This post is not for the faint of heart (or stomach). Warning, some photos may offend and/or nauseate. Actually, they probably should nauseate, they’re pretty gross.
To worm or not to worm backyard chickens is a hot topic on the web. When I first got my girls, I was torn as to whether I should do preventative worming or wait for evidence. After much soul-searching I opted for the wait-and-see approach to animal husbandry. There was some risk of a bad worm infestation causing permanent harm to one of my chooks but honestly, that risk seemed minor.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was convinced my girls had worms. There certainly was something very wrong with their poo. So I bought some de-worming liquid and ramped up my research. As it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my chickens’ poo, there’s just something wrong in general with chicken poo. For photos of the good, the bad and the ugly, you can’t go past the allotment.org.uk site.
Truly, that ceacal poo is nasty stuff and it comes out of the back of each chicken, one in ever 6 droppings. Another mystery of evolution if you ask me.
Besides my online research, I also emailed the worming medicine suppliers because the treatment seems unnecessarily stressful on the birds. It’s all about withholding water long enough to make the girls really thirsty and then offering them some water and medicine mix which they’re desperate enough to drink. In my email I asked if I could mix the wormer in yoghurt instead of water and the answer was “yes, just keep the dosage the same and don’t be surprised if it changes the taste and texture of the yoghurt”.
Based on all of the above, I decided to sit on my hands once again but to hold on to that worming medication in the event of any future need. More observation was called for and no action would be forthcoming until I observed something that indicated worms, not just something that indicated a very weird digestive tract.
The signs of worm infestation are chickens that look sick (lethargic, slow, thin, losing feathers, etc.); chickens that stop laying; or, worms in poo. Apparently the latter is often the last sign and may mean the infestation is really bad.
My hens are as healthy as can be. They are large, lay big eggs every single day, eat like vacuum cleaners, have full shiny sets of feathers and run like little maniacs all over the garden. So imagine my surprise when earlier in the week I found this in front of their coop.
It was pretty obviously roundworm (Ascaridia galli) and, though I’d like to think it came from a passing raven, I had to conclude that at least one of my girls had an infestation. Which wasn’t completely unbelievable because they do free range and can get worms from just about everything living or lying in or on the ground (even the garden variety of earth worm carries worms that can infest a chook). What was odd was they were so healthy and, though I’d been looking, I hadn’t found worms in any other chook poo.
Not that that mattered, it was time to de-worm the flock.
There was a bit of debate around our house as to exactly how to administer the medicine (Frank was for the water denial technique, I was for a full yoghurt treat). In the end we compromised (i.e., neither of us got our way) on a mix of mash, yoghurt and medicine and yesterday fed it to the girls.
They ate it, but not as enthusiastically as plain yoghurt and mash. It took a while for them to eat 90%, then they pretty much ignored the mixture. Frank added more yoghurt and mash, then it vanished. I’m confident that each had a good share of their medicine.
The rest of the day was spent watching the chooks and inspecting their poo. I checked on them often because I was giving them new medicine and had no idea what the results would be. (Can chickens go into anaphylactic shock? Would their feathers spontaneously all fall out? Would they sleep, wobble, cough???) It turns out the hens behaved as if nothing had happened and their poo looked normal with the exception that it occasionally contained round worms (eeewww). I’m not sure if it’s significant but i didn’t find any of that weird ceacal poo all afternoon – where was it hiding?
I never actually saw one of the girls poo worms, I missed that moment of joy, so I really don’t know if all were infected or who was/wasn’t, but it’s obvious by the number of wormy droppings that this worming medicine works. The medicine bottle doesn’t mention the need for re-use to get the next generation so I’m assuming one application gets rid of worms in every stage of development.
We’ve already decided that worming the girls will be a twice-yearly event (unless signs appear more often). I’d rather not wait for another obvious infestation.
And now, for your viewing pleasure and my historical documentation, I have included a collection of my wormy poo photos. All but one of the wormy poos (that I’ve found so far) were dropped yesterday afternoon, commencing within a couple of hours of eating their drugs and finishing well before they roosted for the night – maybe 5 hours later. Their overnight droppings were clean (though I admit I didn’t investigate super thoroughly). One of the girls did what I call her morning poo (they often leave a large dough-like mound once in the morning which I assume is them trying not to soil their coop before I let them out) and it contained one worm – that’s the last photo below. Nothing else yet so I’m declaring this episode behind us. It was very easy for us and the girls and now we can sit back and relax for 6 months when the excitement is already scheduled in my calendar.