I tend to love winter. Winter forces you to come inside early and let your body rest, snuggle up in some blankets over a movie and nice warm mug of hot chocolate, or spend time with your family having memorable and important conversations. But my husband, ever the farmer, despises the shorter daylight hours and the limits it puts on what he can accomplish and what he can grow. He swears the feeling is like a vice squeezing the life from him. But there’s something we can agree upon – winter is hard on our chickens!
Roundworms are easily the most common worm to afflict backyard chickens, and your feathered babies are especially at risk in the winter. Roundworm eggs thrive with the limited hours of daylight and excessive moisture brought by winter. Infections are most commonly caused by chickens ingesting food or water contaminated with feces. Once infected, hens can suffer from serious symptoms that if left untreated can result in death. Here are five ways you can help prevent your chickens from getting an infection of roundworms.
- Prevent and remove standing puddles of water after rainfall. Roundworm eggs thrive in moist environments. Puddles of dirty water contaminated with feces are teeming with eggs and are a high risk for your sweet chickens when they’re looking for a convenient drink of water. Create a gentle slope for rainwater to run off or bring in a well-draining ground material like sand.
- Keep the grass cut short. UV rays can help to kill roundworm eggs, but there are precious few hours of sunlight in the winter. Plus, with increased rainfall, the yard will also grow more quickly, and the tall grass and weeds will protect the eggs from the sun’s UV rays. Keep the grass cut short so the UV rays can reach the soil and help keep roundworm eggs in check.
- Keep feeders and waterers clean. Use feeders and waterers that are designed for poultry in order to reduce fecal contamination, and make sure they stay clean. Put all food for your chickens in the feeders rather than on the ground for them to eat. Don’t let chickens roost or sit on top of feeders or waterers to contaminate them. You can also use one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water to help keep the waterer clean.
- Clean the coop more often. If one egg is ingested, roundworms are quick to spread via feces. Rake the run and clean out the shavings in the coop more often than normal to reduce the amount of feces that could potentially be ingested when the birds are foraging.
- Be vigilant of wild birds. Roundworms are not host specific, and wild birds can easily spread an infection of roundworms to your backyard chickens. Now is the time to pull in your bird feeders, turn off the bird baths, and stop attracting wild birds to your yard. It’s also a good idea to move chicken feeders and waterers to areas that are harder to reach for wild birds.
Most importantly, know the clinical signs of roundworm infections so you can act upon them immediately:
- increased feed consumption
- weight loss
- dull feathers
- diarrhea, or fecal matter stuck to the feathers below the vent
- pale comb, wattles and facial skin
- in serious infections, roundworms appearing in chicken droppings
If one or two birds show clinical signs of a roundworm infection, chances are that the entire flock is infected but not yet showing symptoms. It is best to treat the whole flock all at once. To determine if your chickens have an infection, seek out a veterinarian who can perform a fecal float test for you using the droppings from your chickens.