By Gaynor Davies
All animals can (and do) pick up worms. Hens are no different. Do not be lulled into thinking that your hens don’t have visitors just because you haven’t seen any in their droppings; if you are actually seeing worms in the droppings your hen has a heavy worm burden. Worms lay thousands of eggs every day which are not always visible in the droppings. The worm eggs are picked up by other hens scratching around the garden.
Worms can impact on your hen’s immune system, damage the lining of the gut, and have an effect on the ability your hen has to absorb nutrients. Egg yield will drop and hens will lose weight and condition. Often greenish droppings are seen.
The most common worm that effects hens is the round worm (Ascarid). Normally around 5cm in length they look rather like a garden earth worm.
Other less common worms include hairworms (Capillaria) which are almost invisible to the naked eye but cause a lot of damage to the digestive tract even in mild cases. Gapeworm (Syngamus Trachea) lives in the trachea or windpipe and can cause irritation to the lining, respiratory disease and in extreme cases they can cause a blockage. Hens will breathe with open gaping mouths and may become distressed.
Finally tapeworm. This is less common. The tapeworm requires an intermediate host to complete its life cycle. Usually this is a slug or snail, earth worm or even a small rodent. The hen eats this carrier host and becomes infected. Once established in the gut, the adult tapeworm breaks off into small segments that are easily seen on the outside of the droppings. It is easy to mistake them for maggots.
A common question we are asked at Hen Central is “Will I need to worm my hens when I bring them home on collection day?” If you are adopting ex-commercial caged hens there is no need to worm immediately. Hens that have been caged and not in contact with the ground are unlikely to have worms. Barn or free range hens are in contact with the ground and therefore may have the opportunity to pick up worms – we do recommend worming these hens.
How can you ensure your hens are worm free? Our vets recommend worming with a licenced product at least twice a year. Flubenvet is licenced for treating hens. It can be added to your hen’s feed or you can buy medicated feed which has the wormer already incorporated. You do not need to stop eating the eggs.
Practice good husbandry in your coop and run. Keep grass short, pick up droppings if possible and disinfect your coop and feeding areas on a regular basis. Apple cider vinegar in the drinking water and garlic supplements may also help with good gut health but should never replace a specific licenced wormer.
If you worry about giving your hens medicine when they may not have worms, purchase a worm testing kit. A sample of droppings can be analysed by Chicken Vet and a report will be issued to tell you if your hens are worm free.