Worms in Poultry - Recognising and Treating Worms
Learning about the life cycle of worms may not seem pleasant but it is one of the most common problems/ailments for poultry and it is really important that you know what to look for and how to treat the birds, as well as learn what preventative measures you can take.
I am not going to blind you with latin names, there are plenty of books and web pages to do that, but I will try and explain simply what they are, how to recognise the symptoms, how to deal with them and how to prevent them ...
Worm infestations should be treated as 'one of those things' that chickens get, for the sake of the bird they should be dealt with, even if thought to be not life threatening. Any kind of poultry worms will impair the health of the bird to some degree, as it would in humans, because the worms are taking the nutrients out of the food of their hosts and you will see weight loss in your birds, or they may not be growing at the rate they should be. Worms can damage the digestive tract of the birds which can lead to other infections. There will be a drop in egg production and the birds may seem 'unwell' and listless.
There are three main internal parasitic worms that affect poultry:
Roundworms are the most common; they look like spaghetti and live in the intestine of the bird. They can affect chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. There are several types of roundworm e.g. hairworms, threadworms, but the most common is the Large Roundworm. Most birds can live with some infestation but it can result in drop in egg production and weight loss.
Roundworms normally follow a direct life cycle i.e an infected birds releases worm eggs in its dropping where another bird can pick up the eggs; or, they can be picked up by a carrier like an earthworm. They have a 28 day life cycle and can be found not only in the intestine but also in the crop, gizzard or oesophagus. They can even infect the oviduct and be passed out inside the eggs. At maturity they are 3 inches long and can be seen in the dropping if expelled by the bird.
Gapeworms are a type of roundworm; they attach themselves to the trachea (throat) of chickens where they impair breathing resulting in the birds gasping (gaping). Young birds are particularly susceptible and can become infected by sharing space with wild birds such as pheasants. Fatal if not treated.
Gapeworm is often brought about through an intermediate host i.e. earthworms, snails, slugs can all be carriers of larvae and once ingested by the bird have a life cycle of 14 days. It can also be picked up directly from another bird coughing up the worms on to the ground and then your birds picking it up when scratching the ground.
Tapeworms are less common and are segmented, ribbon-like, worms. They attach themselves to the wall of the intestine by burying their heads in the lining of the intestine. Their eggs are carried by slugs and snails so free-ranging birds are more susceptible than indoor birds. Heavy infestation can reduce the bird's ability to fight other infections.
Reproduction is from segments of the worm that break off and are passed through the chicken in its droppings where it contaminates the ground for other birds to pick up. Tapeworm larvae can be carried by intermediate hosts, most particularly slugs and snails. They are very hard to see with the naked eye and have a life cycle of 6 weeks.
Check the droppings ... ... It really is worth a regular (even if it seems unpleasant) hard look at your chickens droppings. Always think of the adage 'You are what you eat'! On the right, is an image of what healthy dropping should look like so you can make a comparison. Healthy chicken droppings should be fairly firm and rounded with two distinct sections. The largest darker portion should be black, brown and/or grey in colour and the smaller portion should be white (this is the urine) and it will form a cap at one end. As with all advice we give, it is not a precise diagnosis so if you are at all concerned, you should consult a vet who can arrange a worm count of the droppings.
If the droppings are: Green coloured - this could be a dietary imbalance caused by too much green matter or too much protein, or can also be indicative of a more serious internal infection. Veterinary diagnosis is recommended if you reduce the green in their diet but it makes no difference.
Yellow coloured - loose yellow droppings which will normally stick to the feathers of the birds bottom are most often a sign of internal worms. It can also be that the birds have a diet rich in corn or maize but in our experience it is usually worms. It could also point to a respiratory infection but there would be other signs with this kind of problem.
This is not to be confused with Caecal droppings which are brown and foamy and expelled roughly every 7-10 droppings - perfectly normal.
Black, runny and sticky - Can point to nutritional deficiency. Revisit their diet and feed only layers pellets ad lib with treats of corn twice a day for two weeks to see if this improves their droppings. Stop all other treats for this period.
Other signs are:- worms visible in the droppings; mucky bottoms; dishevelled, depressed appearance; weight loss; drop in egg production; pale comb.
Treatment of worms
If you suspect worms then the chemical answer is to use a recognised, licensed, anthalmintic (wormer) like Flubenvet or Solubenol. These are the only wormers licensed for poultry through the Animal Veterinary Medicines Authority and you will need a prescription from a vet, or to 'sign' a POM-VPS declaration form on a website. Please be careful when buying online that the company you buy from actually have an SQP (Suitably Qualified Person) to dispense Flubenvet. Beware of any online company that does not ask you to complete a form or give the SQP information before purchase, as always, there are some unscrupulous companies out there and you may not get the genuine thing. FSF do not have an SQP so cannot sell Flubenvet.
Flubenvet should be used twice a year, spring and autumn, to rid your birds of worms or more often if advised by your vet. It is the only wormer that will kill Gapeworm and if this is suspected, give Flubenvet immediately. Follow any instructions for meat withdrawal, although the Flubenvet 1% does not now need an egg withdrawal period.
Other products are available e.g. Ivermectin drops and Piperazine. These are not licensed for poultry at this time, but are widely used by vets for poultry (and do not need to be dispensed by an SQP). Ivermectin is applied with drops to the skin and works against internal and external parasites whilst Piperazine will kill roundworm.
The natural answer, which many people prefer, is regular use of an herbal product. These will not kill Gapeworm but can help prevent other worms. There just a couple worth mentioning. Neither is 'licensed' to say it is a poultry 'wormer' so cannot label the product as such. Verm-X Pellets for Poultry is the most widely used, especially in organic systems, and comes in liquid or pellet form. It is administered for 3 days out of every month throughout the year. Opinion is divided as to its effectiveness with the Janssen Company (makers of Flubenvet) saying it does not kill worms, and Paddocks Farm
(makers of Verm-X Pellets for Poultry) producing lots of evidence that it does.
Verm-X Pellets for Poultry does have some well-known poultry experts supporting it.
New to the market this year from Net-Tex is their Herbal Gut Conditioner which again, is not licensed as a poultry 'wormer', but is marketed as a wormer for poultry. We think the best approach is to use one of the herbal products on a regular basis as per instructions and then, if worms are still suspected, especially Gapeworm, use the chemical answer of Flubenvet. Herbal products will not kill Gapeworm.
Also new this year from Net-Tex is what we think is a great solution to the problem of contaminated ground. Leaving your birds on the same small area of ground for prolonged periods is the primary cause of worms. Net-Tex Ground Sanitising Powder can be sprinkled on the ground most frequently used by the birds, and will kill the worms from larvae stage to full grown. Brilliant product!
Prevention is better than cure
Some simple preventative measures can help save a great deal or worry and loss of birds.
Give them clean ground regularly. Never allow them to stay on bare earth for long periods, the ground will become 'fowl sick' and harbour countless worm larvae, bacteria and potential infections.
If in a fixed Run then move it regularly to new ground, or if you are not able to move the run then consider a surface that can be cleaned with disinfectant (not concrete please, not a natural surface at all). Using a loose hardwood woodchip surface for example and then make a watering can mix of Virkon disinfectant, or
Bi-OO-Cyst Coccidial disinfectant, to regularly (fortnightly) water the ground is a good solution. When dry, follow up with Net-Tex Ground Sanitising Powder.
Use Apple Cider Vinegar, or Apple Cider Vinegar and Garlic, in your birds drinking water regularly (plastic drinkers only). This changes the balance of acid in their gut so that it becomes a rather inhospitable place for worms to live and breed. One teaspoon per litre of water is all that is needed. Diatom (diatomaceous earth) can also be used to mix with their feed at a rate of 5% to feed. To be effective though Diatom must be used all the time.
Keep grass short as sunlight destroys worm eggs.
If your birds free-range and come into contact with wild birds, like pheasants and rooks for example, as well as having regular treats of slugs, earthworms and snails, then more vigilance is needed. The herbal answer is Verm-X Pellets for Poultry or Herbal Gut Conditioner every month, or the chemical answer is Flubenvet twice a year.
To conclude ... ... it is important to get rid of, or prevent, internal worms to have healthy happy hens, and for your own peace of mind. A few simple tasks and vigilence is all that is needed.
We hope that helps to simply explain what can often be very worrying for new chicken keepers.