Chicken worming is a simple process today, but we should be wary of routinely using medication given recent headlines about drug resistance and concerns about the use of drugs in food-producing animals.
Worms in chickens can be prevented or treated with medication, but only if we know how they get them and when to give it to them.
The worm life cycle can be interrupted with good husbandry. You may be able to avoid using a chemical wormer altogether if you combine natural remedies to make the environment less hospitable for the worms with regular faecal egg counts (worm egg counts). Let’s jump right in, shall we?
You may also want to read about how to keep your chickens healthy.
Worms, Helminths & Endoparasites
Ectoparasites, such as lice and mites like the Northern Fowl mite, are found only on the outside of your chickens.
Contrarily, endoparasites can be found inside your bird rather than on its outside. In the veterinary community, the term helminth is used to describe a wide variety of endoparasites, or worms, found inside of an animal’s body.
Specifically, Nematodes are the most important class of worms to us. These worms can be found in the digestive tract. For the most part, these are not a problem for our chickens, but I have included a list below just in case.
The following links will take you to detailed descriptions of various worm species. Perhaps you have already identified the strain that has infected your chickens and are ready to move on to that section.
Poultry are susceptible to the following worm species:
-Hairworm: Found in the crop, oesophagus, proventriculus and intestine, also called Capillaria.
-Large Roundworm: Found in the bird’s digestive system.
-Gizzard worm: Found in the gizzard, mainly in geese. A common problem for goslings.
-Tapeworm: Uncommon, found in the intestine.
-Gapeworm: Found in the trachea and lungs.
-Caecal worm: Cause little damage but transmit blackhead to Turkeys.
Chicken worms’ life cycle
Just what causes worms in chickens?
Worms and worm eggs can be acquired by chickens in one of two ways:
-On the ground, or directly from the floor
-Indirectly — by way of an earthworm or snail that has consumed the parasite’s eggs.
The droppings of an infected bird will contain thousands of worm eggs. Those eggs are just laying here on the floor. It may take up to a year for them to be discovered by foraging birds.
There is a clear progression from egg to adult in the life cycles of large roundworms, gizzard worms (which affect geese), hairworms, and caecal worms. Hairworms can also have an indirect life cycle.
The life cycle of a worm is indirect because the eggs are shed by the thousands in the droppings of an infected bird or, in the case of the gapeworm, coughed up. At this stage, worm eggs pose no threat to human health.
These eggs will be consumed by intermediate hosts like earthworms, slugs, snails, and centipedes, and then your chickens will consume the intermediate hosts, which will include the worm eggs.
Exactly what is an intermediate host?
Your chickens will become infected again as the larvae hatch and spread. The life cycles of hairworms, gapeworms, and tapeworms are all indirect, with the exception of hairworms, which can have a direct life cycle.
So now that we know the route of infection, let’s examine how we can identify infected chickens.
To what extent can we test chickens for worms?
A veterinarian can diagnose worms by analyzing a feces sample, also known as a “worm egg count.” The process used to be very expensive.
Fortunately, you can now order a worm count kit for your chickens online rather than taking them to the vet.
A worm egg count kit provides the means to obtain a sample and deliver it to a lab for analysis.
After examining the samples under a microscope, the results—including what was found in the feces and whether or not you should worm—are emailed to you the same day.
This method allows me to use a more natural approach to chicken worming without sacrificing effectiveness (or not). In any case, it’s a good way to get to sleep.
So, let’s check out what we can do to ensure our hens pass the test.
Preventing worms and chicken worming
Wet, warm, muddy places are perfect for worm eggs to develop. Create hard standing or free-draining gravel to get rid of muddy areas like those around pop-holes.
When temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celsius, worm eggs will not hatch. When the weather warms up, their population can explode quickly. Spring is a pivotal time of year for parasite testing.
When exposed to air and sunlight, eggs and larvae quickly dry out. Rotating grazing pasture and keeping grass short in runs is recommended. So chicken worming isn’t needed.
In dry weather, worm eggs and larvae dry up very quickly. Ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight can also degrade them. If you want to prevent worms from establishing a population, keep the grass cut short and switch up the pasture rotation
Those of you who have a tiny (and likely muddy) run may be wishing I wouldn’t bring up the topic of lawn maintenance. It is recommended that you use sand or hardwood chips as a substrate (not bark chippings, this can cause Aspergillosis an infection caused by a type of fungus).
Substrate in the run should be cleaned out annually or whenever it starts to look dirty. It is helpful to use a sanitizing powder like Net-Tex Ground Sanitising Powder when cleaning. You can find more information about this in the section on natural chicken worming methods that follows.
The litter in chicken coops should be cleaned and replaced once a week. Dry bedding is a necessity at all times. At regular intervals, I’ll replace the litter and disinfect the house. As a result, both adult worms and their young will be killed.
Chickens that are raised properly develop immunity to internal parasites. Worms in the background at low levels are normal, but if the worm burden increases, the bird’s health will suffer. Overcrowding or other sources of stress in birds can cause this to occur suddenly.
There should be no mixing of birds of different ages because the young have not yet developed a resistance to worms. Adding point-of-lay chickens to an existing flock is stressful for both the existing chickens and the new additions, who are less worm-resistant. Besides the routine testing and preventative measures, I also conduct tests one month after introducing new birds.
If you want to get rid of worms you should contact a vet.