Ask the Expert: Parasites (Lice, Mites, Worms, Etc.)
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What is the best way to worm chickens that are laying? What are the best products and do you with hold eggs and dispose of them? Can you eat the eggs while worming or have antibiotics in the water?
Your question about worming is interesting because so many people have different opinions on the topic. To prove this, we asked some of our bloggers for their advice and have included their thoughts below.
Lisa Steele says:
“I would never worm unless a vet had confirmed the worms. A healthy hen can handle a normal parasite load just fine. Even a few worms in the poop just shows the chicken’s body is dispelling the worms on its own. The only two commercial products I know of that you can eat the eggs while you’re treating are VermX and the wormer from Poultry Booster Products. I also recommend using pumpkin seeds and garlic as a natural preventive a few times a year. Any squash, melon or cucumber seeds also are natural wormers and fed year-round a wonderful preventive.”
Alexandra Douglas says:
“For chickens that are laying, you can always go to the vet and get a fecal to see what treatments would be best for your bird. Otherwise, there is a wonderful wormer called Wazine and it has no withdrawal. There is a myth that Wazine has a withdrawal for two weeks and it has been proven recently.
“You can get your eggs when the bird has been wormed, however, there are certain worms that will get in the egg itself so break open a few eggs to check them out prior. This is the same with antibiotics, however, always ask your veterinarian as all birds are not alike.”
Rhonda Crank says:
“Personally, I am against the use of any chemical on our farm. We worm all of our animals, including our chickens with diatomaceous earth. In one gallon of water, I add three tablespoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar and three tablespoons of DE. I offer this for a full seven days. The first two to three days they gobble it up, after that, they seem to drink at their normal rate. At the same time I do this, I sprinkle a little DE on their feed. I can say that in my 30-plus years of having chickens, I have never had an issue with worms.”
Armani Tavares says:
“I wouldn’t eat the eggs from birds on chemical wormers or antibiotics. But some may be reportedly safe to do so. Some natural ‘safe’ wormers are sulfur supplementation, garlic, pumpkin and squash seeds, nasturtium seeds and leaves, celery, carrots, DE and sea mineral mix (according to SeaAgri ’s website), or just DE. Probiotics can at least help the birds tolerate or come into balance.”
Good luck with your flock!
I am wondering if you could help me! We had worms in our chickens last year. I have heard that you can’t use the same pasture area the next year, as the worms are still in the ground and will infest the new batch of chickens. Is that true? Also, is there a way to prevent this from happening?
We ran your question by our blogger, Jeremy Chartier, and his reply is below.
“This is true, but you should rotate pasture regardless if it᾿s an option. Sunlight does a great job of killing organisms, so leaving the area to sunbathe for the year and be devoid of hosts will definitely help. Worms can survive years outside of a host, but leaving a field to rest for a year should greatly reduce the parasite load. Typically, it᾿s wise to de-worm two to three times a year as a matter of maintenance, but most poultry keepers worm in the spring and in the fall. If it᾿s a small area in question, spraying something can help, too.”
Good luck with your flock!
I have cleaned the coop trailer inside and out. I had moved the trailer to the side of the house so I could make a cover and give them more moving room. I had to turn the trailer over yesterday to fix the ladder, and while lying on the ground under it, I noticed the mites on my hands and legs. Hence, I found them. I have cleaned the trailer, powdered the chickens but what do I do about the ground?
Every time I walk there the mites are on my legs and socks. I even noticed them on my bed so I was up all night washing sheets. I must have had four showers yesterday. I have often seen the birds taking dust baths in the yard and just suspected this to be normal behavior. Now I added sand, ash and Diatomaceous Earth to a bath close to the coop.
What else should I do? Move the trailer? Can I return it to the side of the house at all? I am suspecting I need to keep my chickens in the trailer and nowhere else but I am desperate, wondering if I should just ditch this whole idea of chickens anyway. Will the mites ever leave the side yard?
Wow! It sounds like you’ve got a bad infestation. We have to say we were split on the best course of action; chemical or natural. There were strong feelings on both sides. So I’m going to list both options below and let you decide how you’d like to proceed.
Chemical: Invermectin poured on will kill the mites and lice. Another recommendation is Sevin dust. And another is Permethrin. If you use the Ivermectin, pour-on, wear gloves and dab the back of the neck with two drops from an eyedropper. For the Sevin dust, wear gloves to avoid irritation but dust the birds once a week until no mites are visible.
Permethrin is labeled for use in poultry, and can be found as a co-component of products such as Adam’s mite and lice spray. You can purchase the 10 percent concentrate from Tractor Supply Company and mix to the appropriate dilution rate per the label. Our blogger Jeremy Chartier recommends adding a surfactant to achieve better mixing and penetration of oils. He says a drop of dish detergent usually does the job, and it should be added when diluting the 10 percent solution. Only use one of these products.
Natural: Neem oil and diatomaceous earth plus fresh garlic offered free choice.
We hope this is helpful. Good luck with your flock!
I reside in Northern California and have about 30 chickens of various breeds. I have laying hens that are three years old and added some new chicks in February this year. I have discovered that they have stick tight fleas — a lot of them. I cleaned and sprayed their pen with a pyrethrum-based product and sprayed the chickens as well. I also used diatomaceous earth and sprinkled their nesting boxes and pen frequently. I had to tweeze off many of the fleas from their eyelids and head-comb area but this is very time consuming and seems like I am not making progress since there are literally thousands on one bird. We did not have a freeze this year and the flea problem is vicious this year for many pet owners, but I have never had fleas on my chickens before.
Is there any advice you can give me?
We turned to our expert network for advice on your question. It turns out the Alexandra Douglas, a poultry farmer with a degree in poultry science, has fought an infestation of stick tights before and has the following advice.
“Stick tight fleas are nuisances. I experienced it one summer and it was terrible to get rid of. I took one bird to the vet to seek treatment options. Tweezers will get them off the bird, and then an antibiotic ointment was used to help the inflammation caused by the fleas. It was recommended to rid the infestation by burning the litter and anything the fleas could get on. I have not had an infestation since. Pyrethrins will help prevent infestations but when they infest, tweezers, antibiotic ointment and burning are the only things that helped me.”
We hope this is helpful and your birds soon return to good health.
Fleas on Chickens
Hi, I’m having problems with I believe are fleas on my chickens, what would you recommend to help eradicate these pests? Thank you.
Sorry to hear about your fleas! Trust me, it’s something every poultry owner encounters sooner or later. How you treat them can depend on how you feel about pesticides. I practice Integrated Pest Management: using the level necessary then escalating if that doesn’t work. The lowest level: give your chickens a bath, change out the bedding, and thoroughly clean the coop. The next level would be dusting them with diatomaceous earth, kaolin clay, or wood ash, the same ingredients recommended for chicken dust baths. And then you can buy “poultry dust” at most farm supply stores, which contains permethrin to kill the fleas. Many reviews say the poultry dust solves the problem within one application if the chicken owner also completely changes out the bedding and sprinkles the same dust in nesting boxes.
Here is a great story from Backyard Poultry contributor Jeremy Chartier about dealing with lice and mites (and the same protocol applies to fleas.)
Good luck with your flock!
Dogs and Tapeworm
This morning in the chicken yard I found a very unusual chicken poop. It was about 18 inches long, and in a few areas it was like a “bubble” — one area was like a piece of twine but most of it reminded me of intestines with ring-type sections in it. It was covered in running poo and when I rinsed it off it looked whitish.
I know a picture would have been extremely helpful in this case, but when I had my back turned my dog ate it. Yes, dogs are gross!
I’ve had chickens for six years and I have had 45 for a few years now and I have never seen this before, unless it’s the dog who keeps eating them before I spot it.
All chickens seem to be acting okay. Thanks so much for any insight.
Pattie Murray, Kentucky
From your description, we suspect that it was a tapeworm. Dogs can certainly pick up tapeworms from rabbits, mice and most likely, chickens too. (And thanks for withholding the photo.)
We’d probably suggest deworming both the dog and the chickens. It’s a little difficult to suggest a dewormer for chickens, since there aren’t any that are labeled for use in laying hens. There are several home-remedy type dewormers, but there is little research showing how well they work.
We guess you could also take fecal samples to a veterinarian, to determine for sure who has worms.
If we are wrong about this, then we can try to come up with other possibilities, but a tapeworm is what comes to mind immediately.
Good luck with them!
Mites and Lice
My chickens have lice. How do you get rid of them? I’ve tried wood ash, spraying them with Poultry Protector, cleaning the coop and bathing them.
What do I do?
Lice can certainly be unpleasant and if left untreated can negatively affect your chicken’s health. So it’s good you’re working to get rid of these pests.
Jeremy Chartier, one of our poultry experts, cautioned that it’s important first to know what has infested your coop. Fowl mites are the little black or red dots you see moving around on the skin of the bird, and the hard clusters of bubbles along the feather shaft are their eggs. These nasty little critters bite and suck blood from the bird, as much as 6% of the bird’s blood supply per day. With a heavy infestation, the chicken can suffer from anemia and a compromised immune system, which leaves the door wide open for other illnesses.
Chicken lice look like moving grains of rice. You can find their eggs clustered at the base of the feathers, especially near the vent. They eat the feathers of the chicken, scabs, dead skin and blood when present, and can make the bird look terrible.
Jeremy writes: “A dilution of permethrin concentrate is what I prefer, mainly because I can make a batch in a three-gallon sprayer and go to town. For smaller flocks, a spray bottle may suffice. Now I use the 10% permethrin solution sold in numerous places, most conveniently at Tractor Supply. The rate I use is 18cc per liter, or .18% permethrin, plus I add a little dish detergent to allow the solution to penetrate oils and surfaces.”
Obviously, if you’re going store-bought, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on dosage and frequency. An alternative to using these products would be DE (diatomaceous earth), which can be used like the dust product, but it works as a desiccant and an abrasive to kill mites as opposed to using an insecticide. It’s also a good time to clean your coop from corner to corner, and think about painting the inside of your coop. A non-toxic paint will keep the mites from boring into your wood surfaces and planting new eggs.
Good luck with your flock!
I would like to worm my chickens. Do I need to throw away the eggs the next day?
We have to be honest. We never worm our chickens. We know a lot of people say you have to worm chickens yearly, but we use a natural approach to keeping worms at bay. We share this belief with our Healthy Feeds writer, Lisa Steele, and honestly find our chickens to be happy and healthy. Plus we don’t ever have to worry about not using their eggs because of chemical wormers.
Below are a few quotes from Lisa that you may find helpful:
“I have never wormed my chickens with any kind of commercial wormer. Many experts recommend ‘proactive’ worming with a wormer twice a year, but I don’t believe in administering any medications unless absolutely necessary. Instead, I rely on holistic preventatives. I have never had any trouble with worms in my flock, and have had our vet take fecal samples and no sign of worms have ever been found.
“I use pumpkin and squash seeds (fall), nasturtium (spring/summer), watermelon and cucumbers (summer) and garlic and diatomaceous earth (year-round) to combat worms because all are perfectly healthy and natural, with no withdrawal period during which you can’t eat the eggs.
“Diatomaceous works as a de-wormer by preventing larvae from maturing into adults. If your chickens have worms, it can take up to two months to get rid of them and to break the worm lifecycle. Regularly add DE to your chicken’s diet to prevent internal worms. The ratio is 2 percent of the feed you give them.”
Worms or Not?
How can you tell if the birds have mites or worms?
We’ll look at mites first. Scaly leg mites seem to be a common problem. It is interesting that different chickens seem to have more resistance to them than others do. You will notice the scales starting to push up and become inflamed, if mites have burrowed in underneath. We like to apply petroleum jelly on the scales (you can also use vegetable oil). The jelly is more viscous, so it stays on the tissue longer, and it’s better at suffocating the mites. Some permethrin-based sprays may work to treat these mites, as well. Ivermectin will probably work, but it is not approved for use in or on poultry. There are no published directions for use, withdrawal times, etc. If you are not using the birds for consumption, or are only using them for your own use, you will likely want to give them two to three weeks away from the spray before you ingest the eggs or meat. I believe some people apply it in the water and administer it that way. At least some of the Ivermectin products are oil-based, so I’m not sure how well they will dissolve in the water. Regarding where the mites come from, most likely they are either coming from wild birds or from exposure to other chickens that have them. So it’s important to make sure you are cleaning your coop regularly, and looking for places were mites might be collecting.
The worm question is a little more difficult. We would suggest reading Gail Damerow’s piece on deworming in our October/November 2016 issue. She goes into great detail on the ways to detect, prevent and treat worms.
When, Why and How to Deworm Chickens
Most chickens have worms in them that will not cause any problems at all, but if you start to notice issues like a lack of egg-laying, or the hen acting strangely, then you may need to aggressively pursue a deworming strategy. We hope this helps. Best of luck with your flock!
We hope this helps. Best of luck with your flock!
I have mixed flock of 14 nearly-two-year-old Rhode Island Reds, Red and Black Sex Links who seem mostly healthy, but are no longer laying. I also have nine Barred Rocks and nine Brown Leghorns that are six months old. A few Leghorns and Barred Rocks started laying in December. I then got six big Black Australorps in December from someone who said they were just starting to lay. I got two eggs from them right away, kept them in confinement for six days to see if there was any illness to be concerned about. Finally, I combined the two groups together mid-December.
On December 31, one of the Brown Leghorns showed fowl pox on her beak and her eyes were shut. She was lethargic. I brought her to the house and watered her daily, plus gave her a liquid vitamin squirt three times. The pox is still there. She has been just sitting, eyes shut for 19 days now.
A few days later, a different Brown Leghorn exhibited signs of gapeworm with gurgling breathing. I confined her in the basement too. Then treated the whole flock with Wazine turkey, chicken and swine wormer in a single fount so that is all they had to drink for 26 hours. About January 10th, the gapeworm symptoms disappeared from the one that had it, and none since, so far as I could tell. But in the last week, two more Brown Leghorns and one of my older Rhode Island Reds got lethargic, standing around with eyes closed, so they came into the basement. All I have done with them is squirt water into their beaks once a day, about a tablespoonful. This morning, another Leghorn is lethargic with eyes closed, so she is in the basement too. They are all alive, but we are killing them all today.
I brought in a healthy, young cochin rooster to see if a male would stimulate egg production which had fallen to two to four per day. He is doing his job, but now, NONE of them are laying.
My coop is not heated, it has a painted wood floor, various litter — straw, hay or wood chips, and I muck out the coop every three weeks or so. We had very cold weather (minus 12 many days) in December. I had a heat lamp go on at 6 a.m. and go off at 1 p.m., mostly to dry some litter in one spot, but they didn’t congregate there. They have two watering founts that I keep filled, on heated bases, plenty of pelleted crumbles, and I bring treats of cabbage, apples, lettuces, cooked soybeans or lentils or rice, plus bread croutons, and melon rinds. I come out to check on them at least two and sometimes four times a day. So there are 38 chickens in a painted wood floor coop (12×20′) that we built last summer. It has south-facing clear poly windows at roof and lower at my eye level, plus four sliding windows for ventilation, although, air can circulate through the walls where the poly windows meet insulated walls. The ceiling is partially insulated with pink styrofoam.
I never had sick chickens before and am crying inside because some are sick. Last winter, the 14 older ones never quit laying at all. They did finally go into molt starting in September and only recently have gotten back all their feathers.
In the last week, when it was nice, I let them out into the yard that was mostly snow-covered, except where I shoved the coop litter out and spread it around when I cleaned. An opossum got in there. We threw him out, but a few hours later, he came back. He didn’t do anything except munch at their feeder like he does during the day at the bird feeders I have in the yard near the house, which is approximately 120 feet away from the coop. I seldom let my girls outside this winter because of the snow, frigid temps, and strong winds.
Presently, I have a Barred Rock and one of my older Black Sex Links and one of the newer Black Australorps doing the barking thing, but the rest seem lively and walk around, scratching and pecking. I throw a handful or two of scratch grains into the litter daily, plus once or twice a week, a handful of kernel corn, and some unsalted peanuts in the shell. We’ve also been growing barley fodder in seed trays and they get a mat of fresh greens about twice a week.
None of my chickens have been vaccinated. So why do you think they not laying any eggs! When all I had was my 14 older mixed flock, I would get four dozen a week. With 38 of them in January, I have gotten 32 eggs the first week, 11 the second, and zero this last week.
Could it be stress or trauma from the introduction of the six big Black Australorps? Or the introduction of the rooster? Or the opossum this week— but by then, I already had some sick. Will they ever lay again?
Please let me know if there is something different I should be doing.
And thank you for your informative columns in BYP. I love your magazine!
Jan Feeler, Wisconsin
Thank you for the detailed information. It gives a good idea about the chickens, their care, etc. It sounds like you take good care of them!
The first thing to ask is about the pox and gapeworm symptoms. While these can cause the symptoms you mentioned, some other diseases could potentially look similar. Chronic respiratory disease (CRD) would be one that would spread easily to your chickens if the new ones carried it. CRD (caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum) is fairly common and birds can carry it while being apparently healthy. Fowl cholera can also be carried this way. When new chickens are exposed, they (the newly exposed chickens) can get sick from the carrier. These are both bacterial diseases, but it can be very difficult to completely eliminate them, even with antibiotics.
Infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) would be another one that might cause similar symptoms. This is caused by a virus that causes damage to the respiratory tract.
It’s also possible that they did have pox and then were more susceptible to some other respiratory problems. Unless you actually saw worms in the trachea, we can’t assume they had gapeworms. These aren’t very common, and Wazine doesn’t treat them, so they probably wouldn’t have gone away.
At any rate, they definitely have something. It’s likely that the new chickens brought it in, given the timing.
The opossum was probably not involved. It was probably looking for eggs to eat. If it has access to the coop, it will certainly eat eggs. It’s possible that they are laying and you just are not getting the eggs, though it doesn’t sound like this is probably the problem.
You may want to consider changing the lighting for them. You said you had a heat lamp on them in December. Coming on at 6 a.m. and then off by 1 p.m., they would have had ambient light until about 4 p.m. or so, which would have given them about 10 hours of light. Since they had already gone into a molt, that was likely not enough to stimulate the second-year hens and bring them back into production. They usually need around 14 hours of light to stimulate egg production. That might explain why the second-year hens are not laying. It isn’t unusual for them to stop producing as the days get shorter in the fall, and not start again until the days lengthen in the spring. If that is the issue, they should start laying again before too long, since the natural day length is increasing.
The first-year pullets would likely have started to lay anyway, as you noted and probably would have done fine, except then they got sick.
So, will they lay again? Without knowing for sure what caused them to get sick, it’s a little difficult to give a solid answer. If they had pox, or ILT, they should get over those. If they have gapeworm, this may be an ongoing problem. You’d need to find a veterinarian to give you something off-label for that. There are some treatments that will probably work, but they aren’t labeled for use in laying chickens.
If they have chronic respiratory disease, they will likely lay again, but they may get sick again if something stresses them.
They should start laying again in the next month or so, as the days start to get longer. If you notice that they get sick again, you may want to find an avian veterinarian or contact your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They should be able to do some testing to determine what is causing the problem.
For next year, if you want the chickens to continue laying, it would be good to keep the lights at about 14 to 15 hours per day. It doesn’t take a bright light, but the length of time of light is important.
Good luck with them!
Several of my Bantams have leg mites, which cause them to hobble around as if they are in pain. It has been so wet this year that they could not properly dust. They are confined in a yard about 50 feet by 50 feet, but roost in a 8-foot by 8-foot house. How can I treat the chickens, the coop, and the yard?
Scaly leg mites are a small insect that lives underneath the scales on a chicken’s legs and feet. They can lead to severe, even lifelong problems if not treated. Once one chicken in a flock has scaly leg mites, then the coop needs to be thoroughly cleaned and all the chickens watched for any signs of mites.
There are many methods for treating scaly leg mites. The most common is to soak the chicken’s legs and feet in warm water, and then gently dry the legs while removing any dead scales. Generously slather Vaseline on the feet and legs. You can also douse the chicken’s legs with white vinegar, garlic juice or Neem oil. Then scrub the legs with a toothbrush and slather with Vaseline, coconut oil or Green Goo. Whatever method you use, please know that it can take a few tries to get these mites under control.
Good luck with your flock.
Treating Leg Mites
I have enjoyed Backyard Poultry magazine for many years now and have gained a lot of good information and tips over the years. I may have gotten the following idea from your magazine, at any rate, it is a dandy way to take care of leg mites and might bear repeating.
When my chickens have leg mites, I dip their legs and feet in a narrow deep plastic container filled with cheap cooking oil. I also pour some tea tree oil into the cooking oil, but I don’t think that is essential. I do this at night, nabbing them easily from their roost and put them right back on the roost. Easy peasy. The first time we treated the birds this way I was dubious, but in a week or so the scales began to fall off their legs, revealing nice, smooth skin underneath. This is totally amazing and not toxic to the birds, me, or the eggs, unlike the harsh chemicals people used to use years ago. It is always curious why some breeds of my chickens seem to get leg mites and others don’t, but this treatment is quite effective. In some cases, repeat treatment might be necessary, perhaps every two weeks for a series of three treatments.
I sympathized with poor Thelma last month. The powder she is referring to is tetracycline, I think, and farm and ranch stores still carry it. It is tricky to come up with a proper dosage for poultry, but I believe a teaspoon in a gallon of water container is about right. It is cheap and effective as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, but you should not eat the eggs or the birds when giving this, and I really don’t know how long it persists in a bird’s system.
Thanks for the years of enjoyable and informative articles.
Cooking oil will work for leg mites, as you mentioned. The idea is to suffocate the mites. It can be a bit messy, so some like to use petroleum jelly instead. That can get messy, too, as shavings will stick to it. You’re right about different chickens having more trouble with these mites. There are genetic differences, but age and general health probably play a part, too.
Regarding tetracycline, this is supposed to only be available with a veterinary prescription, as of January 1, 2017. If stores are still selling it over-the-counter, they probably won’t be for very long.
Most antibiotics now require a prescription. There are a few things (mostly those that are never or rarely used in human medicine) that are still over-the-counter.
Enjoy your flock!
What’s Wrong with Joanne?
I have a young Polish hen named Joanne. She was rescued from an abusive situation and was in bad condition when we got her. She was malnourished, her beak was overgrown, and she needed worming. When she first arrived she was drinking from mud puddles and rooting in the ground for something to eat. Even in thunderstorms she remained out in the open. We had to teach her to seek shelter and go to the food and water buckets. She learned quickly.
My husband and I put her in isolation, gave her good quality food, Manna Pro 16, wormed her, ground down her beak and hoped this was the answer to getting her back to health. She seemed to improve over the months that followed.
Each month we worm the flock with Verm-X and all are thriving except Joanne. She has energy. She does not show signs of fatigue or of not feeling well, because when no other hen is around she does not puff up, drop her head and let her wings droop as an ill hen would do. She has no respiratory problems but her droppings are yellow instead of white and her beak continues to grow. I have done some research and have found these are signs of liver damage but have found no answer.
I do want to take this opportunity to thank your magazine for introducing us to Verm-X since we believe it has extended Joanne’s life. It is an amazing product.
We have had Joanne nine months now and have become quite attached to the little cutie. Is there a special diet or something else we can do to save Joanne? We would be grateful for anything you can tell us to help her.
We don’t want to lose her.
Pamela Adams, Florida
Hi, Mrs. Adams. It looks like your Polish hen is doing pretty well! I’m not sure we can immediately say that she has liver damage, though it is a possibility. Since you’re feeding the colored vegetables (peas, carrots, etc.) daily, I think it is possible that they are coloring the droppings.
If her liver is damaged, there’s probably not a lot you can do. Feeding her a healthy balanced ration and plenty of clean water will be good. Limiting her feed a bit might be helpful, but that is difficult to do. With commercial strains, we know pretty well how much a chicken should eat each day, but I don’t know of any research like that with a breed like a Polish.
Excess fat (from too many calories in the feed) can often cause liver problems. Other than that, worming regularly, as you mentioned, can prevent damage to the liver that worms might cause. Likewise, I think it may be best to just trim her beak when it’s necessary. You could offer her something rough (a board with sandpaper, for example), but I don’t know that she’ll use it.
I’m sorry I don’t have any specific answers. I think just good general husbandry is probably the best thing for her.
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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.