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    Parasite Control | Spring 2012 Out Here Magazine

    Take precautions to keep your chickens healthy

    a roosting chicken
    Chickens are likely to have at least a few intestinal worms because of their constant ground pecking; the key is to keep parasite infestation at a minimum.
    Out Here

    By Patty Fuller

    Photography by iStock

    If you own chickens, chances are that they have intestinal parasites, but it's nothing to fret over — if you keep them in check.

    "The word 'parasite' should not be a big concern; they're going to be there," says Dr. Gary Butcher, a veterinarian and professor of poultry diseases at the University of Florida who travels to developing countries to help keep poultry flocks healthy and productive.

    More and more people are raising a few chickens, which often are referred to as "backyard flocks." The reasons are many: raising your own chickens can help keep food costs down, it's both fun and fairly easy, owning a few chickens doesn't require much space, and — sort of like home-grown tomatoes — eggs from your own chickens just seem to taste better.

    But even with chicks raised from birth or acquired just after hatching, about the only chickens likely be free of intestinal parasites are those kept in above-ground wire cages and away from other chickens, Butcher says.

    Otherwise, chickens are likely to have at least a few intestinal worms regardless of whether they are confined or roam around free-range style. They get the parasites simply by doing what chickens do — eating bugs and earthworms and by pecking the ground and, in the process, pecking at chicken droppings.

    Taking precautions can help the small flock owner control intestinal parasites in his or her birds, Butcher suggests:

    • Upon acquiring chicks, give them medicated chick feed. The special feed can help the young birds develop immunity to certain parasites.
    • Keep your coops and roaming area clean and dry. Dampness breeds problems.
    • Make sure shavings or beddings are kept dry and replaced regularly so chickens don't walk and peck among their waste.
    • Avoid over-crowding. "Most people, if they're giving their chickens enough room to run around, they can keep parasites down to a normal level," Butcher says.
    Veterinarians and extension agents are excellent sources of information for advice on deworming medications or treatments, some of which may be available at your local Tractor Supply store and some that must be prescribed by a veterinarian.

    Although types of intestinal parasites found in chickens worldwide vary greatly, U.S. chickens most likely will carry tapeworms, large roundworms, cecal worms, or small roundworms known as capillaria, Butcher says.

    The only way for backyard flock owners to know the specific type of intestinal worm their chickens may be carrying is to have a veterinarian examine droppings for signs of parasite eggs and, if necessary, perform an autopsy. But such steps are necessary only if an owner suspects his or her chickens are suffering from extreme levels of these parasites.

    Signs of this include runny, watery, or bloody droppings. Another tell-tale indication is what Butcher calls the "classic sick bird look" — a chicken off by itself, with eyes closed and feathers fluffed, and acting a bit wobbly. An ailing bird may also not be eating, drinking water, or laying eggs.

    Treatments vary depending on the parasite. Veterinarians and extension agents are excellent sources of information for advice on deworming medications or treatments, some of which may be available at your local Tractor Supply store and some that must be prescribed by a veterinarian.

    A longtime writer and editor, Patty Fuller is also a team member at the Sonora, Calif., TSC store.

     

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