Should I Be Worming My Chickens?
Updated 17th, June 2023, first published Thursday, 1st October, 2020
Like most other animals, chickens can suffer from parasitic worms. These are endoparasites that live inside your bird’s body, and are collectively called Helminths by vets.
Do My Chickens Have Worms?
The control and treatment of worms in poultry is an interesting subject. Most of us just want to know the basics about parasitic worms; how do our chickens get them, do they make our chickens sick and how do we treat for them? Many of us have kept chickens for years and have never given much consideration to worming our chooks, whilst others do it routinely. It is really a matter of personal philosophy as to which regime you choose to follow. Our recommendation would be to understand what worms life-cycles are all about, discover what the different types of worms are and how they impact on the way you keep your flock and then make an informed decision from there 😊 Have a go at digesting this article and try putting a few off these good husbandry practices into your weekly chook keeping routine.
Check out our '10 Tips To Keep On Top Of Worms' below - these will go a long way to reducing a potential worm infestation and you will have happier and healthier hens.
Below are a handful of worms that your backyard chickens are most likely to experience.
How Do Chickens Get Worms?
Basically, chickens pick up worms from something they eat. Either a chicken eats infected droppings from another bird or the chicken eats an insect carrying worm eggs (earthworm, slug, snail, grasshopper, fly etc). A healthy chicken can cope with a reasonable worm burden. However, should a chicken become unwell or become stressed their immune system finds it increasingly more difficult to cope and the worms have the opportunity to overpopulate. A heavy worm burden can cause, disease, infection and even death.
The life cycle of worms means that getting rid of these pesky beasties can be particularly hard.
The Life-Cycle of Worms
Whether you decide to treat confirmed worm cases or worm preventatively, it’s always best to do everything you can to make sure your chickens don’t contract parasites.
One of the best things to do is to regularly move their coop and run to a new patch. This will stop serious outbreaks, as it stops the life-cycle of the worms. Worm eggs are expelled in the droppings from infected birds, and survive on the ground for a surprisingly long time before they are picked up by foraging chickens. This is called a direct life-cycle, as the worm doesn’t need a host animal to get to your hens.
Worms that have an indirect life-cycle on the other hand let their eggs first be ingested by for example earthworms, slugs or centipedes, where they lay dormant until the host is eaten by one of your chickens. The larvae hatch inside your hens, and the cycle repeats. To prevent an unbreakable chain of worm infestations, it’s therefore important to regularly move your chickens. This is made easy by portable chicken coops like the Eglu Cube or the Eglu Go UP Raised Chicken Coop. Another useful thing is to keep the grass mowed as the ultraviolet light from the sun can kill off potential worm eggs in your chickens’ droppings. Clean the run every week and scoop up droppings and wet bedding. If one of your chickens is infected it’ll be very difficult to get rid of all worm eggs from the ground, but every little helps!
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of a heavy worm burden or infestation can include; worms in eggs, abnormal droppings (diarrhoea, foamy-looking etc), weight-loss, anaemic or pale comb and wattles, listlessness, dirty feathers around vent, worms in droppings or throat, gasping, head stretching and shaking, drop in egg production and sudden death. If you are unsure and suspect worms then there is the option of a faecal egg count. Take a dropping sample into your local vet. The sample will be sent away and the results should tell you if there is a worm problem, how serious and what type of worms are present.
As with all animals, good animal husbandry will mean less risk of your birds getting worms. This includes regular cleaning out (disinfecting) of coops, replacing a layer of soil every so often if your birds are penned within a run, and rotating free-range areas so birds aren’t foraging in the same place all the time. Making sure enclosed poultry runs are well drained and using fresh bark/mulch/needles in muddy areas may help as its acidic nature discourages parasite and bacterial growth (plus offers the chickens a drier environment to scratch around in!)
Natural Worming Remedies
Garlic grated up and added to water can act as a natural preventative. Research shows that it appears to have some success at helping to prevent a worm build-up but will not cure an infestation. Diamol is natural pest control for worms and coccidiosis in poultry, bantams, chooks, chickens and works brilliantly. It is an organic worming treatment that can be added to your chickens feed. Apple cider vinegar is said to be an good way to clean out bacteria (both good and bad!!) in the gut of poultry, but scientifically, that’s all we can confirm. There are many claims about its power as a natural drench, but nothing is proven. Use it sparingly as regular use of it can lead to other health issues.Diamol
When To Repeat Treatment
If you are worming as part of a prevention routine, most poultry keepers worm at least every 3-6 months, between 2 to 4 times a year. At the very minimum treat in the Spring before the breeding season (when temperature rises and worm eggs become infective) and again at the end of Summer (when egg numbers decline.) However, if you know your chickens have worms or you see worms in droppings then do remember that this kills the worms they are carrying but does nothing about the worm eggs that are on the floor of the run and in the intermediate hosts such as slugs, snails and earthworms. You do need an ongoing treatment plan to kill the worms that develop over the coming weeks as a result of the eggs that get picked up.
The life-cycle of the worm varies between 2 and 8 weeks (see the information below) and is called the “prepatent period” of the worm, so you will need to repeat treatment before these eggs develop into egg laying adult worms producing thousands more eggs. Note that during the prepatent phase of infection, poultry can harbour lots of immature worms that are not laying eggs, so no eggs will be present in the droppings. Treatment should be repeated within this period, 3 weeks after the end of the last treatment (2 weeks for geese) is a good compromise if you don’t know the type of worms that are infecting your birds.
Prepatent period of common poultry worms:
- Roundworm: 35 to 56 days faster in young growing birds
- Tapeworm: 14 to 22 days.
- Gapeworm: 18 to 20 days
- Cecal worms: 24 to 30 days.
- Hairworms: 20 to 60 days depending on the type of Hairworm
Worm Treatments - Remember to Treat the Whole Flock
Aviverm Poultry Remedy is a quick and easy way to worm your chickens by adding to their water. Estimate the total weight of your birds and add 1 ml per 9kg estimated total bird weight to their water for 1 day replace with fresh water.
Please read the instructions on the bottle carefully as there is an egg withholding period of 7 days after treatment.
10 Tips To Keep On Top Of Worms
Prevention is always easier than cure so follow good husbandry techniques and combined with regular worming (according to the manufacturer’s instructions), you shouldn’t see any problems.
- Feed chickens properly. Stick to a complete nutritionally balanced diet like Westons Peak Layer Pellets. Keep treats to a minimum.
- Do not throw feed and treats on the ground for them to become contaminated by poultry droppings.
- Keep feeders and drinkers clean.
- Do not overcrowd your chickens. Give them us much space as you can.
- Practice good coop hygiene and maintenance with regular cleaning. Keep litter in poultry houses fresh and always ensure it is dry.
- Ensure your flock has access to to a sunny, well drained run. Worm eggs are destroyed by Ultraviolet Light (UV) from the sun.
- Worm eggs thrive in wet, warm, muddy areas. Remove muddy areas such as those found by pop-holes by creating hard standing or free draining gravel.
- Worm eggs cannot develop when it is very dry, when the temperature is below 10˚C or above 35˚C. Worm chickens as the temperature rises in spring.
- Rotate pasture/pens/runs periodically. If you have a movable coop move daily onto fresh grass. Replace the bark or sand in your run annually or twice a year. Keep grass short and rotate pasture in the summer if you can to help prevent a build up of worm eggs.
- Keep the harmony in your flock to reduce any stress.
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