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Roundworms in Chickens

Roundworms are one of the most common internal parasites that you may encounter when raising your backyard poultry. Roundworms can be transmitted in many ways, but luckily they can be diagnosed and treated pretty easily. Chickens can get roundworms from a variety of sources, including wild birds or earthworms, but they are most commonly spread amongst a flock by fecal contamination of food or water supplies.

More obvious signs of roundworms include thin birds with poor feather quality, pale mouths on your birds, and/or diarrhea or droppings pasted to the feathers near their vent. If one or two birds are showing clinical signs, you should probably go ahead and treat the whole flock, since the ones displaying the signs are just the worst ones. If you want to be absolutely certain that you're dealing with a roundworm problem, you can take a fecal sample to your local veterinarian for testing. To collect a sample, isolate any suspect birds in a small cage or container and gather approximately a tablespoon of moist feces in a zip-top bag. Make sure you gather the darker droppings and not the white urates that most people associate with bird droppings. Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin treating your birds using one of the available drugs.

There are multi-worm treatments as well as roundworm-specific treatments such as Wazine. Just be careful with these treatments as most have a withdrawal period - meaning that you cannot eat or sell the meat from the birds that have been treated for a specified amount of time. Most of these treatments can be administered directly to the bird or added to water if you are treating your whole flock. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions or get advice from your veterinarian. Be aware, Wazine is not approved by the FDA for egg poultry, only for meat poultry, so if you use it you must throw away the eggs during the withdrawal period (do not incubate the eggs, either!).

Since the most common way for birds to become infected is through fecal contamination of food or water, you can keep your birds from getting ill by keeping their food and water clean. Use feeders and waterers designed to minimize spillage and contamination. Place the feed and water on 2x4 frames with wire on top to keep the birds from getting access to spilled feed and moist soil.

For foraging chickens, you can apply diatomaceous earth (fossilized skeletons of microscopic aquatic organisms) in the foraging area on a regular basis. Theoretically, it will abrade the surface of roundworm eggs reducing the hatching rate, or possibly killing the worms entirely. You can also add apple cider vinegar to the birds' water one week every month, as this lowers the pH level in the digestive tract, which creates a hostile environment for harmful pathogens. (As an aside, vinegar also reduces mucous in your bird's system, which helps with respiratory issues by keeping air passages clear.) Add the vinegar at approximately 5T/gallon for the general flock and 1T/gallon for chickens that are not fully grown. One source recommends using Verm-X three days a month as a preventive. This herbal concoction is supposed to control intestinal parasites, but if you are seeing any roundworms in the feces, the entire flock is probably infested and a roundworm drug treatment is necessary.

Treating your chickens for worms isn't hard. With a little preventive maintenance and proper medication, you can keep your flock healthy, safe, and productive.