Internal Parasites, by Andy Cawthray
If you hatch and rear your own chickens you will probably encounter either external parasites ( Poultry, October) or the internal variety, or both if you are unlucky. If you buy in point of lay stock you should probably prepare for at least one encounter, but, either way, knowing what to do and how to prevent internal parasites occurring will not only improve the welfare of your birds, but will avoid potentially costly treatments in the future, coupled with a lack of productivity.
Coccidiosis, often referred to simply as ‘cocci’, is a parasite-induced illness that can be debilitating and fatal to chickens. Young growing stock will be exposed to the parasite (Coccidia protozoan) at some point in their lives and they will usually develop an immunity to it, either because the exposure is at a low level, or because they have survived the resulting illness.
Artificially reared birds can be particularly at risk of contracting the condition when they are first put outdoors.
The outward signs of the disease are a hunched, fluffed-up bird with drooped wings; it can also present itself as blood in the droppings of the bird, although this doesn’t always occur. The condition can be confirmed by having faecal samples tested by a vet.
A rapid response to tackling the problem is required, as it can very quickly spread throughout the whole flock when the infected droppings come into contact with uninfected birds, potentially wiping out a batch of young birds within days. Keeping ground litter dry and clean can help to prevent its occurrence, but cleaning the coop and run with a suitable parasitic cleanser and using an oral medication supplied by a vet will be required in the event of an outbreak.
Chickens are no different from most other animals in that they are susceptible to infestation by parasitic worms that have evolved to exploit them. The two groups that are significant to chickens are flatworms (cestodes and trematodes) and roundworms (nematodes). Both of these types of worms live within chickens, feeding off their host and reproducing while protected from the outside world.
An infestation of worms can reduce the nutrient uptake of the chicken and disrupt its immune system by creating an additional burden. In most cases chickens will develop a level of resistance to worm
infection, although if the flock is kept on the same area of land the worm count can increase significantly and the flock may become heavily infested.
Regular worming can be performed using off-the-shelf poultry wormers if movement to fresh ground is limited. Additionally, worming in the spring and again in the autumn is advisable in order to reduce the risk of other diseases compromising the flock.
As the show season approaches a number of people will be visiting the big two, namely the National Poultry Show (1-2 December) in Telford and the Federation Championship Show (15-16 December) at the Staffordshire County Showground.
For some it will be their first time. They will wander along the aisles of chickens admiring the conformity and attention to detail that each breeder has put into the production of their birds. They may also find themselves in the sale pens and considering purchasing a pair or trio to breed their own show entries. Be aware, though, that two rosette winning birds are highly unlikely to produce show winning offspring.
In fact, it is more likely that the two identical looking chickens when mated to the same partner will produce different offspring. They may look the same (have the same phenotype), but actually contain different genes making up their physical appearance (have a different genotype). Such situations readily arise in complex genetic colour forms such as Buff. The bird’s outward appearance will be Buff in colour, but it may carry a recessive white gene when the phenotypically identical bird next to it does not. It is important to understand the heredity of a bird when purchasing it if the intention is to breed, in order to avoid unforeseen chick colours emerging. Therefore make sure you ask questions to avoid disappointment.