Chickens can eat nightcrawlers, yes. It’s hard to stop them! There is a small risk of your chickens getting internal worms and other parasites from nightcrawlers and other worms, but this is typically quite rare.
Red worms, earthworms, red wigglers, nightcrawlers….these are all very similar earthworms, and all provide a tasty and irresistible treat for chickens.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to feed my chickens earthworms - although I know some people who do.
When they find them for themselves while foraging, they are visibly super excited about it. Eating earthworms is certainly something that comes naturally to chickens, and shouldn’t be an issue.
Are Nightcrawlers the Same As Earthworms?
There is a lot of confusion around all the different earthworms and what they’re called. This isn’t really much of a surprise, there are thousands of different species of earthworms and a lot of them look the same.
I see a lot of people asking if nightcrawlers are the same as earthworms. The answer to this is that nightcrawlers are earthworms.
Nightcrawlers are the long 8-10” worms that live a few inches deep in the soil. They range from dark red to brown in color and are made up of lots of segments.
Most people are more familiar with red wigglers, which are the worms that live closer to the surface. These are a lot smaller and are much easier for chickens to eat.
Chickens can and will happily eat all kinds of earthworms. The bigger ones like nightcrawlers are a little harder to swallow, but a determined chicken will eat just about anything.
Related - Here is why chickens do not need teeth to chew their food.
Can Chickens Get Worms From Eating Nightcrawlers?
The only real issue with chickens eating nightcrawlers is the risk of worms and parasites being transmitted into their digestive system by infected worms.
A lot of earthworms, slugs, and snails are known to carry parasites. It’s certainly something you need to be aware of, but there really isn’t much you can do to prevent it.
There's one parasite, in particular, you may have heard of which causes some serious problems for chickens, and that's gapeworm.
Gapeworm is a type of roundworm that attaches itself to the inside of a chicken's trachea. It really is as uncomfortable as it sounds, often making a rattling noise as chickens gasp for breath.
Still, as distressing as it is to see a chicken with gapeworm or some of the other parasites don't let this deter you from allowing your chickens to free-range and forage the nightcrawlers.
It’s for this reason that a lot of owners will not buy or collect a large number of worms and deliberately feed them to their chickens.
Should You Let Your Chickens Forage for Bugs?
Insects and bugs in general are a great source of nutrition for chickens and most animals. They’re rich in protein and have a well-balanced profile of amino acids, minerals, and vitamins.
Pound for pound, it’s hard to beat the nutritional value of insects with commercial feeds. Although, chickens do need commercial feeds to meet certain nutritional requirements.
Not only are they great from a nutritional standpoint, scratching around and foraging for bugs is a completely natural behavior that chickens love spending their days doing.
Free-range chickens are happy chickens. The more space you can give them to roam and search for bugs the better.
Chickens have survived for thousands of years in the wild foraging off the land. I know domesticated breeds are different from the wild jungle fowl, but their love for munching bugs is not.
Backyard Bugs and Insects That Are Safe for Chickens
There are all kinds of bugs, insects, and creepy crawlies that are great for chickens in most yards - far more than you are probably aware of.
It’s fine for chickens to eat just about anything that moves. If there are exceptions, like poisonous or toxic creatures, I’m sure you’ll be well aware of them as you’re avoiding them, too.
To give you a better idea, here is a list of some of the most common creatures chickens eat:
- Slugs and snails
- Grasshoppers and crickets
- Stink bugs
- Small reptiles like lizards
- .. the list is endless.
The best part – it’s a win-win. Your chickens get tasty, protein-rich snacks, and you get free pest control!
Some variation in a chicken’s diet is a good thing. You should be aiming to meet around 90% of your chicken’s diet with a commercial feed, and the other 10% with table scars, leftovers, and anything else they can find.
Earthworms like nightcrawlers are great for soil, and they also make a great snack for chickens.
I covered the potential risks above, but this is something to be mindful of rather than to be scared of.
The bottom line is that nightcrawlers and other earthworms are fine for chickens. In fact, it's a lot of fun watching them tug and stretch worms as they pull them out of the ground.
When they do get one, you’ll often see hens running around having fun chasing each other like they’ve just landed a prize catch - it’s really funny.
Image credits - Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash