Don't Let the Fear of Gapeworm Keep you from Feeding your Chickens Earthworms



Earthworms, slugs and snails can transmit the parasite Gapeworm to your chickens, but should that keep you from allowing your chickens to eat these nutritious, tasty treats?  I don't believe so.


Free range chickens and chickens living on farms for generations have scratched in the dirt hunting for worms and bugs day after day.  Insects and worms are a great source of protein for your flock and, I believe, a necessary natural food source. While I don't free range except for a short period each evening, I do supplement my flock's diet with weeds, cut grasses and buckets full of 'worm dirt'.


Both our chickens and ducks know when they see the yellow plastic bucket heading their way, they are in for a treat! They love to dug through the mounds of rich, dark soil I dump in the run, searching for worms and grubs.  I dig earthworms for my chickens several times a week through the warm months. I also give them every grub and slug  I find in the garden or yard. They have never contracted gapeworm.


Gapeworm is a type of roundworm that attaches itself to the host's trachea and sometimes travels to the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing, and often times death by suffocation.  It is a danger to chickens who eat an earthworm, slug or snail infected with the gapeworm larvae. Often an affected hen will seem to have a respiratory problem, 'gaping' her mouth open when she breathes, coughing and making gurgling noises. Her crop may also be large and squishy.


Pullets under eight weeks old are the most susceptible, but chickens of any age can contract gapeworm. However, adding apple cider vinegar, food-grade Diatomaceous Earth and fresh minced garlic to your flock's diet can help guard against worm infestations and the natural wormer Verm-X along with VetRx which treats respiratory issues naturally can be used to treat gapeworm if your hens do contract them.

Gapeworm, while scary-sounding and potentially life-threatening if not treated, is actually not very common in backyard flocks. It is only contracted from infected worms, slugs and snails,  and I don't believe that the slight risk should deter you from feeding your chickens (or allowing them access to) earthworms and other nutritious wiggling, squirming, squishy treats.

  
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18 comments:

  1. I read somewhere that if you have free range chickens that the eggs can not be considered organic because you have no control over what your chickens are eating. Is that true?

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    1. That is true. Bugs and grass are not certified organic....odd but true.

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  2. Yes, I read the same thing. There was an article last year in one of the chicken magazines. I suppose technically its true because the bugs in your lawn or fields aren't 'certified organic' nor is the grass or weeds. Kind of ironic actually.

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  3. I lost 4 of my girls to that last summer. They were all less than 6 months old. I took the first 2 to the vet, who suspected Marek's, but they had all been vaccinated against that as 3 day old chicks. When I lost the third one, I sent her to Texas A&M for a necropsy. By that time, I had lost the fourth one. When the results came back, they recommended I cull the remaining four & start a new flock. I couldn't do it. The chickens are my 10 yr. old daughter's pets! I covered the run floor in DE & added ACV to the water. The remaining four girls are still happy & healthy, but I no longer throw earthworms from my garden into the run.

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  4. Mine go out to free range every day after the eggs have been collected. I hope they don't ever get that!!
    I referred to your blog on my post today. I saw your post about steaming eggs for easier peeling, and tried it last night. Wow....what a difference!!! Thank you!!!
    xo Kris

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  5. How would I know if my flock has any tapeworms?

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  6. As mentioned above, you will notice them coughing or craning their necks and opening and closing their mouths. It should be pretty noticeable.

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    1. Verm-X (link to purchase it is above in the article) is the only natural treatment I found other than DE, ACV and garlic - go figure, the Holistic Trinity strikes again!
      http://www.fresh-eggs-daily.com/2012/01/holistic-trinity-acv-garlic-and-de.html

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  8. what is good for the garden is good for my flock!!! I've been giving them worms treats from my garden since I started tilling it. :)

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  9. Love your blog it has really help with the my chickens. I'm a new chicken owner hasn't been a year yet but I've learned allot from you!

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  10. Yes, I read the same thing. There was an article last year in one of the chicken magazines. I suppose technically its true because the bugs in your lawn or fields aren't 'certified organic' nor is the grass or weeds. Kind of ironic actually.

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  11. I always love reading your posts. I wish I had the space to keep chickens, but alas, we're boxed in pretty tight!

    Thanks for posting to Green Living Thursdays! at www.dudesustainable.com.

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  12. Is it true that "hiccuping" is a sign of gapeworm? I do th whole garlic, DE and Acv and pretty much follow all your natural guidelines to a T :) tonight my Easter egger was doing a weird hiccup noise for a couple minutes so of course I'm paranoid. Your thoughts?

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    1. Hi there Kate. I don't think so. I think it truly is just hiccups. Gapeworm is more of a neck stretching/gulping kind of a thing but do watch her closely.

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  13. Is it safe to eat chickens that are in the same flock as ones that have died from gapeworm?

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