Worms and Your Poultry

Posted by Susan Lenz on

Many of our customers are unaware of the importance of worming their poultry. Many people insist on not worming at all, and need to be aware that not worming for long duration of time can cause major health issues with their birds, and fatalities. If you are eating the eggs produced, it is just as important for YOUR health as it is your chickens!

Many customers are surprised to hear that intestinal parasites are picked up by your chickens eating earthworms, bugs and grubs and also transmitted through wild birds visiting your coop and eating and drinking from your chicken feeders and drinkers (see our suggestions below on feeders and drinkers that help prevent wildlife). Many people tell us they wait until they see parasites in their chicken poop. Many intestinal parasites will not be present to the eye in the chicken poop and often leads to poultry getting a overburden in their gut and can lead to fatalities in your flock.By this time it is generally too late to treat. 

Many customers come to us seeking a worming treatment when they have a sick bird, and do not understand that often treating a very sick bird will end in a fatality. By the time a bird is showing signs of illness it can often be too late to treat.

Intestinal parasites leech the nutrition that your poultry have been eating, and cause your birds to simply slowly starve. By the time they have stopped eating due to weakness and anaemia sadly things are very grim. Regular worming is so very important to ensure a happy and healthy flock, and worming is simple! '

Worms and chickens

Ectoparasites are found on the outside of your chickens - an example being lice or mites. Endoparasites on the other hand are found on the inside of your birds body and are referred to as Helminths in the veterinary world which is a term used to cover a wide range of internal parasites or 'worms' as we commonly call them.

The most important group of worms that concern us are called Nematodes. These worms inhabit various parts of the digestive tract and are listed below. All of the worms listed are part of this group, with the exception of Tapeworms which are part of a group called Cestodes.

The following types of worms can be found in poultry:

Hair worm - Found in the crop, oesophagus, proventriculus and intestine. Also called Capillaria.

Roundworm - Found in the birds digestive system.

Gizzard worm - Found in the gizzard, mainly in geese. A common problem for goslings.

Tapeworm - Fairly uncommon, found in the intestine.

Gapeworm - Found in the trachea and lungs.

Caecal worm - Cause little damage but transmit blackhead to Turkeys.

Worming chickens is important because most infections of these worms can cause damage and eventually death. So let's look at the lifecycle of these worms to understand them a bit more.

The lifecycle of poultry worms

There are two ways worms are commonly picked up by chickens


1 Direct Life-cycle:

Worm eggs are expelled from an infected bird in droppings, by the thousands. These eggs sit on the ground surviving for up to a year before being picked up by birds foraging when they are feeding. Large Roundworm, Gizzard worm (that affects geese), Hair worms and Caecal worms follow a direct life-cycle. Hair worms can also follow an indirect lifecycle.

2 Indirect Life-cycle:

Worm eggs are expelled from an infected bird by the thousand. This can be in droppings, or in the case of gapeworm that are found in the respiratory system, coughed up. Worm eggs are not infective at this stage. Intermediate hosts, (such as earthworms, slugs, snails and centipedes) will eat these eggs and (you've guessed it) your chickens will eat these intermediate hosts and the worm eggs they have ingested and your birds become infected. The larvae hatch inside your chickens and the cycle repeats. Hair worms, Gapeworms and Tapeworms follow an indirect life-cycle although hair worms can also follow a direct lifecycle as well.

Health problems caused by worms

Many health problems that your occur can be related to an infestation of worms of some sort, so it is important to not only worm your birds regularly but manage houses and runs correctly in between worming treatments.

Signs and symptoms of worms

The most common symptoms are loss of weight / poor weight gain, increased feed consumption, pale yolk colour, diarrhoea and in severe cases, anaemia (pale comb and wattles) mortality. In the case of gapeworm, chickens will gasp for breath or 'gape' stretching their neck.

Damage caused by worms

The damage caused by worms will be in the part of the digestive tract (or respiratory tract in the case of gapeworm) in which the worms live. Typically, in the gut, worms cause anaemia and haemorrhaging and in sufficient numbers can impact (block) the gut. They not only damage the gut but also take nutrients and their waste releases toxins.

Good husbandry – preventing worms

Here are some tips to making life more difficult for worms.

Worm eggs thrive in wet, warm, muddy areas. Remove muddy areas such as those found by pop-holes by creating hard standing or free draining gravel.

Worm eggs cannot develop when it is very dry, when the temperature is below 10˚C or above 35˚C. Worm chickens as the temperature rises in spring.

Worm eggs are destroyed by Ultra-violet Light (UV) from the sun. Keep grass short and rotate pasture in the summer if you can to help prevent a build up of worm eggs.

Keep litter in poultry houses fresh and always ensure it is dry.

Prevention is always easier than cure so follow good husbandry techniques and combined with regular worming (according to the manufacturer's instructions), you shouldn't see any problems

Treating for worms:

There are a number of products on the market to treat for worms in poultry. Most of these products are added to water and the birds are required to fast the night prior to giving them the tonic. See our range of worming products here

Lots of people say that adding crushed garlic to the chicken waterers is also a great idea, along with apple cider vinegar, are believed to work as the gut becomes an unpleasant place for the worms to live. These are only preventions and not treatments to eradicate worms.

Signs and Symptoms of Worms in Chickens:

Signs and symptoms of Capillaria Worms: Diarrhoea (usually green), pale yolks, anaemia and birds looking hunched, wings sagging. Death with large infestations.

Roundworms: These worms are 5 to 8cm long and live in the middle part of a bird's intestine. Bad infestations of large roundworms in poultry usually occur when birds are kept in intensive conditions on dirty litter or in runs that have been used for many years.

large-roundworm-damage - Large roundworm infestations occur directly by birds eating eggs that have been passed out in droppings. These eggs have to be infective which takes 10 days. Once eaten, eggs hatch in the bird's proventriculus and the larvae move on to part of the intestine called the lumen. A week later, the larvae get into the mucosa, part of the intestine wall and start to cause damage. Occasionally, large roundworms crawl up the oviduct and can appear inside eggs.

Loss of egg production and pale yolk colour and anaemia are the biggest signs of a large roundworm infection as well as a loss in weight gain for growing birds. Birds can look depressed and eventually if the infestation is heavy, they can die

Tapeworm: There are many different species of tapeworm that affect poultry although they are not often found and thankfully, most of them are completely harmless. Large numbers can cause weight loss and a reduction in laying. Tapeworms or Cestodes vary in length, some are 4 to 5 mm long and others are up to 25cm long! Tapeworm infect birds indirectly via intermediate hosts such as flies, earthworms and snails. The adult tapeworm lives in the intestines of the bird, it buries its head in the lining of the intestines. Tapeworm is quite rare to find in chickens but none the less can still be found on occassions.

Signs and Symptoms: Segments, Diarrhoea (sometimes bloody diarrhoea such as with Raillietina tapeworms, that use beetles as an intermediate host) weight loss, reduced egg production. Tapeworm segments or worms in droppings. Death can occur with very large infestations.

How can I treat my chickens for worms?

Its simple! there are a number of products that we stock that will treat various worms. Some products have a witholding period on your eggs and others do not. Some are available in crumble or powder, others a liquid that you add to your drinkers water and avitrol plus is also available in tablet form which makes dosing each bird easy!

We recommend rotating your wormer treatments to ensure there is not a resistance that is built up with the treament.

What wormers are best?

Different wormers target different worms and are available in different formats:

Piperazine: treats for roundworm only - available in liquid or crumble (no witholding on eggs)

Big L or Kilverm treats for the three common worms (no witholding on eggs) available in liquid form

Avitrol Plus: Treats for 6 types of worms including gape worm. 10 day witholding on eggs. Available in syrup and tablet


Our recommendation is that you should worm your flock every 3 - 6 months.


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