Worms & Worming - What to do

This article may make you squirm...but it's important we talk about worms in backyard chickens. 

In a typical backyard setting, there are four types of worms that can affect your chickens. Not all wormers treat all worms! The treatment you use depends on the type of worm your chickens have.

But first...

Before you freak out thinking your flock is riddled with internal parasites, know that it is absolutely possible that your flock is completely worm free. It's also possible that they have a small number of worms or species that are not going to cause harm and don't require treatment. 

In my opinion, there's no point in worming your flock unless you first address their environment and diet. You'll just have the problem return in a few weeks' time. 

Worms thrive in compacted, moist and soiled litter. Avoid this, maintain a good diet, and your flock is unlikely to need constant worming.  

A note for breeders: Worms can impact the growth and vitality of growers, particularly between 3 to 9 months. While worms are unlikely to directly cause death, they steal nutrients from your chickens which can decrease immunity and open them up to secondary infections. If you have slow growers, or birds that don't look 100%, worms could be a factor. 

How do you know if your chickens have worms?

Symptoms and signs your chickens may have worms include
  • Lethargy 
  • Slow growing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dirty vents
  • Losing weight
  • Depression
  • You may see worms in their faeces, but not all worms are visible
  • Here are 3 easy steps to staying on top of worms in your chickens.  

    STEP #1 of 3 - PREVENTION of worms in your flock is key

    Let's first look at how chickens get worms.

    Some worms are transmitted by worm eggs being excreted in your chickens' faeces, and then ingested by them or another flock member as they scratch and peck at the surrounding litter and soil.

    Other worms are ingested via a 'host' such as infected earthworms, ants, beetles, flies, slugs and snails.

    We also know that worms thrive in wet conditions. Even if your property is spotless, heavy rains can create the perfect conditions for worm infestations.

    What to do

    1. Keep housing and run litter dry and friable. Dryness and sunlight are key. Ensure you're using appropriate bedding/litter in the coop and in the run and that your chickens' outdoor area drains well after heavy rain.

    Sand (the coarser or quartz types that drain well) and or wood shavings are great bedding options.

    Spots in the coop or run area that don't drain well and are always wet and smelly will cause health problems. You can look at adding corrugated perspex roofing or horticultural plastic sheeting over these areas and then cover them with shade cloth in the summer months.

    2. Diet and feeding. There are correlations between worms and chickens that are deficient in vitamin A. Ensure your flock has a balanced diet of grains/pellets, greens and grit (both shell grit and hard grit). Using a feeder and not throwing feed onto the ground will also help. 

    3. Keep feeders and drinkers clean. Ask yourself, would you drink it? Raising the height of drinkers may help if they are always dirty. 

    4. Avoid overcrowding. Reducing stress in your flock is the easiest way to reduce parasites and illness in your chickens.

    STEP #2 of 3 - Have a professional TEST your chickens' faeces for worms

    Having your chickens' faeces tested for worm eggs will give you a holistic view of what's going on. You can just skip to step 3, but a faecal test can be a great investment. Before committing, ask your vet about the cost of a faecal float test, whether they will be able to tell you the types of worm eggs present, and ask whether you'll also have to pay for a consultation on top of the test. Expect to pay around $50-$73 at Melbourne Bird Vet (no consult necessary). Para-Site Diagnostic Services are also excellent at diagnosing round worm, caecal worm and threadworms. They don't specifically look for tape worm, but will let you know if they see any. Prices are around $37-$66 + postage. (Prices correct at Feb 2019).

    STEP #3 of 3 - TREAT your flock using a COMBINATION of natural and commercial worming products

    There are three commercial wormers I recommend to people, depending on the situation - Piperazine, Vetsense Kilverm and Avitrol Plus. 
    Vetsense Kilverm is a solid choice for the most common backyard chicken worms. Avitrol Plus tablets are popular with Australian poultry breeders, as they are easy to use and you know each bird has had a sufficient dose. But use with caution as they are "off-label" for egg producing hens. This means a withholding period is not currently available. Hence, I encourage you to test before you dose them or consult your vet. 

    Best natural wormer for backyard chickens

    When using worming syrups, ensure your flock has no access to alternative water sources, puddles included! And don't worm on a hot day. Vetsense recommend you withhold water from birds 2 hours before nightfall. Ensure medicated water is made available so that the birds can start drinking it at daylight. Replace with clean water after 8 hours or when medication is consumed.

    Read the directions carefully and avoid under-dosing. This can lead to surviving worms building up a resistance over time. 

    Piperazine and Nilverm are both bitter tasting, your chickens won't enjoy it! Tip - You can add 1 teaspoon of table sugar per 250-300ml to sweeten the medicated water and make it more palatable. 

    Tip: If you have to use Avitrol Plus tablets, with your hen standing upright, gently turn her head to the left or right. This will open her beak. Administer as per instructions on the bottle. 

    How I use fresh garlic (not dried or powdered).
    I do not promote the use of garlic as a wormer, but from my experience I believe fresh (not dried or powder variety) garlic can help prevent round worms. Perhaps it's the sulphur-containing amino acids or copper or something else...I don't know! 
    Simply chop the garlic into small slices or small chunks, say 1 clove per 4-6 hens. 
    Have two drinkers - one plain water and add the garlic to the other. This gives them choice; garlic, or no garlic. The garlic will float to the top of the water. If your birds are craving it, they'll eat it, and if not, they won't! Repeat daily until they leave it there. 

    Diatomaceous Earth is an interesting organic resource I'll be exploring more in the future. Bennett et al., 2011 found that adding 2% DE to feed reduced caecal and thread worms in less hardy chickens. Only ever use 100% Organic Food-Grade DE. Commercial pool filter quality DE should never be used. 

    Large intestinal roundworms (Ascaridia galli) - the most common backyard chicken worm

    About: Roundworm is the most common worm your chickens will encounter in Australia. They have a direct lifecycle - don't need inserts as a host. 
    Symptoms: Often symptom free, but some growers will look malnourished as worms steal nutrients from the bowel. You may see them in their faeces. 
    Treatment I recommend: Kilverm Poultry Wormer

    Caecal worm (Heterakis gallinarum)

    About: Lives in the caecum of the gut. They have a direct lifecycle - don't need inserts as a host. They are small whiteish worms with a pointed tail, around 7-1.5cm long.
    Symptoms: Diarrhoea, poor growth, depression. Caecal worms cause inflammation in the lower gut. You may see them in their faeces. 
    Treatment I recommend: Kilverm Poultry Wormer

    Threadworms (Capillaria worms aka Hairworms or Cappillary worms) 

    About: There are two types of threadworms. Intestinal threadworms have a direct lifecycle and crop threadworms have an indirect lifecycle through an intermediate host, e.g. earthworms.
    Symptoms: Diarrhoea, anorexia, (no breast fat), poor growth, look sickly and depressed. Caecal worms cause inflammation in the lower gut. You may see them in their faeces. 
    Treatment I recommend: Kilverm Poultry Wormer


    About: Tapeworms are a problem in Australian backyards, in particular in tropical parts of Australia. Some types of tapeworm are microscopic, others up to 15cm long. Tapeworms are transmitted via beetles, earthworms, slugs, snails ants, flies etc. They cannot be transmitted from chickens to humans. 
    Symptoms: Depression, lethargy (tapeworms can produce toxins), unexplained diarrhoea. Generally, tapeworms only affect growth and health when in large numbers.
    Treatment I recommend: Avitrol Plus Tablets*

    Other worms

    Gape worm - If only I had a dollar for every time people suspected Gape worm! Gape worm is exceedingly rare in Australia. I've never seen a case of it personally, nor has my avian vet. It's more often a case of Aspergillosis if in young chickens or in older birds it could be attributed to many respiratory diseases (bacterial or viral) or issues with dust or ammonia. 
    Treatment: Avitrol Plus Tablets*. 

    Gizzard worm - Very rare in Australia; people shouldn't be too concerned about possibility of infection.  Birds will look anaemic and sickly.
    Treatment: Avitrol Plus Tablets*. 

    Eye worm - Can be present in tropical parts of Australia, transmitted by cockroaches. Worm travels from the gut to the eye where it causes irritation, itchiness and eventually blindness (due to the bird scratching and damaging the eye). 
    Treatment: Physical removal.

    *Regarding Avitrol Plus - effective but "off-label" for egg producing hens. This means a withholding period is not currently available. So use with caution. 

    Questions or have something to add? Reach out to me at elise@chickencoach.com 

    Previous article Moulting: Chickens stopped laying? Feathers everywhere? They may be on annual leave!
    Next article Chickens in Heat Wave Survival Guide

    Leave a comment

    Comments must be approved before appearing

    * Required fields