So . . . here is another very gross subject, but a very important heads-up for any backyard chicken wrangler -- roundworm (Ascaridia spp.). Roundworm is a common problem for free-range flocks, as it is picked up from the ground, including consumption of earthworms (or so I've read). The adult worm lives in the intestine where it lays large numbers of eggs which are excreted in the birds’ droppings. The roundworm eggs are then transmitted throughout the flock as the chickens scratch for food. Apparently roundworm eggs can remain viable on the ground for very long periods, particularly in damp, shaded areas.
My story is that one morning after letting the girls out of their hutches, I turned around to find a pile of wormy poop that looked very much like the picture (
photo by smiler43 at http://www.chat.allotment.org.uk/index.php?topic=17568.0). Once you have found a pile of wormy poop like this, it is safe to assume that your entire flock is infested. Roundworm will likely always be present, but it should be managed because, left unchecked, the worms can cause lower egg production, thinner shells, they can block the digestive tract of the bird, and can migrate from the digestive tract to the reproductive tract and could be found inside the eggs, particularly if the shells are thin-walled. Here are some recommendations for managing roundworm parasite:
Regularly apply food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) in foraging areas. DE is the fossilized skeletons of microscopic aquatic organisms. The theory is that the DE will abrade the surface of roundworm eggs and hopefully kill them.
For one week each month, spike their water with raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar (ACV) with the 'mother'. I purchased Braggs ACV at my local healthy food market. ACV contains vitamins, minerals and trace elements. It will help to lower the pH level in the digestive tract, creating a more hostile environment for harmful pathogens. Apparently it will also facilitate removal of mucous, which may be beneficial in fighting common respiratory illnesses by clearing their airways. According to this article on poultrykeeper.com, "due to the acid content of ACV, it is an antiseptic. As well as killing germs, it is also a mild antibiotic as well, (that is, it contains bacteria that destroy infectious organisms)." While ACV may not directly increase egg production, a hen with a healthy digestive system and that is free of respiratory illness is bound to be a happy hen (thus performing better). Poultry Keeper advises that ACV should be added to their drinking water at a 2% dilution, in other words 20ml per liter (I calculate this to be 5T/gallon). I hope chickens can't taste, because this seems awfully vinegary! The first time I used ACV, I forgot that it is corrosive to metal and I ruined my $35 automatic water bowl, so remember to use only plastic water containers. Poultry Keeper recommends 0.5% solution (5ml/l or 1+T/gallon) for chicks and growers.
For three consecutive days each month, help your girls purge their worms by feeding Verm-X. It can be ordered online from Verm-X USA. It comes in pellet and liquid form. Verm-X is a natural control of intestinal parasites and contains herbs like garlic, slippery elm, cinnamon, cayenne, quassia, thyme, and peppermint. I have not yet tried the liquid (which you add to drinking water), but I think it may be easier to administer than the pellets. In order to entice the girls to eat the Verm-X, I have had to concoct "Chicken Smoothies" to mask the pellets with a tasty treat. I make the Chicken Smoothie by blending the required dosage of Verm-X with pine nuts or pumpkin seeds (which apparently immobilize the worms), buttermilk or yogurt, and whatever egg shells and kitchen scraps I've been saving to feed the hens. By the end of the day the Chicken Smoothie is gone, but I don't advise hanging around to watch them eat, as they tend to shake the excess off their bills and all over your legs!
A note about Wazine: It appears that many people use Wazine to worm their birds 2-4 times per year. Wazine will kill the intestinal parasites, but it is not labeled for use in egg-producing chickens. I contacted the company and asked about this, since it is labeled for meat poultry. They told me that it is because the product has not been approved by the FDA for egg poultry. I also realized that a chemical treatment of any type would probably be a little hard on the birds, and it wasn't necessary since they would immediately re-infect themselves when allowed to forage and scratch on the ground. I therefore opted for regular use of the Verm-X, as it is more of a control approach than an intermittent eradication approach with the Wazine. I do have some Wazine on hand and have used it once for a hen that I suspected was badly infected with worms. If you use Wazine, a two-week withholding period for the eggs is widely recommended. There is no withholding required when using Verm-X.
While researching this topic I found a great pictorial reference of chicken poop from healthy and sick birds.
The Chickenkeeper's Guide to Poo is provided by Allotment and Vegetable Gardening. This is a handy reference you'll want to file away somewhere.
UPDATE: After three days of Verm-X, I've seen some very small worms in a fresh output of diarrhea -- noted as a squirming movement upon close and immediate observation. After reading
this post on BYC Forum by ThreeHorses, I've decided that I agree with the contention that if you are noticing roundworm in the feces, you are at the point of a full-blown infestation in your entire flock and that Wazine treatment (yes, throw away eggs for 2 weeks following) is warranted, followed by ongoing management.