Short answer:  yes, ick.

I'm not an expert or a vet, but this is what works for me. I've been doing it this way for years with no ill effects. Poultry are subject to an amazing number of parasites and illnesses.  Gapeworm, roundworms, mites, etc. are parasites carried in by wild birds and can live in the soil, earthworms, beetles, etc. of your yard, that's why you need to routinely treat your birds--not just once.  Basically if you have dirt, your chickens have been exposed to parasites.  I’ve found roundworms to be the most common, it may vary in your area however.  Some organisms can lie dormant in the ground for months or years.  In my opinion chickens most DEFINITELY need to be wormed, once every 6 months--but worming can be hard on birds.  I also worm and dust/mist any new adult birds when I add them to my flock.  The parasites can build up an immunity to the wormer if you use the same one over and over again.  A good bet for chemical wormers is to switch types (Ivermectin versus Piperazine-17 or Levamisole, for example)--but not too often!  Switch types of wormers every 4-6 cycles (one worming is one cycle).  More frequently will just cause the worms to build up an immunity to BOTH wormers more quickly. Also, NOT ALL WORMERS ARE EQUAL! Choose the right product for the problem. Ivermectin is the one to choose to treat a broad spectrum of parasites, while Piperazine will ONLY kill roundworms. I use a product for horses, a paste wormer called Equimax which is 1.87% Ivermectin and 14.03% Praziquantel. It's a broad-spectrum wormer that kills nearly everything.  You'll want to not eat your hens' eggs for about two weeks after worming them with most wormers. has a great page on parasites, which meds kill which worms:


Gapeworms are really roundworms which infest the trachea of the bird. If you worm your birds every six months with a good all-purpose, broad spectrum wormer such as Ivermectin 1.87% you shouldn't have a problem. Gapeworms are usually found in soil contaminated by turkeys or wild birds, so there isn't really much you can do to keep the wild birds out of your yard. The symptoms of Gape are listless attitude, feathers are carried loosely and breathing is asthmatic in nature--especially at night. The birds sleeps a great deal during the day to make up for it's poor rest at night, and every few minutes will thrust it's head forward and open it's beak wide, working it's neck in a motion that looks as if it is trying to swallow something or yawn, it’s very distinctive. Sometimes a REALLY infested bird will actually cough up a bunch of worms, and may then turn right around and eat them. *ulp*  Or worse, another bird may run over and gobble them up, then becoming infested themselves!  Adult birds appear to tolerate or throw off an infestation better than young birds.

Here's info on Gapeworm and what a Gapeworm looks like, if you really want to see one:


You can pick up paste wormer for horses at most feed stores or online. I buy it ahead of time on Ebay or at online animal medical supply houses such as Valley Vet Supply for about a half to one third of what the feed store charges!  It's easy to do and can be done by one person if you have tame birds, otherwise it takes two people. All you do is put a small BB size amount in a small bottle and shake to mix with about 1 ounce of water. It will be hard to mix but keep at it. Give each bird 4-6 drops by mouth–small birds get 4, large birds get 6 (shake the bottle before dosing each bird, the stuff can settle) and, wearing rubber gloves, also rub another BB size glob under each wing--in that little bare wing pit area--of each bird.

Worming & Dusting/Spraying

What What WHAAAT?!  Chickens Can Get WORMS?!

Velvet Sparrow


You MUST repeat this in 2 weeks to break the worm's life cycle and kill any hatching worms, after that just do it once every six months.  If you do not give your birds the second round of wormer, the hatching worms will simply reinfest your birds right away, and you've wasted time, money and good medicine by not following through correctly.  Also the worms will have built up that much more of a resistance to the wormer, and the medicine is hard on your birds' internal organs.  Use wormer conscientiously and correctly.

If you suspect illness, please read the ENTIRE ‘Health’ section on my site–I go into much more detail.  If you think your chicken needs a vet, CALL ONE!  Info on this site is NOT meant to take the place of proper veterinary care, and I assume no responsibility for your use of the information on this site.

Again, remember: Do not eat your hens' eggs for at least two weeks after using a chemical wormer, as it can be passed along in the eggs.

The Chicken Checklist And How To Hold A Squirming Chicken

We have a printed list of our chicken's names. We use it all the time when worming or otherwise needing to do any kind of mass chicken annoying. It's especially handy for hens that are nearly identical, we'll catch and dose first one of the lookalikes, than immediately do the other to avoid confusion. The list is invaluable for making sure to avoid double dosing or missing someone, You simply check their name off the list as you treat them.

As for holding chickens to medicate them and prying open beaks--it's a two person job. Doing it by yourself is much harder. I have someone hold the bird in their hands, letting the bird's feet dangle, wings trapped against the body, with their head pointed towards me. I'm right handed, so I use my left hand to grab the bird's head from the back of the head with my thumb on one side of the beak, index finger on the other. These two fingers are at the corners of the beak (like the corners of your mouth), the rest of my hand bracing the head to keep it still. This part can be a wrestling match if the bird is feisty. Once you have their head, use your right hand to gently pry open the beak, sticking the tips of your left hand thumb & index finger in a bit and bracing it open. Once you have that your right hand is free to apply meds or whatever.

Doing it by yourself would be much the same, only you can hold the bird in your lap with their butt against your belly/left side and your left arm over and around their body to trap/brace them, or you can wrap them in a towel so they can't struggle and flap. You can also sit on the ground, legs under you (basically kneel down and sit on your legs), your feet crossed at the ankles if need be. The chicken goes between your knees, which brace it, head pointed out. Grab their head as above.

The real key to this is being gentle but firm and fast. Don't be wishy-washy about grabbing them, making a bunch of timid attempts only further stresses a sick bird as they struggle. Your goal is to do it quickly and calmly, yet firmly. It takes practice and I suggest doing it every so often on healthy birds as practice and to keep them used to being handled this way--our old ladies who have been through the bi-annual worming thing are much easier to treat because they know the routine. Roosters can be harder--the huge combs make head grabbing a challenge and big roos like to do things like just plain get stressed and have a heart attack. So grabbing their heads quickly and firmly, and getting the medicating over and done with is really important.

With either method, at the end give them pets, profuse apologies and treats. This reduces but will completely eliminate the Stink Eye they will give you.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

I use a broad spectrum, commercial paste wormer and have no experience using anything else, but some people swear by food grade (only!) Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Diatomaceous earth is made from the remains of fossilized marine algae called diatoms. The product is mined and reduced to silica powder form. When eaten, this powder acts as tiny pieces of glass that tear the shells of insects and other arthropods. Insects die within one to two days from dehydration. Here's the catch though, and it's a big one--some people swear by it, others say it does no good whatsoever--and I could not find any studies that were conclusive one way or another.  There is also a question as the whether DE is OK for chickens to breathe (it's not OK for humans to breathe because of the way it works--getting silica in your lungs is very dangerous) and whether it can accumulate in the gut and cause blockage problems.  Remember, chickens scratch a lot and they'll kick this stuff up every time when they do.  

So for what it's worth, here's how one person I know uses it and this is his experience talking here, not mine:

  "While wearing a dust mask to protect your lungs (DE is dangerous to breathe) mix food grade or agricultural grade Diatomaceous Earth into the chicken feed. Use one (1) tablespoon of Diatomaceous Earth for each gallon of dried feed, (i.e. chicken scratch, feed grains, etc.).  Also sprinkle it in the pens. The chickens are dewormed, don't get mites, and there's no flies nor smell in the pens. The DE will also kill any insects the chickens don't eat. I also feed it to my large livestock for deworming. DE doesn't kill with poison; it slits the outer skin of the insect and dehydrates them. 'FILTER grade' DE that goes into your swimming pool will NOT kill worms, but WILL KILL your livestock. DO NOT USE 'filter grade' DE on anything living.  Only food grade!  With DE there is no need to avoid eating the hen's eggs for a week or two, and the parasites cannot develop an immunity to DE since it works mechanically, not chemically, to kill the worm. I've read that since DE only works when dry, it is not an effective wormer--once it rains and DE gets wet you have to reapply it. BUT - putting it in feed will help kill soft-skinned pests in the feed, and also in the droppings, after they have dried. This can stop the spread of parasites by killing off the pests before they get recycled."  

So you see the problem with DE--it may work great or not at all and there are health issues.  Also you have to leave DE out all the time, free choice so that it can work on any parasites the chickens ingest day to day, and any birds that DON’T ingest it may be at risk.  DO YOUR RESEARCH--look up DE on the Internet, ask your vet, talk to other poultry owners, etc. and then decide.  If DE does not work, you should go ahead with a chemical wormer--better to be safe than sorry.  I have seen no information that states that DE and wormers cannot be used together.


Mites are tiny, crawling external parasites that are VERY opportunistic little buggers, they can infest your birds, the coop, nest boxes–basically wherever the chickens live. Usually birds can handle these ubiquitous pests by daily preening and dust baths, but when a bird falls ill and doesn't preen and care for itself as it normally does, even for just a few days, the population of mites can EXPLODE and pose a serious threat to the already compromised health of sick or injured birds. If your bird is sick or injured with ANY other problem, keep checking them for mites! Mites can and will weaken your bird to the point of killing them if left untreated. Excessive preening and/or 'fear of the coop'--that is, not wanting to go to roost at night are both signs of external mites.  

You can check your bird for external mites by placing the suspected bird on a white surface such as some white paper towels for about 20 minutes or so.  Mites are attracted to the color white and will migrate from the infested bird to the white paper towels.  You can also check your birds feathers, especially on their heads & necks, on feathered feet, under wings and the mites favorite hangout, around the vent and under the tail on your chicken's fluffy fanny feathers. On crested breeds such as Silkies and Polish, their head poofs are also favorite mite infestation spots, as well as a Cochin's fluffy feathered legs.  Heavy breeds with big fluffy butts can be more prone to vent area mite infestations.  Mites prefer the fluffy feathers and will collect and cling to them, causing what looks to be a thick, grayish dust clinging to the feathers–the grayish dust is mites, mite eggs and mite debris.  If you see tiny, crawling reddish-brown specks, your birds have mites.  Usually these mites don't infest humans, they prefer birds although they are more than happy to crawl on you and creep you out.  

Although paste wormers will also take care of mites from the inside out, because a wild bird can infest your birds at any time I also dust my birds for external mites with powdered Sevin (made by Ortho) or Adams Flea & Tick Mist every six weeks or so. With my birds I prefer the Adams spray, it is FAR less messy, easier to apply and target to affected areas and is less likely to wash off if the bird gets wet. But I will give the application method for both Sevin and the Adams spray here--use one or the other, NOT both at once!

If it rains and things get and stay wet and muddy (washing away that Sevin you just applied), you may find the mite problem to be more stubborn, especially on cochins or feather footed and/or crested birds. You just grab a handful of Sevin dust and rub it all over the chicken, especially under their heads, wings and underbellies, massaging it down to the skin. Really rub it in, get enthusiastic–it needs to be down next to the skin. Same with the Adams spray, part the feathers and spray it on the base of the feathers as well as you can, then use your fingers to work it in and distribute it.  Go after their undercarriage and vent area especially, where mites love to hang out.  Naturally chickens do not appreciate such intimate handling (especially the cold, wet spray) and will complain and resist.

When I spray/dust my birds I also dust their coop, roosts and nests since mites dwell there and you need to kill ALL the mites. Sevin and the Adams spray are a poison and should be used with the proper care and precautions (especially around children, banish them to the safety of the house) including gloves, a dust mask, eye protection, long sleeves and long pants. Be smart when it comes to using insecticides! Use them when needed but apply them properly, in the correct amounts (too little and you'll be doing it again) and safely. You'll want to shower and shampoo very well afterwards. It does not seem to hurt the birds if it accidentally gets in their eyes or mouths (But be careful around their heads, usually only crested breeds need any mite treatment on their heads) and can be used on birds as young as 2 months. The Sevin dust sticks around for several days so watch out for it.  If it rains or your birds get wet, reapply the Sevin (the Adams spray isn’t affected by moisture as far as I know).  I don't think the Sevin affects the eggs a hen will lay but you may want to not eat your hens' eggs for two weeks after dusting to be safe. Mites CAN develop an immunity to Sevin after a while, so it's a good idea to use Sevin for several cycles, then switch to something else, such as Adams Plus Flea & Tick Mist (with the ‘Plus’ the protection lasts and kills hatching mites). The Adams spray you simply spray on and work down into the feathers and skin, avoiding their eyes and mouth. Adams also makes a flea/tick shampoo that is very useful for heavily infested birds.

I spray or dust and worm my birds at the same time just to get it over and done with, plus it's easier to remember when it was done that way. My birds suffer no ill effects from having both medications applied.  At the same time it's a good idea to first check everyone's beak, comb, feet, etc. for a general health inspection before spraying them--what the heck, you've got 'em and they're mad anyhow, right?  Trim any nails that need it, check for injuries and/or illness.  

Scaly Leg Mites

Another charming external parasite, this time they like to burrow under the scales of your chicken’s legs and feet causing a swollen, raised or bumpy looks to the scales.  Once the scales are raised, they stay that way even if you eradicate the mites.  With swollen legs or feet on a chicken, check your birds for Scaly Leg mites. Check your other birds' feet and legs for similar symptoms. Scaly leg mites are easily solved, you can spray the legs REALLY well (make sure you get up under the scales, hold the bird in such a way that the liquid runs up under the scales) with Adams Flea & Tick Mist to kill them. Or you can buy a really stinky liquid to paint on their legs at your local bird pet store, again making sure to rub it up under the scales (warning--chickens may resist this procedure!  They will, at least, give you the Stink Eye) or just use a good coating of Vaseline--smear it on the chicken's feet and legs (even their toes) really well, working from the foot upwards, right up to but not ON the feathers. Really gooey and messy, get it in there. The Vaseline smothers the mites and they die. You want to put enough Vaseline on the birds to coat their legs, but not so thick they they will preen it off and get ill by ingesting it. The Vaseline's downside is that it is messy, collects dirt and has to be reapplied every other day or so, upside is that it is cheap, non-toxic for you to handle and is readily available. Vegetable oil or olive oil works the same way (mechanically smothers the mites) but may not stick as well. Just force the Vaseline up under the scales and massage the Vaseline thoroughly into their feet and legs as they squawk away in protest. The idea is to get the grease down under the scales where the mites are, really work it in. Tell them a good foot massage would run them big bucks at the local spa!

You can see why I prefer the Adams spray.  Much faster, neater and causes less chicken-y outrage/drama.

Prevention–Keeping It From Happening In The First Place

The VERY best thing you can do for your birds is provide day to day excellent living conditions–lots of room to free range, a clean living area, fresh water & food and access to fresh greens and other goodies daily.  Having your flock in the very best health you can goes a LONG way towards heading off any problems in the first place.

Healthy birds can better fend off minor problems, and birds that have had a chance to build up an immunity to common illnesses are stronger, better flock members and have a better chance of fighting off illnesses.  Do not allow things like mold, standing water and debri around your chickens, and try to keep wild animals, vermin and birds away from your chickens and their food & water–these backyard visitors are disease vectors.

See the ‘Coop & Run’ section of this site for how to treat the coop using a pesticide-free, portable steam cleaner–mites can’t build up a resistance to heat so it always works!

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