Is Miss Cluck-Cluck not producing the best eggs for you anymore? Or maybe your flock needs more feed, yet no issues seem to be present? Perhaps there is an underlying issue you have not seen because it is not easily visible! Worms and other parasites can often steal the productiveness and well-being of your flock. There are many ways to keep your fluffy buddies feeling their best.
The mention of the word worms makes many people picture a robin with tasty snack in its beak. In this case, large roundworms are the thin, white worms that make residence in the digestive tract of poultry.
Round worm eggs can be acquired from almost anywhere in your flock’s environment. They are viable for up to a year and find their way into a bird’s stomach directly or through an intermediate host. Intermediate hosts include earthworms, grasshoppers, snails, beetles, etc. Once in a bird’s digestive system, the worm begins to replicate. Adult worms produce eggs that are passed through bird droppings. Other birds or intermediate hosts can then consume those eggs and the process starts over again. In as little as two weeks, your birds could already be passing roundworm eggs through their system.
A significant roundworm infestation causes poor weight gain, a drop in egg production, and has a negative impact on the appearance of the bird. If one bird looks shabby, is not gaining weight and is not producing as many eggs, it is best to treat the whole flock to prevent spreading. There are several medications available to rid birds of these worms. The type of flock being treated will determine which medication to select.
This protozoan parasite reproduces in the digestive tracts of birds, presenting with symptoms like those present with a roundworm infestation. Coccidia are passed through in drop-pings where they can be ingested by other birds. They destroy the gut lining of the intestines, which results in slow growth, diarrhea, ruffled feathers, depression and poor litter quality. These symptoms can appear around 2-4 weeks of age and sometimes later if there is a change in feed. Often a secondary infection can occur if not properly treated. Most starter feed provides a coccidiostat that helps prevent these occurrences. Other treatments, such as amprolium, can be given to reduce the spread of coccidia as well.
Lice and Mites
No producers want to find these creepy crawlies on their birds, but if your flock roams the outdoors there is a chance they could pick up lice or mites from other animals or wildlife. Infected birds have dirty feathers around their vents, tails or legs. There may also be bald spots or scabs near the shaft of their feathers. Most of the time, lice and mites can be seen crawling near the bird’s skin.
Some infected birds will have a change in appetite and/or look depressed. Keeping a clean coop and encouraging dust bathing are some of the easiest ways to prevent lice and mites, while heavy infestations require treatment with certain insecticides.
Although large roundworms are the most common in backyard poultry, there are several others that can cause similar issues. Small roundworms, gape worms, cecal worms, and tape worms are all parasites that could find a home in your birds. Most of these cause weight loss, changed appetite, lethargy, and sometimes difficulty breathing (gape worm).
Practice Good Biosecurity
The last thing we want to do as animal care takers is to import something harmful into their environment. The following techniques will reduce the risk of parasites being introduced to your flock:
- Mow the grass where the flock roams. This will deter pests that could carry harmful parasites and diseases.
- Keep wild bird feeders away from your flocks, or abstain from having them around at all. The wild bird population can easily carry parasites and diseases that could be detrimental to your flock. Ensure that your flock cannot access these feeders.
- Have a separate pair of chore shoes for your flock. Parasites, bacteria, and diseases are easily spread by shoes. A designated pair eliminates the potential of bringing in disease. Do not wear hunting or golfing shoes to do chores. Disinfecting your shoes is another good way to ensure that nothing is being tracked in.
- Keep muddy areas dry. Wet, muddy areas are the perfect breeding ground for disease. Wet spots that hold water should be drained or filled with gravel/dirt. Ponds and marshes attract the migratory bird population, which may carry parasites or diseases. Keep your flock separated from wild geese and ducks.
Clean your Coop
Cleaning your coop twice a year in the spring and fall will not only help prevent heavy parasite infestations, it will also make it difficult for bacteria and viruses to spread throughout your flock. Additionally, fluffing the litter in your coop regularly will prevent caked litter situations where bacteria loves to grow. Cleaning your coop should include the following:
- Removal of all litter and sweeping out completely
- Use a disinfectant to spray down the inside of the coop and let dry completely
- Follow up with spraying an insecticide inside and around the coop and let dry completely
- Re-bed the coop with dry litter
Rotate your Pasture
Rotating pasture is a common practice to prevent build up of worm loads and bacteria. Even if issues with parasites or diseases are rare, it is still a good preventative practice to limit your flock”s exposure in the future. Consider the following suggestions to implement for your flock:
- Till your run once to twice a year
- Section off your yard/pasture and rotate your flock to new sections throughout the summer
- Provide areas for dust bathing to prevent lice and mites
- Move your coop to a new location if parasites are common
Test your Flock
Testing your flock for worms is good practice to provide adequate growth, production, and overall well-being. If you are unsure if your flock has worms, Sioux Nation Ag carries a Safeguard Worm Testing Kit. This kit is easy to use, requiring only fresh droppings from your flock to be submitted for testing. This will determine if worms are present and the quantity present. Testing provides a direct result, and does not require a visit from a veterinarian.
Most backyard flocks do not require a heavily regulated de-worming schedule. Although de-worming your flock twice a year is not a bad concept, the idea is not for everyone. Each flock it different and requires different solutions. Egg laying flocks and meat production flocks sometimes require different medications and have different withdrawal periods. Our poultry team at Sioux Nation Ag is here to help keep your flock healthy. Do not hesitate to call us with your health-related questions!