As the Autumnal Equinix approaches the long days of summer finally retreating, this is a perfect time to consider worming your flock. Chickens, if allowed to free range, will spend most of the “dog days of summer” dining on, bugs, weeds, grass, and other delectables they find scurrying about. Worms are mostly associated with dogs, such as the dreaded heartworm, but chickens can also contract worms as well. Because most backyard chicken flocks have access to green grass, sunshine, fresh air, and bugs, they will most likely pick up worms.
While worms in your flock may be a scary prospect to face, take heart, the fact that your flock needs routine deworming means your ladies are living the good life. Look at deworming your flock as a badge of honor, a testament to the freedom and contact with the outside world that many chickens are denied.
Knowing that worms are a given in a backyard flock that lives the good life, how it is determined that a flock has worms?
The worms that infect the digestive tract of chickens are large roundworms. They are most often discovered while cleaning the coop or removing the poop from the previous night’s roost. Worms present in chicken dropping will look like fine angel hair spaghetti (I know the word picture is rather discussing, sorry about that). The worms may or may not be moving, however, it will be clear to any keeper that white spaghetti strands found on your coop floor are not a normal occurrence.
If you find worms on the floor of your coops when cleaning, this indicates that not only does your flock have worms but the load within their bodies is escalated. Allow me to explain.
A chicken’s body can handle a worm load within the normal parameters. Chickens evolved to live outdoors in constant contact with these parasites. Their bodies up to a certain point can tolerate a normal worm load in their digestive tract while remaining healthy. It is when this balance becomes compromised that problems arise. One of the indications of problems is finding worms on the floor of your coop when cleaning.
What problems do an unchecked heavy worm load cause?
Chickens with a heavy worm load will succumb to several health issues, the most common is weight loss. If you notice a hen who has begun to look rather skinny despite eating well, she may have a higher-than-normal worm load within her body.
You will also notice chickens with worms will have a dirty vent area, often caused by runny poop which sticks to their vent feathers. Listless is also common in chickens with a heavy worm load. The worms in the digestive tract consume energy from the food they eat. This will leave hens with a heavy worm load weak and often present with an appearance of ill health. A hen who does not move very much or does not leave the coop during the day is most likely weak and suffering from a worm overload.
If the worm load in the hen’s body is allowed to persist keepers can find worms in the eggs. In the end, a heavy worm load will eventually result in the death of the hen. Worms in a flock will need to be addressed.
So how does a keeper deal with worms in their flock?
Treating your flock for worms is a very easy and straightforward procedure. To address this issue in your flock you will need several things a dewormer, a syringe with the needle removed, and a partner.
To date, there is no dewormer on the market that is FDA approved for chickens. What this means is that the FDA has not specifically set aside funds and performed a test to determine the effectiveness of dewormers developed specifically for chickens. Do not let this bother you, it is safe to use dewormers produced for other livestock administered at certain doses that are safe for chickens.
**Disclaimer** The following is my methodology for deworming my flock. Keep in mind I am not a professionally trained veterinarian nor am I suggesting that my opinions should replace proper vet care given the situation. I share this information based on my experience in treating worms in my flock throughout the past decade. I do have some resources that validate my methodology.
For treating worms in my flock, I use Safeguard dewormer marketed for goats. I like Safeguard because it is a broad-spectrum dewormer. Not only will it treat roundworms in your flock, but it will also treat other worms as well (gape worms, flatworms, lungworms, etc.).
Safeguard is sold OTC (Over the counter) at most farm/feed stores, it carries an MSRP of about $30-$50 depending on location.
To deworm with Safeguard you will need to orally administer the dewormer to every individual in your flock. This dewormer is NOT mixed in food or water, it has to be administered following a specific dosage directly to the bird.
For Bantam, breeds administer 1/2cc or 1/2 ml. (metric system measurements; I cc converts to 1 ml)
For Standard breeds administer 3/4 cc or 3/4 ml
Using the measurement indications on your syringe, measure the correct dosage directly from the bottle (do not dilute) and put it directly into the beak of the chicken. The chicken will need to swallow the dewormer, so if they spit it out, you will need to try again.
I have found through experience that obtaining a syringe with a curved tip is best when orally administering a dewormer to the flock. These syringes are often stocked by dentists and oral surgery offices. When I visit my dentist for my annual cleaning, (in addition to the oral care sample bag) I will ask for some of their curve-tipped syringes for my chickens. They happily oblige my rather strange request.
Once your flock has been dewormed, you will need to administer it again in 10-14 days. The first dose of dewormer will kill all of the live worms that reside in the digestive tract of your birds. The second dose will kill and remove any eggs that may have hatched during the first dosing.
Note: during treatment, you will need to observe a 20–28-day egg withdrawal. Any eggs laid during treatment are not edible for human consumption. In addition to residue from the dewormer, it is possible to get worm fragments in your eggs. If you sell your eggs, advise your customers that you will not be able to sell any eggs till the egg withdrawal period has passed.
Once your flock has completed the deworming treatment process, your flock will be free of worms and your health status should improve.
Another Note: It is not necessary to deworm as a preventative, this does more harm than good. A chicken’s body has evolved to handle a certain worm load without any ill effects on health. Only when you notice an indication of an advanced worm load in your flock do you need to act. If you worm your flock as a preventative, you will reduce the natural ability of your flock to regulate a worm load within set evolutionary parameters.
Think of it like antibacterial soap. If we constantly wash our hands with antibacterial soap, we reduce our body’s natural ability to build immunity to the normal bacteria in our environment. Thus, reducing our body’s natural ability to adapt to the contact of these particular normal microbes. The same is applied to your flock. It may be tempting to act as a preventative but in the end, your flock will incur more harm than benefit.
Only deworm when signs of increased worm load are present in your flock.
Below I will link a video from my YouTube channel demonstrating deworming my flock. This will allow you to see my methodology and process so you can address worms in your flock.
I hope this post has helped you navigate worms and the process of deworming your flock.
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