Worming Your Flock: Why, How, When & With What
by Meghan H
Published February 8, 2021
When it comes to taking care of your chickens, it’s fairly easy to find plenty of solid research on proper feed requirements, housing needs and general care of your backyard flock. But when it comes to worming and deworming medications for backyard chickens, there simply isn’t a lot of clear advice for chicken owners or products labeled for chickens.
The reason for this gap is a simple one. Commercial egg-laying hens are raised for the entire duration of their lives in a strictly controlled environment. They simply do not have a way of coming in contact with most internal parasites, therefore the companies that develop the vast majority of deworming medicines have not done the expensive research and testing needed to label a product for use in chickens. It’s hard to believe, but the backyard chicken population isn’t large enough in numbers to make the drug companies spend their money on the research and development needed for chicken usage labeling.
So what’s a backyard chicken owner to do? I’ve done some research for you on worming chickens and here are my best practices for my flock of 150 laying hens.
First, a disclaimer. None of the information or recommendations here should be construed as medical advice. Please consult a veterinarian if you are dealing with a persistent illness or losses within your flock. Chickens are odd birds, they often show very few if any symptoms before they are seriously ill. It is worth your time to establish a client relationship with a veterinarian who can treat poultry before you have an emergency.
Why Worm Your Flock
Chickens that are allowed to roam freely on the ground will no doubt be exposed to many different parasites. In chickens, roundworms, gapeworms and tapeworms are the most common. In reality, most backyard chickens are probably walking around every day with a small parasite load. Truth be told, most of us probably are unaware of what’s really lurking inside our hens. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not.
Chickens that live their lives in stationary housing on the same ground year-round will likely have a higher chance of developing parasite infestations than chickens who are in a rotational-grazing system, or moved onto clean ground several times a year. Moving onto fresh ground breaks a parasite’s life cycle. My flock is in stationary housing, so worming is of higher importance.
There are a few main types of internal worms that can affect chickens; roundworms, gapeworms, threadworms and tapeworms being the most common. A heavy load of worms can interfere with a hen’s ability to absorb nutrients and therefore affect her health and egg production. But most hens can probably handle a light parasite load and not really have their health or production put at risk. For sure, there is a bit of a gross feeling for me knowing that my hens may have worms. And rarely, I’ve heard of some folks actually finding a roundworm inside of an egg. Yuck!
When To Worm
For those reasons, I worm my entire flock twice a year in fall during their molt and again in the spring. Prior to the fall worming, I take a fecal sample to my veterinarian. They can help me determine what types of worms I may be dealing with and how heavily loaded the flock may be.
Some may choose to use natural preventatives consistently instead. Otherwise will only treat when they see issues arise, in chicken body condition or in feces.
How to Worm
Since I have quite a large laying flock of usually around 150 hens. I find it easiest to use dewormers that I can put in their drinking water. With a large number of hens, making sure that each one gets an individual dosage is nearly impossible. With a dozen or so hens, giving an individual dosage to each hen isn’t difficult, so paste-type dewormers are a possibility.
Worm Them With What?
There are two main approaches to deworming chickens: all natural home-remedy type methods and products and the medicine-type products. Your veterinarian (you did find one, right?) will help you decide what’s best for your flock given your location, number of birds and other local factors that may play into your decision.
I regularly deworm my poultry twice a year using rotating products, and the choice depends on their fecal counts. It’s important to note that there aren’t many chemical dewormers specifically labeled for poultry. We do have several Dewormers available on our website.
For tapeworms, I use a fenbendazole product called Safeguard Aquasol. To determine the appropriate dosage, you’ll need to calculate it based on the total estimated body weight (in kilograms) of the chickens you’re treating. The formula is: Total estimated body weight [kg] x 0.005 mL = mL of Safe-Guard AquaSol per day.
It’s worth mentioning that the average chicken keeper won’t use a whole container of Safe-Guard AquaSol in their lifetime due to the small amounts needed. Some avian vets may offer this product in smaller doses, allowing you to buy only what you need.
While some poultry keepers use other wormers, these products may not have specific dosing recommendations or information regarding egg withdrawal periods for chickens.
My recommendation is to get in touch with your local University Extension Office for their guidance and to perform a fecal examination to ensure you’re targeting the correct parasites. This approach helps minimize the risk of parasites developing resistance to the treatment.
You’ve no doubt heard about all the greatness of diatomaceous earth as a poultry parasite buster. Diatomaceous earth can help with external parasites, but since diatomaceous earth loses its effectiveness when wet, using it as a dewormer for internal parasites is anecdotal at best. If you feel better giving it internally to your flock, go for it. But be careful since it can irritate the eyes and lungs of both birds and humans.
Feeding your flock pumpkin and squash seeds and flesh is another popular deworming option that has many faithful followers. Because there have not been any scientific studies done on the effectiveness of pumpkin seeds, diatomaceous earth, wormwood or other natural home remedies, I personally do not rely on these to control worms in my flock. The pumpkins and squashes make great treats and help prevent my flock from getting bored in the winter and developing bad behavior, but I use scientifically proven products for treating my flock for worms when needed.
Tell Us What You Use?
I hope you find my reasoning and best practices for deworming my flock helpful to you as you manage your flock. If you have any questions or advice for other readers that you’ve found helpful in deworming your flock, leave us a message and let us know about it.
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