Slugs: A Hidden Danger for Backyard Chickens

December 6, 2011

When my girls were little they loved dining on slugs.  Cape Cod can be a windy damp place perfect for harboring families of slugs.  Those slug families love living in our yard, tasty perennials are abundant and offer up a wide variety of new dining choices everywhere they slither.  Prior to keeping chickens, we used organic pet friendly treatments to rid our yard of those slimy little sneaky pests that loved to eat the leaves of our wonderful perennials.  However, soon after getting chickens, we discovered that the girls would go crazy for them!  They would catch a view of the slug or the glistening trail and look further to investigate where the tender juicy morsels were hiding.  I loved turning my flock loose to take care of any unwanted snails without shells. Even times when the girls were not out in the yard, I would hand deliver any slugs that I found as I went to check the mailbox or emptied my car from grocery shopping.   That was until Tilly got sick.

At around ten weeks of age, I discovered Tilly gasping for air, coughing and choking.  It was early in my chicken keeping experiences, but it didn’t take more than a few hours to realize that my head hen was not right.  I separated her and frantically searched the phone book and internet for any veterinarian on the Cape that cared for birds and chickens.  After a couple of hours, I did locate an urgent care and made the trip with Tilly.  As the vet was interviewing me regarding Tilly’s first ten weeks of life, I had mentioned that the chickens were loving the slugs with all of the wet weather we had been having.  It was then that I learned that slugs can be carriers of gapeworms as well as earthworms and snails.  Gapeworms are red round worms that like to attach themselves in the trachea of birds.  This causes difficulty in breathing for the birds and chickens will cough and breathe with their mouths open.  Enough worms can block off the trachea in young chickens and occlude their breathing completely, causing the chicken to die.  After hearing this and making the connection, the vet and I decided to deworm Tilly and the entire flock. Tilly made a full recovery and none of the other chickens ever became ill.

Yesterday, I was out opening up the coop.  The morning light was covered with wet misty fog.  It was like wading through pea soup as I ventured out to the girls.  As I opened up the coop door, I noticed on the locking wooden bar a small black snail.  I was hoping that no one else saw it.  I quickly looked for a stick to help remove the slug.  There was no way I was going to grab it with my bare hands this early in the morning.  As I was returning with a twig, it caught Dottie Speckles’ eye and she came to investigate the little slug.  Quickly, I shooed her away and captured the slug.  I removed it from the coop and tossed in some extra scratch for the girls.  Yes, I admit, I know I cannot prevent the girls from eating every delicious morsel that they encounter and find throughout their day.  However, a little shared molluscophobia at this point may not be such a bad thing.

For more information on worms that affect chickens, click here.

Yesterday’s looked just like this one.


Photo Credit:  radicalfutures


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17 thoughts on “Slugs: A Hidden Danger for Backyard Chickens”

  1. Good question MSilver. You can find that information on the package insert of the medication. There should be specific information there. Each medication has a different period but most medicines require a 10-14 day period. During that time the eggs are not to be composted, eaten, or fed back to the chickens, They should go straight into the garbage can. Please follow the directions on the label closely, you do not want any harm to come to your family. Hope this helps!

  2. Wow Melissa. I never knew this! My hens don't seem to be interested in earthworms or slugs. They must "know"! Thank you for sharing this important info….(even if it was a year and 1/2 ago!

    • Always happy to share what I learn, good and bad, with my chickens. I too had no idea about the slugs. Thank you for leaving a comment Kelly, I so enjoy reading them.

  3. My chickens aren't interested in slugs or worms (snakes are another story) but my ducks love them, I wonder if it would affect them too? I will do more research now, thanks for the article!

  4. Had chickens for over 20 years. All love and eat slugs and snails. Not one has ever had this.. maybe because I wasn’t picking snails and feeding them, just letting them get nature’s share. I’m sure if you just let them eat the snails they and they alone could find it would be very unlikely they would pick this disease up.

    • I think that it depends on where you live, I can see from your address that you are in Australia. Nature and life and adaptations can be very different including species and also their susceptibility based on where you live and what is living in your natural environment. I am in the Northern region of the United States.

  5. Can you use sheep wool in hen enclosures to stop slugs etc getting to pellets etc? They are managing to get in the metal grandpa feeder!? Only happened after a year, probably due to horrendous rain.
    Many thanks,

    • Oh no! You could try using a hanging feeder- as that would eliminate the slugs ability to access it. And consider adding food grade DE to the feed during the summer months to prevent insects and the like in the feed.

  6. I live in Georgia and we have many slugs and snails here that my chickens go crazy for! I even fed my chicks little earthworms for a treat and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever watched! They had never seen a worm before and when I dropped it into their pen an immediate frenzy took place! They were playing tug a war with it and chasing each other around the pen for it! I have never had a problem with them making my chickens sick so it definitely has to do with the area you live! Try it and you will cramp up laughing!


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