Back garden flocks can be affected by parasitic worms just as much as larger scale commercial farmers. Intestinal worms such as roundworms, hair worms and caecal worms can cause weight loss and reduced appetite, dullness, diarrhea and a drop in egg production however some birds may show no signs of illness. Worms infect chickens when the birds ingest worm eggs and larvae or through ingesting an infected second host such as a earthworm. Worms can be a particular problem in the Summer and also in coops with deep litter throughout the year.
Other worms to be wary of are Gape worms, these bright red worms live in a chicken’s windpipe, causing gasping and stretching of the neck. Birds are at risk of anaemia, severe weight loss and suffocation.
There are preventative worming treatments available which are generally given by mixing in with food over a period of 7 days, though each product may vary. Most small back-garden keepers should worm every 3 months to reduce infestation among birds. There are also practices you can maintain as a keeper to reduce the burden on your hens:
- Excellent hygiene practices.
- Moving chicken runs periodically to different pasture areas to reduce egg buildup.
- Cutting pasture grass short to expose eggs/larvae to sunlight.
- Always use feeders and avoid ground feeding.
- Isolate and treat new birds before introducing them to your flock.
Red mites are the scurge of chicken keepers, these tiny mites can multiply quickly if not spotted and rapidly infect a whole flock. Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are tiny grey mites which appear red in colour after feeding at night from a warm animal, they are prevalent from May to October and make their homes in tiny cracks in coop houses.
Red mites can cause a drop in egg production and you may see paler yolks from the eggs that you do get. Birds may have paler coats and wattles due to blood loss. In serious cases hens may suffer from anaemia and become increasingly stressed. Broody hens are particularly at risk of red mites due to their increased body temperature.
Checking for red mite regularly is essential, you may need to lift up perches or nest boxes and explore the coop after dark with a torch when the mites are active. If you find a small red mite population you can treat the area with red mite powder; for larger infestations you will need to do a complete coop clean with a chicken-safe disinfectant specifically designed to kill red mites. Pressure or steam washing works well as you can clean into cracks, you may also want to seal cracks when you find them. Any infested bedding will need to be properly bagged up and disposed of to avoid re-infestation, just as with fleas in the house.
Scaly leg mites
This mite is microscopic but it’s effects can easily be seen on your birds. The mites burrow under the leg scales, eating tissue and leaving behind secretions which appear as crusty thickened bumps on the leg. Prolonged infestation can lead to permanent damage to the legs and feet; fortunately scaly leg mite is easily treated with medication. If you suspect leg mites you should contact a vet ASAP to begin treatment.
Lice are a common problem for chickens; a serious infestation can cause egg loss, scratching and overpreening, broken feathers and sore skin. A dust bath will help chickens keep themselves clean and you can prevent/treat lice using specialist powder and good hygiene.
Call us on 01435 864422 if you have any questions about chicken care.