Often times poultry farmers ask how they would know if their birds are suffering from worm infestation, well the signs that will show you if your birds are suffering from worm infestation include loss of weight, their faeces may turn brown, may be blood-stained or live worms may be seen in their faeces.
As for how often to de-worm your birds, it is recommended that you de-worm them first at 8 weeks, then subsequently you de-worm them once in every 2-3 months depending on your management system.
Regarding the right drugs to use in de-worming your birds, there are a lot of poultry de-wormers which include: Piperazine, Levamisole, Membendazole etc. your choice depends on you, your location and the counsel your Doctor who knows the prevalent worm on your farm at a point in time and the drugs that are most suitable.
Worm infestation in Poultry
There are three main internal parasitic worms that affect poultry:
Roundworms are the most common type of intestinal worm; 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; however, 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. Gapeworm can be 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. 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 chicken’s 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:
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. For example, too much green vegetables, like cabbage, can also affect make their poo blacker than it should be.
Other signs are:- worms visible in the droppings; mucky bottoms; dishevelled, depressed appearance; weight loss; drop in egg production; pale comb.
Prevention is better than cure
These simple preventative measures against worm infestations 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, it’s not a natural surface at all).
Using a loose Hardwood Woodchip surface for example, then make a watering can mix of Virkon S Disinfectant, or Bi-OO-Cyst Coccidial Disinfectant, to regularly ‘water’ the ground is a good solution (note: do not use on grass or near watercourses). When dry, follow up with Net-Tex Ground Sanitising Powder. Use disinfectant regularly inside the henhouse too as contaminants can be carried inside.
** Use Apple Cider Vinegar 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.
** Diatomaceous Earth Powder can also be used to mix with their feed at a rate of 5% to feed. To be effective though Diatomaceous Earth Powder should be used all the time.
** Keep grass relatively 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, Herbal Gut Conditioner or Battles Easyverm Pellets 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 vigilance is all that is needed.
We hope that helps to simply explain what can often be very worrying for new chicken keepers.