The wrong sort of worms

Just can’t bring myself to post a picture of an intestinal worm!

To date I have written about compost worms and knitted worms, and even earthworms get a mention occasionally, but currently we are suffering from ‘the wrong sort of worms’.

For two years our little flock of hens remained worm-free, possibly as a result of the addition of Vermex (a herbal supplement including garlic and cinnamon) to their food in the form of three doses every month. However, at least one of our two new girls has arrived with intestinal worms – round worms to be precise. Sadly, we have run out of Vermex and the local farmers store doesn’t have any in stock… and the second nearest one only has the stuff for sheep and goats. We are adding garlic granules to their feed, but I’m not certain whether these will help. In general I feel that the herbal treatments keep worms away, but they don’t get rid of them once there is an infestation.

So, we need some sort of medication. It was ordered and we awaited its arrival. I was planning to deliver it to the girls individually in raspberries (currently the highest value chicken treat available in the garden), but my plans have been revised. An e-mail arrived from the internet company to say that, despite claims that the product was in stock when we ordered it, it actually wasn’t (grrr). Now I don’t want to hang around when it comes to worms, so we cancelled the on-line order and picked some up (at much greater expense – 30% greater!) from that farmers’ store we passed on the way to visit my parents today.

Reading the instructions, I discovered that the dose is so small that the raspberry trick isn’t going to work and that, instead, we have to spike their main food with it for the next seven days. This means they should each receive the correct dose because big chickens will eat more than small chickens and, therefore, will receive a bigger does. Clever, eh? Well, the feed is mixed and ready for them to dive into tomorrow morning. Apparently we can eat the eggs whilst they are being medicated, which considering the dose is so small seems fine to me.

Parasites are something of an issue when keeping any animals and my approach is to try to avoid them rather than have to treat an infestation once established. This is why we use the herbal ‘worm deterrent ‘ and why we have been struggling to find a way to end the infestation of red mite that the girls have been suffering from. Red mite, in case you don’t know, are blood suckers that hang around in the nooks and crannies of the hen-house during the day, then emerge at night to suck your chickens dry (well, sort of). There are various powders and sprays (some very toxic, some entirely organic) that you can use on the hen-house to rid it of these pests. We managed to keep them at bay mainly with the use of diatomaceous earth for two years, plus an occasional spray with something more hardcore, but this year they got out of hand and we just couldn’t shift them.

The improvised mite-busting hen-house

It turned out that our chicken house was a haven for mites – the construction of the roof provided ideal locations for them to hide out and where no spray (organic or otherwise) could penetrate. We removed the roof and burnt it (in our Kelly kettle, of course), but there were still mites in other places. Then we got the two new girls and needed separate accommodation. I’ve described before how we made a new chicken house for free from an old dog crate, some carpet protector, a piece of old skirting board and some cable ties. For a while the  newbies slept in the new house and oldies in the old house, but gradually they all wanted to sleep together. Initially they chose the old hen-house, but we realised quite soon what a mistake this was. We managed to persuade them that the new house was much better. .. and so it is. It’s bigger, the perch is longer, it’s completely fox-proof and red mites hate it. There are no dark crevices, there are no poorly ventilated areas and there’s no wood. Inadvertently we have built a great hen-house, We still let them use the laying boxes in the roofless old house (the boxes still have roofs), but that’s all. Never again will we have to deal with a mite infestation, unless a new species evolves that has a preference, for dry conditions that are light, airy and made of plastic.

I’m pretty sure that there’s no guaranteed way of preventing worms and I know that there’s always a chance of hens picking them up from wild birds, but hopefully once the current infestation is cleared up we’ll be able to prevent future problems by using herbal food supplements. I would be really interested, however, if anyone has tips for keeping chickens worm-free.

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  1. Nice. How did you know that your chicken had roundworms? Curious. I took a parasitology class in college, and it made me not want to ever leave the house. I sure as heck never take off my shoes or swim in natural bodies of water when traveling to questionable places. Some of those creepy crawlies…oh baby, not good.

    • Perdy, on of the new hens, has taken to sitting on top of the new hen-house, where she leaves little deposits. The other morning when I went out, I noticed one such deposit complete with when looked like a thickish strand of nylon. Inspection with a hand lens revealed that this ‘strand’ appeared to have a gut, although I couldn’t see any mouth parts. A quick look on the internet and I was able to confirm it was a roundworm. I trained as an environmental scientist originally, so am not too squeamish about such things, but like you have a healthy respect for potential ‘invaders’!

  2. Poor hens… mine are going through their 7-day worming right now. I have to mix a little olive oil with their feed to make it sticky, otherwise the medicine sinks to the bottom of their feeder and gets left there!

    • Now, that’s a good idea. I had just given them a small amount of feed in the hope that they would eat it all up right to the bottom of the feeder (we have an Omlet ‘grub’ feeder to keep the rain out) with the intention of replenishing regularly, but adding olive oil seems a much more reliable way. Thank you!

      • We have a ‘grub’ too. I weigh the food out to the right ratios and mix it all straight in the feeder – if you hold the middle section and swish it about, it mixes well!! Good luck with it! x

  3. You won’t believe it but we had red mites in our old wooden chicken house in Mexico. it was so infested the walls looked like they were moving. We took the chickens out very early in the morning and sprayed the entire house inside and out with pyrethrum spray. Then we washed the chickens one by one in flea soap and warm water. We repeated the whole thing 10 days after to break the cycle. It worked but honestly washing a mad hen is not my favourite job. The interesting part is they actually calm down in the warm water. Never had the worm thing BUT one way to break it is to move your hen yard every 4 months so there is no parasite build up in the soil. You have given me a terrific use for our 4 extra dog crates! We were going to sell them off but now they might be our new chicken condos. BUT how did you keep them warm in the freezing winter?

    • Worms seem to be cured and mites are gone – hurrah! We haven’t yet overwintered in the dog crate, but fortunately the base is plastic, so shouldn’t freeze their toes and we are planning to insulate with wool. We sometimes buy organic meat from a company who send it out boxed and insulated with thick wool pads encased in perforated plastic… these pieces (100cm x 30cm) look ideal to place between the crate and the plastic cover to keep our girls warm. I’m really keen to only use things we have around the house for this project, so it is challenging my creativity a bit!


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