I see lots of posts on Facebook chicken groups in which folks post about having spotted worms in their chickens’ poop. Their first response is to feel the need to deworm the whole flock in order to rid them of parasites. What they don’t realize is that most chickens have some level of internal (and sometimes, external) parasites most of the time. That’s normal. Parasites are carried into your pen or yard by wild birds, rodents, earthworms and snails. Most parasites in small numbers are manageable. It only becomes an issue when there is a heavy infestation or the host is vulnerable.
Our goal should be how to keep our chickens healthy so their own immune systems are able to keep parasites and microbes in balance. I don’t recommend routinely deworming birds just in case they have them. You can sometimes spot worms in their poop (usually roundworms or tapeworms) or can take a sample to your veterinarian for a fecal float test. The results of that test can give you an idea of what they have, at what levels and what course of action is required.
Commercial dewormers are effective because they are potent chemicals. I prefer to bolster my birds’ immune systems naturally. If you’re interested in helping your birds keep parasites in check I would recommend using herbal and natural remedies that are not hard on their systems.
Wormwood (Artemisia annua) and mugwort (Artemesia vulgarius) have been used in herbal medicine for centuries. The dried leaves contain artemisinin that has been shown to be effective against several protozoan parasites and acts as an insect repellent. It’s also used to treat intestinal worms due to the parasite-fighting compound thujone, which is also found in tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), sage (Salvia officinalis) and oregano (Origanum vulgare).
I did some online reading and it seems various applications that include wormwood are widely used on people as well as cattle, sheep and goats, but I found very little about its use in chickens. What I most often found wasn’t specific (i.e. how much to use and in what form).
The information relevant to chickens includes:
- Anticoccidial: 1.5% Wormwood leaf powder added to chick feed (equivalent to 15 kg of wormwood leaf per ton of feed) for 35 days was found to be effective against coccidiosis. Treated birds had 100% survival rates and oocysts (coccidia eggs) were reduced by 72%.
- Internal parasites: Studies have shown wormwood is effective in the treatment of roundworms, pinworms, tapeworm and lungworm in people as well as various animal species.
- Snake-repellent: Wormwood is said to contain chemicals that repel snakes.
I have wormwood growing in my garden. It’s a hardy perennial that likes well–drained soil and sun. I give my flock wormwood for seven consecutive days twice a year.
There are several recipes I found that you could try:
- 4 tsp cayenne pepper powder
- 2 tsp common wormwood powder (Artemesia v.)
- Mix with unpasteurized honey and flour, form into balls
- Freeze or serve fresh
- Steep the dried and crushed flowers in cold water and give to your birds
- ¼ cup of molasses (mineral flush)
- 1 tsp wormwood powder
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- ½ cup chicken feed/scratch, mashed
- Liquified lard/suet (enough to bind all ingredients)
- Add mealworms or crushed egg shells (calcium), if you choose
- Mix everything together and freeze in ice cube trays
- 1 part each of as many as you’d like: dry mustard seeds, minced garlic, black walnut husk powder, fennel seeds, nasturtium seeds, oregano, cayenne pepper powder
- 2 parts each: thyme, wormwood, rosemary, tarragon
- Mix with chicken pellets, mashed with water
- Form them into cookies and bake for 15 minutes @ 350f
If you want to add dried herbs to their feed and not make them into cookies the ratio is ¾ pound of mixture: 25 pounds of feed. I think this is a more difficult method to ensure equal distribution.
Wormwood is a traditional companion plant for chickens. Grow it outside their run so they can peck it in small quantities or in your herb garden so you can use it in any of the applications above.
CAUTION: Wormwood essential oil is highly toxic and should not be given to chickens. Wormwood should also be used with caution as high quantities can result in adverse side effects.
Credits: Dawn Combs; Ecological Agriculture Projects; Gardening Australia; Poultry DVM. Featured Image: Plant Hunter