worming hens

The Importance Of Worming Chickens

In association with Chicken Vet

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 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.

Will I need to worm my hens when I bring them home on collection day?

This is a common question we are asked at Hen Central. 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.

There are four species that can be found in hens:

Ascaridia (roundworm) is the largest (up to 7cm long), inhabiting the small intestine. It burrows into the gut and large burdens may cause a blockage, resulting in damage, inflammation and a reduction in the absorption of nutrients. This leads to weight loss, diarrhoea, fewer eggs and anaemia if left untreated. These worms are very common.

Capillaria (hairworm), the smallest worm (pictured above), about 1.5mm, can be particularly damaging and commonly colonise in the crop. These worms use earthworms in part of their life cycle. Hairworms typically cause diarrhoea, anaemia, weight loss, loss of appetite and the hens can look depressed and dull.

Heterakis gallinarum, or the caecal worm, is found in the caecum of hens. The worm is relatively harmless; however, it can carry ‘blackhead’, another parasite, which normally affects turkeys but can occasionally affect chickens. Blackhead burrows into the caeca, leading to inflammation and yellow droppings. The parasite migrates to the liver causing damage which can result in death. Unfortunately, there is no specific licensed treatment for blackhead, so worming is the preventative option.

Syngamus trachea, the gapeworm, lives in the trachea (windpipe) causing gasping and head shaking. Because of the clinical signs, gape worms are the most commonly thought of worms affecting hens. However, they are quite rare and the cause is usually respiratory disease.

Tapeworms rarely affect hens; if you do suspect them consult your vet. It is easy to assume your flock have worms, so one way to check is to get the hens’ droppings tested. This avoids over-worming and will advise you of the species present. Chicken Vet supply special kits to collect a sample and includes packaging to send to the laboratory.

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 that has the wormer already incorporated. You do not need to stop eating the eggs. It’s best practice to clean out the coop during worming and use a disinfectant that destroys worm eggs. 

If your hens are confined to a run, it helps to reduce worm burdens by moving the run regularly or changing the surface material every so often. For further advice and information, visit www.chickenvet.co.uk.

If you’d like advice on your hen’s health, why not visit our Hen Health page, where we discuss important things to look for in your hen’s health, whether its personality or physical symptoms. Or, head to our Hen Examination Guidelines where we can show you where to find things like the crop or the wattle.

If you need to seek medical advice, click here to find your nearest Hen Friendly Vet.
You can also call Hen Central on 01884 860084 to speak to one of our rehoming assistants.

Giving a gift today helps fund our Hen Helpline. It helps support hen keepers, giving them the best advice on how to care for their hens. If you have found our advice helpful, please consider giving a gift towards the hen helpline here.

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