flubenvet for 7 days as a really easy way of worming your flock. Available from licensed stockists.
I worm my chickens twice a year with Flubenvet, usually autumn and spring when conditions are right for worm eggs to thrive (warm and wet). I always worm new additions to the flock as a precaution. A heavy worm burden will impair the health of the bird by robbing them of important nutrients, if left for a long period of time, worms can damage the digestive tract of the birds which can lead to other infections.