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Gapeworm, Earthworms + Backyard Chickens

Gapeworm poses a slight, albeit it serious, danger to your free ranging backyard chicken flock.

Gapeworm poses a slight, albeit it serious, danger to your free ranging backyard chicken flock.

Earthworms, slugs and snails can transmit the harmful gapeworm parasite to your chickens, but should that keep you from allowing your chickens to roam and forage for  these nutritious, tasty treats? 

I don't believe so.

Gapeworm, Earthworms + Backyard Chickens

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 generally let my chickens free range except for a short period each afternoon before dusk, 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.

What is Gapeworm?

Gapeworm, while scary-sounding and potentially life-threatening if not treated, is actually not very common in backyard flocks.

Gapeworm itself 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 only a danger to chickens who eat an earthworm, slug or snail infected with the gapeworm larvae.

Since it's only contracted from infected worms, slugs and snails, 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 that they love.

What are the Symptoms of Gapeworm? 

Often an affected hen will seem to have a respiratory problem, standing with her mouth "gaping" open when she breathes, coughing, shaking her head or making gurgling noises. 

Her crop may also be large and squishy.

Chickens most Susceptible to Gapeworm

Although pullets under eight weeks old are the most susceptible, chickens of any age can contract gapeworm.

I still get my baby chicks outside on the grass (and presumably pulling and eating worms) as soon as I can on nice, sunny days. I believe that the exercise and fresh air they get is so beneficial and the risk of them contracting gapeworm is still pretty small.

How Do You Treat Gapeworm?

Adding apple cider vinegar, food-grade Diatomaceous Earth and fresh minced garlic to your flock's diet can help guard against worm infestations.

If you do suspect your chicken is suffering from gapeworm, a administering a natural wormer along with VetRx which treats respiratory issues naturally can be used to treat gapeworm if your hens do contract the parasite.

If you free range your chickens, it's near impossible to keep them from eating all kinds of bugs and worms anyway, so don't stress over gapeworm, but it's always a good idea to be aware of potential issues that could arise - and what to do if they do.

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