What information can you give me on natural or organic methods for controlling parasites in my laying hens?

West Virginia
Answer: Thank you for your request to ATTRA for information regarding the control of worms in your poultry flock. Worms are a common problem in flocks, and healthy birds often live harmoniously with low levels of worms. Proactive methods are important in keeping your flock healthy when drugs are not allowed or deemed inappropriate-in the case of selling eggs. These methods would include ensuring the flock is getting a complete and healthy diet so that their immune system can function properly, and rotating the pasture or yards that the flock occupies (or keeping them away from newly shed worm eggs in their feces). Are you providing your hens with a calcium source? Oyster shells or another calcium source should be fed to ensure the hens are not depleting their body calcium levels to produce egg shells. This is part of making a complete diet for the birds. The life-cycle of the worms make the management of the birds’ environment very important in controlling the worms. Worm eggs are picked up in the environment by the birds from feces on the ground or indirectly through bugs that have ingested the eggs. Once in the intestine, they hatch and as adults lay eggs which are then exited the bird’s body through feces and the cycle starts again. Rotating pasture or keeping birds away from their manure can help break this cycle. It is also important to keep the environment dry (this can be done in the hen house by continuously adding bedding or cleaning out wet litter). The eggs embryonate outside the bird’s body and need moist conditions to do so. It may be interesting to know how heavy the worm load was in the fecal sample. If the load was low enough for the bird to handle then it is not wise to use a de-wormer. This is because a healthy hen can live with low levels of worms, and a de-wormer will just result in creating resistant strains to the particular de-wormer. Observe your flock and look for symptoms of stress from a high load of worms (lethargic, thin, droopy posture, abnormal feces, even death). Unfortunately all worm treatments available require a withdrawal period since traces of the dewormer are found in the eggs. But there are some natural treatments that may help. While there is no scientific data stating that diatomaceous earth helps against worms, many producers use it for this purpose. Other natural treatments include herbs and garlic like you mentioned. Apple cider vinegar is used but is often thought of as a preventative instead of a treatment. I think you will find the following link extremely helpful in the area of natural treatments for your flock. It will take you to Karma Glos’s Remedies for Health Problems of the Organic Laying Flock: http://www.kingbirdfarm.com/Layerhealthcompendium.pdf Page 56 describes treatments for internal parasites. Also, Alanna Moore lists some anti-worm herbs in her book Backyard Poultry Naturally: leaves of horseradish, garlic, elder, cotton-lavender, rue (fresh or dried in small amounts), hyssop, goat’s rue, bramble, Pacific coral tree and white cedar. Onions. Grated or cooked carrot. Wormwood tips, or dried and powdered flowering wormwood tops. Tansy flowers and seeds. Mustard and pumpkin seeds. When working with flocks of different ages it will be important to tend to the younger birds first. This will prevent spreading anything the older birds have to the younger birds whose immune system is still developing.