Worming Backyard Poultry
Backyard poultry are brilliant scratching around the yard, producing eggs, they make great pets. We all know that our other pets like cats and dogs need some help to keep them happy and healthy, like vaccinations and regular treatments to keep worms and fleas at bay. Not many of us realise that pet chooks need some care to.
Many of the diseases that chooks can get are caused by viruses, in the commercial industry there are numerous vaccines available to prevent these infections. These vaccines are often impractical and hard to come by for use in backyard poultry. However, on the upside a chook with a healthy immune system is often very capable of fighting off many of these infections on their own.
Along with a nutritious diet and appropriate shelter if is important to treat chooks for worms. When they have worms in their guts the chook’s immune system has to work hard on that problem, leaving it susceptible to the types of infections mentioned above. In more extreme infections worms can cause diarrhoea or even death in chooks.
Chooks are infested most commonly by 2 groups of worms called roundworms and tapeworms. The roundworm group contains a number of worm species that live in different parts of the chook’s gut. Generally these worms interfere with the chook normally digesting and absorbing it’s food. They can also carry other quite serious diseases. These roundworms are spread between chooks when they come in contact with each other’s faeces. So any chook that has access to the ground they poo on can potentially get roundworms.
The other group of worms mentioned above are tapeworms. Tapeworms have similar effects on the chook to roundworms in that they prevent normal digestion and absorption of food. The main difference between them and roundworms is that they require an extra step in their lifecycle. The eggs are passed by infected chooks but before they can infect the next chook they have to be eaten by an intermediate host. This intermediate host could be an earthworm, snail, insect, or even a frog. This intermediate host is in turn eaten by the next chook infecting it with the tapeworm.
How do we control them?
Controlling worms starts with trying to break their lifecyle. Chooks free ranging the yard will always be in contact with their faeces and that of other birds, this is unavoidable. However, if we remember that worm eggs live for months when the environment is cool and moist; and just hours when it’s hot and dry this can help us break the worm life cycle. A good system would be cleaning the floors of pens at least twice a year and using raised waterers or concrete pads under waterers to avoid the development of wet boggy areas in the pen. Some people advocate spreading lime around on soil once litter has been removed. This may help dry out remaining worm eggs if they come in contact with the lime but unless it is well dug in it will only treat the surface of the soil.
As described previously tapeworms require an intermediate host. Contact with some of these potential intermediate hosts is unavoidable, however, the use of “bird safe” insecticides can help reduce the number of unwanted pests and potential hosts in the chook’s environment.
There are several products registered for control of worms in poultry and some that can be used “off label” in specific cases if directed by a vet. All of these products have withhold periods for eggs, that is a time after medication when it is not considered safe to eat the eggs. These withhold periods vary any it is important to make sure that you discuss and understand this at time of purchasing your product.
Medications can be given to the beak of individual birds, in water or as a spot on to the back of the neck. For most backyard situations worming a couple of times a year and any new chooks is probably adequate.
This article aims to provide general information on the worms that infest backyard poultry and why we should control them. Each backyard situation is a little different in terms of type of birds, frequency of new birds introduced, housing arrangements etc, consequently it is best to come into the clinic and discuss your specific requirements for what product suits your situation best.