Chicken Keeping: To Worm Or Not To Worm?


This seems to be an oft asked question in the chicken world with no real definitive answer.  Of course, if you're raising chickens as meat birds, this really isn't an issue.  Their life span is so short there isn't much problem with worms.  On the other hand, if you're raising chickens for eggs, you will no doubt have to make this decision at some point in your chicken-raising experience.

Every chicken how-to book has a small part of the chicken health chapter devoted to worms.  Most books will tell you that chickens can co-habitat, if you will, with worms, as long as the flock is healthy and with no vitamin deficiencies.  Some books suggest worming every Spring and Fall while others recommend taking a stool sample every Spring and Fall to your local veterinarian to have it tested for worms prior to making the decision.  All of it seems to be good sound advice, however, not many books tell you what to look for or what to use.

There's a book I have on my bookshelf that I reference for all health-related questions.  If you don't have it, I can personally highly recommend it.  The book is called The Chicken Health Handbook and is written by Gail Damerow.  She does a magnificent job in breaking down deficiencies, illnesses, etc. as well as gives long lists of symptoms.  This is not a how-to for raising chickens, she wrote the Storey's Guide To Raising Chickens for that {I also have this on my bookshelf and find it very useful}.

Here's a little background on the worming issue.

Internal Parasites - Worms
Chickens can get several types of worms throughout their lifetime.  There are two categories of worms that infect chickens:  roundworms and flatworms. Some worms have direct life cycles while other have indirect life cycles.  

Direct life cycle:  a female worm inside a chicken's body sheds eggs.  The eggs are expelled in the chicken's droppings which are then eaten by the same chicken or a different chicken.

Indirect life cycle:  According to Gail Damerow in Storey's Guide To Raising Chickens, a chicken cannot become infected {or reinfected} by eating a parasite egg, but rather, becomes infected {or reinfected} by eating a creature {known as an intermediate host} containing a parasite egg, i.e. the earthworm, slug, or other bugs.  So, the worm eggs are expelled in the chicken's droppings and then are eaten by some other creature {ant, earthworm, etc} and then the chicken eats the ant, earthworm, etc.

This is important to know in an effort to help you determine which type of worms your chickens likely have making it easier to determine how to treat.  Free-range chickens are most likely to be exposed to worms of an indirect life cycle since they are eating worms, slugs, ants, etc. while those who are cooped, or litter-raised, tend to be exposed to worms of direct life cycle.

Most of the hosts thrive in warm weather and go dormant in cold weather, making the typical de-worming seasons Spring and Fall.


How Do My Chickens Get Worms?
Chickens can get worms {or worm eggs} from many different sources including their own feces, wild bird feces, earthworms, slugs, beetles, ants, grasshoppers and other bugs.  

Can My Chickens Live With Worms?
Yes.  Chickens can typically build up a resistance, through gradual exposure, to the worms common in their environment.  That being said, when a chicken or it's environment becomes unhealthy or unsanitary, or the chicken becomes extremely stressed, they may be prone to an unhealthy worm load.  It is at this time the chicken would likely need to be de-wormed.

What Are My De-Worming Options?
This is where it gets a little hairy.  Many people have many differing opinions about what works and what doesn't work.
  • Diatomaceous Earth {a.k.a. DE} - food-grade Diatomaceous Earth is used most often when trying to combat external parasites, however, many people swear by this for internal parasites as well.  The problem is in the way DE works - by shredding parasites.  Once a chicken ingests this powder, making it wet, one would think the powder would lose much of it's cutting edge.
  • Commercial Wormers - there are many different wormers on the market.  The main difference between all of them is what type of worm they treat.  This is why it's important to have some type of an idea as to what type of worm you're dealing with.  Levamisole and Ivermectin are two of the commercial wormers effective against a wide variety of worms.  Levamisole is found both as a drench {added to water} as well as an injectable.  Ivermectin is a cream typically found in the horse section {I have not seen it packaged specific to poultry} and must be carefully given as it can be toxic to chickens in relatively small amounts.  Parasites become resistant to wormers, so it's important to try using a different wormer annually, if you de-worm annually.  Also, there is a withdrawal period with any commercial wormer {the amount of time it takes for the drug to no longer show up in the bird's meat or eggs}, so it's important to find out the time period prior to treatment so meat or eggs are not eaten until the withdrawal period is over.
  • Natural Solutions - the raw seeds of the cucurbitaceae family {i.e. gourds, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkin, zucchini} are commonly thought to be a natural de-wormer for worms such as tapeworm and roundworm.  The problem?  There is no definitive answer as to how much each chicken must have in order for this natural "cure" to be effective.
What To Do?
Although you'll have to decide for yourself, what to do in your own flock, here's what I've chosen at this point to do with my own.
  • Ensure a healthy flock - we routinely add apple cider vinegar to their water {1 Tablespoon per gallon of water}, nutritional yeast to their food {sorry, I don't measure it, just sprinkles though} and, from time-to-time, either garlic or garlic powder to their homemade meals for nutritional boosters.  Additionally, when the flock is not going to be free-ranging much {winter mostly} we ensure plenty of greens are fed to them.  During times of stress, high heat and humidity or extreme cold, we add electrolytes to their water {in place of the apple cider vinegar}.
  • We use Vet RX as a supplement when upper respiratory issues appear, usually at the Fall/Winter change to keep them healthy and their immune systems in-check.
  • Our flock is fed a variety of foods including grains, fresh veggies {including gourds, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, etc}, oatmeal, fruit {including cantaloupe & berries}, etc. throughout the year.
  • Use a commercial de-wormer.  We had one bad worm outbreak when we introduced our adopted girls a couple of years ago to our existing flock.  We saw the signs of an unhealthy level of worms - their poop was no longer firm, a few of them were reaching their heads up and opening their mouths wide open {classic sign for gapeworm}, and many were shaking their heads frantically, and we used a commercial de-wormer {we used Ivermectin}.  Sure enough, the next morning their feces was full of dead worms.  We will continue to use a commercial de-wormer if we see signs like this again. 
  • Inspect the flock and their feces.  Paying attention to even the smallest signs and symptoms may help prevent an outbreak.
 
Additionally, we just realized we likely have a Vitamin A deficiency in the coop, based on symptoms from both the girls who were processed a couple of months ago and the current coop girls.  We will be working to fix this current nutritional deficiency {cod liver oil will be added to mash} to ensure the coop girls are healthy.
 
I would love to hear from all of you what you do to either keep the internal parasites in-check and/or deal with them in the case of an outbreak.

*This post contains affiliate links*

Additional Chicken-Keeping Posts:
So You Want To Raise Chickens:  Part 2
When Will My Chickens Start Laying?
Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Supplementing A Chicken's Diet
Chicken Water
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm
All You Need To Know About Chicken Roosts
All You Need To Know About Nesting Boxes

8 comments:

Our Neck of the Woods said...

I have never used any type of dewormer on my chickens because I've never noticed a problem. But it's good to know that if there ever is an issue that Ivermectin will clear it up. I don't like using medicines unless there is a definite need for them, and in your case, it sounds like using the Ivermectin was the best choice.

Little Homestead In Boise said...

My coop is well maintained, but I also use a natural worm protector from Holistic Horse for chickens. It seems to help a lot. I've read that if chickens share a yard wiht dogs they may be more prone to some kinds of worms. Our had roundworms. I also keep Wazine on hand. I lost of my hens to works as a novice. I know what to look for now- drooping, letharic, not eating or laying. Done right it works fast but no eggs for 10 days. Better than losing a chicken. Mine are for eggs only.

Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily said...

I like your philosophy a lot because its very closely aligned with mine. I use natural worm prevention measures twice a year and do as you do year round with the ACV, garlic, etc. Here's the natural way I try and prevent worms, and so far, knock on wood, my girls have been worm-free. I would love for you to come share this post on my From the Farm Blog Hop. You can get there from this same link. Thanks!
http://www.fresh-eggs-daily.com/2012/04/pumpkin-soup-nasturtiums-natural.html

Sandra said...

Great Post for Chicken Owners.
Thanks for sharing your post with us at the HomeAcre Hop!
Sandra
http://www.mittenstatesheepandwool.com

A Daughter of the King said...

I noticed that a few of my chickens had a worm problem and gave them a food-grade, all natural product called Wormguard Plus, from The Holistic Horse. It is a bit expensive, but It worked beautifully and it improved the overall health of my flock. Wormguard Plus contains DE, Grapeseed extract, whole flax. I have 8 hens, so I mix about a tablespoon in with their sunflower seed each day. Here's the link if anyone wants to try it. ,(http://www.theholistichorse.com/WormGuardPoultry.html)

Robbie Krista Robinson said...

One of the natural treatments here in Australia is to add a bit of apple cider vinegar to their water now and then. I've only done it a couple times and our chickens are very healthy and robust. I'm glad you wrote about this though, to remind me to get out there and do it again. :-)

Eli Sab said...

Can you tell me how much is the egg laying rate for 130 hens per day.coz its only arround 30 eggs/day.with a lot of ups and downs.!

Romilda Gareth said...

Thanks