There are many types of external parasites that can set up shop in a chicken's feathers, being able to identify each type of louse or mites is not important, but the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of an infestation and where to find treatment information when needed is. Poultry lice and mites are easily detected and treated.
The following information will make you itch, but not knowing how to treat external parasites can have devastating consequences for chickens.
I’m a planner. I like to know what to expect when embarking on a new endeavor so that I can be as prepared as possible to handle situations as they arise. Before I got my first chickens, I bought every book and read every article and online forum I could find to research whether keeping chickens was right for me. The majority of my research was extremely encouraging, however, each time I read the ‘external parasites’ and ‘diseases’ discussions, I promptly convinced myself that keeping chickens was for the insane. There were just too many diseases and nasty crawling things that I could not be any less interested in knowing how to identify, much less how to eradicate. Frankly, the long list of insects that could possibly live on my proposed pets made me itch.
That is certainly true of external parasites.
Monthly or bi-monthly flock inspections of each chicken should be performed in order to identify and address parasites before an infestation worsens and birds begin exhibiting signs of parasites. Particular attention should be paid to brooding hens as they dust-bathe less frequently than usual and are especially vulnerable to parasites.
Some of the common signs of any type of mite or lice infestation in a chicken are: decreased activity or listlessness, pale comb, changes in appetite, a drop in egg production, weight loss, feather-pulling, bald spots, redness or scabs on the skin, dull, ragged-looking feathers and spotting the bugs or nits on the chicken.
COMMON EXTERNAL PARASITES in CHICKENS:
The two most common categories of external parasites in chickens are mites and poultry lice. Poultry lice are NOT the same as human head lice and people cannot contract lice from chickens.
MITESNorthern fowl mites and Red Roost Mites are two of the most common poultry mites. These tiny, eight-legged insects can live both on the chicken and in the coop. They are partial to cracks and crevices in wood, roosts and inside nesting boxes.
Mites can be grey, dark brown or reddish in color and can often be seen along feather shafts and underneath roosts after dark. Mites are active at night when they venture out to leech blood from chickens. With its moist, rich blood supply, the vent area is a favorite feeding ground of mites.
Northern fowl mite.
Typical signs of a mite infestation are scabs near the vent, eggs on the feathers and feather shafts and a light colored bird’s feathers may appear dirty in spots where the mites have left droppings and debris. A heavy mite infestation can lead to anemia and death of a chicken. Mites will bite humans, causing minor irritation in the affected area (and an urgent desire to take a gasoline shower).
Lice eggs (nits) on feather shafts.Scaly Leg Mites
Another common mite is the scaly leg mite, (Knemidokoptes mutans) which I discuss in detail here.
Poultry lice are fast-moving, 6 legged, flat insects with round heads that live only on the chicken and its feathers. They are beige or straw colored and are typically found at the base of feather shafts near the vent. Poultry lice feed on dead skin and other debris such as feather quill casings. When parting the feathers near the vent to inspect for parasites, they can be seen briefly as they run away. The eggs laid by the female are seen at the bases of feather shafts.
New poultry lice infestation detected early. Note the absence of eggs on the feather shafts.
Poultry lice seen scurrying around the vent of a hen.
Chickens dust bathe to help them keep parasites at bay.
- In order to prevent infestations of lice and mites, the coop should be cleaned regularly with particular attention paid to disposing of loose feathers that can harbor hatching eggs (nits).
- Limit visits from fellow poultry-keepers who can transport the beasts on their clothes, footwear or equipment, (vehicles, shared farm equipment, etc.).
- Keep poultry feed in a secure location so as not to attract wild birds, which can carry parasites and diseases.
- Always quarantine new birds for at least 14 days before introducing them to an existing flock to watch for parasites.
- Provide adequate dusting areas for chickens to care for their own skin and feathers naturally. A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a daily dirt shower. It helps them maintain their skin and feathers and controls parasites. Some claim that adding food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to the dust bathing area combats external parasites. I do not use DE in my flock; I believe it is dangerous to their respiratory health and do not believe it is effective at treating mites or lice.
Spruce the Coop Herbal FusionEmploy various herbs to repel insects. An article by Herbalist Susan Burek, published in the June/July2011 edition of Backyard Poultry Magazine suggests that many herbs are effective insecticidals.1 Burek explains that various varieties of herbs can repel or kill insects. Another important message in Burek’s article cited above is that herbal pest management should be part of “[a] multi-faceted prevention plan.” Keeping coops clean, keeping chickens healthy in order to be able to fend off pests, and avoiding toxic chemicals as well as natural products such as food grade diatomaceous earth, which upset the natural environmental balance, are all integral parts of that plan.
I do not add diatomaceous earth to my chickens’ dust-bath areas due to their highly sensitive respiratory systems. I feel that good sanitation practices, frequent flock inspections and providing ample dusting areas are sufficient preventative measures for my flock.
Upon identification of lice or mites in any flock member, treatment should begin immediately. There are many different products employed to eradicate mites and lice with varying degrees of effectiveness, among them are: Pyrethrum Dust, dog flea dips, flea shampoos, Poultry Protector, Sevin Dust 5% (carbaryl powder) and Ivermectin. When lice or mites are detected on one bird, the entire flock should be treated. Treating birds after dark when they have gone to roost is the easiest way to treat the entire flock.
I use Sevin Dust 5% to treat my chickens. While wearing a respirator and with the help of another person to hold the bird, I dust underneath the wings and vent area of each bird sparingly but thoroughly. I also clean and treat the entire coop with particular attention paid to nests and roosts.
**Treatment must be repeated twice after the initial application in 7 day increments, in order to kill the eggs (nits) that had not hatched at the time of the previous treatments.**
Sources & further reading:http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig140
Herbs for Healthy Chickens