How to Tell if Chickens Have Worms (And Treat Them Naturally)

rooster and hens on roost

How to Tell if Chickens Have Worms

All farm animals, including chickens, are capable of hosting a variety of parasites, including worms. Worming should be considered one of the aspects of caring for your chickens’ basic health needs. If not prevented and treated, worms can be harmful to the health of your flock. 


In this article, you’ll learn how to tell if your chickens have worms as well as how to treat them naturally.

Worming Chickens A New Phenomenon?

If you catch your grandmother reminiscing about her days on the farm gathering the eggs daily in her apron, you might want to ask her opinion about what she thought about worming chickens. Chances are, if she raised chickens more than five or six decades ago, she will look at you with a blank stare. “Worm chickens? Whatever are you talking about?”

A few things have changed over the chicken raising years. One, chickens were primary free-range birds. They were not confined to small areas and subject to eating where they poop. However, even free-range birds are subject to picking up parasites. 

Also, our knowledge of parasite damage and control has increased dramatically. There have been products specifically developed for eliminating worm infestations as well as natural methods introduced for controlling worm populations in backyard flocks. 

Worms in chickens are a problem that can be dealt with and addressed by the backyard chicken enthusiast easily and effectively. The first steps are to learn how to detect and identify a chicken with worms, and what the best measures are for eliminating a worm infestation. 

Common Species of Worms Found in Chickens

There are four main species of worms found in chickens that are responsible for specific health issues.

  • Hairworm– smallest of the species. These worms are particularly damaging and will infect all your birds. They are found in the crop and throat areas as well as in the intestines. Earthworms are part of the life cycles of these worms.
  • Roundworm – found in the digestive system. Infestations are usually caused by eating droppings. It is possible to find a roundworm in a chicken’s egg. 
  • Gapeworm – live in the windpipe or trachea of the chicken. These worms cause gasping and head shaking. They are the most easily recognized worm infestation because of the obvious symptoms. They cause respiratory disease but fortunately, are quite rare. They are usually contracted by free-range birds who feed in the same area as pheasants. 
  • Tapeworm – rarely affect chickens. They live in the digestive tract and cause malnutrition and anemia. They are positively identified by having a vet analyze a feces sample.

What Does a Chicken with Worms Look Like?

Unless you have a heavy infestation and know what to look for, you probably won’t spot worms in your chicken’s feces. Depending on what type of worm infestation you are dealing with, the symptoms will vastly differ. Here are some of the most common signs that your chickens may have worms. 

  • Pale egg yolks that are not plump
  • Loss of weight
  • Green diarrhea
  • Lethargy, chicken appears hunched over or exhibits wing dragging
  • Respiratory distress, coughing, head shaking
  • Generally poor health, loss of feathers, lack of shine to feathers

You can take a feces sample to a vet and have it analyzed for specific parasites. It is probably easier and less expensive to just go ahead and worm your chickens. You can also purchase a Worm Count Kit that will let you know what kind and how many worms you are dealing with if you are willing to delve that deep into the nitty-gritty.

How Do Chickens Get Worms?

The life cycle of a worm is processed through the digestive tract. Chickens hunt and peck in the same places they poop. The process is pretty much unavoidable. The worms continue to reproduce through two main processes.

Direct life cycle: when an infected chicken poops, they are spreading hundreds or even thousands of tiny worms and eggs. The eggs can lay dormant in the ground for years. The chicken could have contracted the original worms from other types of animals or the life cycle is being regenerated through the chickens. As soon as the worms are re-ingested, the process begins all over again.

Indirect life cycle: some worms are clever in that they hide in hosts like earthworms, slugs, and snails. Since these are all tasty treats for chickens, it is easy to see how chickens can become infested by worms hiding in their favorite snacks. 

 Do I Need to Deworm My Chickens?

If your flock is free-range, plump and healthy with shiny feathers, exhibits abundant energy, and are laying copiously, you probably don’t need to run out and give them a dose of a deworming product. 

If your chickens are bound to an enclosure and are eating and eliminating in the same small area, you should be taking measures to help prevent an outbreak of worms. You should follow the preventive measures and keep an eye out for possible infestations.

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent worms from infesting your chickens.

  1. Be sure to change your bedding regularly. Remember that a single chicken dropping can contain a thousand worms. Keeping your bedding clean will help break the life cycle if one of your hens does happen to pick up a parasite.
  1. Worms love wet and muddy conditions. If your girls are confined in dampness or mud, you are leaving the doors open wide for worms. You might as well be putting out a worm welcoming mat. Create drier and healthier conditions for your hens.
  2. Keep tall grass mown around the coop. By mowing the grass, you will allow the UV rays to penetrate to where the worms are laying, waiting for your chickens to eat them up. UV rays will kill worms and eggs on contact. 
  3. Use a lawn rake to “dry rake” the ground around your coop as often as possible. Carry the dry droppings away from the coop to your compost pile to help defend against infestation.

Natural Ways to Prevent and Treat Worms

In addition to keeping a tidy coop and taking specific physical measures to break the worm life cycle, there are products you can feed your girls to keep them healthier and less prone to succumbing to a worm infestation.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is not a product that will kill worms. What adding a tablespoon to every gallon of water you feed your chickens will do, is help maintain a more acidic environment in your hens’ GI tract. Worms don’t like an acid environment. 

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

These prehistoric fossil remnants can be mixed in with your chickens’ food as a preventative measure. Depending on the brand you buy, you need to read the directions on how much to add to your regular food. Generally, DE can make up from 5% to 15% of your flock’s diet. It is a good source of minerals for your girls as well. 

Garlic

Throw some garlic into your water supply along with the apple cider vinegar. Feed garlic chunks to the girls as treats or mix flakes or powder into the food. Garlic in the system of a chicken will help prevent an infestation and can even be used to remove worms. 

Pumpkin and Cucumber seeds

These natural worm repellents make excellent treats, especially when you have an abundance of the plants from your garden. Toss them into the coop as a chicken snack and help rid the yard of worms at the same time.  

How Often Do You Worm Chickens?

Deworming Naturally

Sometimes, even with your best efforts, a worm infestation will become evident in your flock. You can apply a natural treatment such as garlic or DE for at least 10 days. 

To eradicate worms with garlic, you would need to feed one or two cloves a day per hen for 10 days. For DE, you would need to follow the recommendations for the specific food grade you are using. 

The life cycle of the worm will begin again for most species in about 3 weeks if the eggs and worms are not killed. You may need to repeat the process 3 weeks after the first treatment.

During the latent phase of infection, hens can be harboring immature worms that are not laying eggs, so no eggs will be present in the droppings. Repeating a treatment 3 weeks after the first one will help ensure that your hens do not get reinfected.

There are herbal products on the market you can buy but they have not been proven to eradicate, only reduce the number of worms. They are safer than chemical wormers and can still be used in organic farming. 

You can use these products every 3 to 6 months. They should be given in the spring as the temperatures begin to rise and the worm eggs start to hatch, and at the end of summer when egg production starts to decline.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

We would all love to let our birds run free and wild as nature intended which would allow them to stay naturally parasite free. However, not everyone has the property which allows a free-range situation. You may have the property, but predators are a problem. 

When placed in confinement, worm infestation becomes an increased risk. Measures can be taken to prevent worms from entering the environment. 

  • Keep your bedding clean and your coop dry. 
  • Cut tall grass and weeds to let UV rays naturally kill worms and their eggs.
  • Use worm repelling natural ingredients like food grade diatomaceous earth, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and seeds from pumpkins and cucumbers. 
  • Dry rake your coop area and remove manure.

Keep an eye out for weight loss, diarrhea, gurgling sounds, odd behavior, lethargy or other unhealthy conditions in your flock. These may be signs of a worm infestation. If your eggs yolks are no longer bright orange and seem less plump, it may be time to deworm your hens.

Not deworming your flock should an infestation occur can lead to serious consequences for your girls. Their health will continue to deteriorate if the life cycle of the worms is not broken. Your hens will become anemic and will probably die. Save your girls and your precious eggs with good worm prevention measures and let prevention be the best medicine.

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