Mites and poultry lice are a natural part of every backyard- they travel on birds, rodents and other animals, so when your chickens become infested, it doesn’t mean you’re not keeping a clean coop, it simply means your chickens enjoy the Great Outdoors! Being able to identify each type external parasite is not important, but the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of an infestation and how to treat them is.
The following information may make you itch, but not knowing how to treat mites and lice effectively can have devastating consequences for chickens. This Facebook follower of mine had to have her hen put to sleep from a severe mites infestation that she had been trying to control with DE, aka: diatomaceous earth, which failed to work as usual.
Monthly or bi-monthly flock inspections of each chicken should be performed in order to identify and address parasites before an infestation worsens. Particular attention should be paid to brooding hens since they dust-bathe less frequently than usual, making them especially vulnerable to parasites.
Dirty vent feathers demand a closer look.
Some of the common signs of any type of mite or lice infestation in a chicken are: dirty-looking vent feathers, decreased activity or listlessness, a 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, crawling bugs on a chicken’s skin or nits on feathers.
Poultry LiceNorthern Fowl Mites
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.
Northern fowl mites and Red Roost Mites are two of the most common poultry mites. These tiny, eight-legged beasts can live both on the chicken and in the coop. Red roost mites 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. Red roost 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.
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).
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 nits or debris on the feather shafts.
Mites and lice are most commonly brought into chicken yards by wildlife, especially by wild birds. The use of best biosecurity practices and vigilant observation will limit the damage they inflict.
- Clean coops regularly, disposing of loose feathers that can carry hatching eggs (nits).
- Limit visits from fellow poultry-keepers who can transport the creepy crawlies on their clothes, footwear or equipment, (vehicles, shared farm equipment, etc.).
- Secure chicken feed to prevent parasite and disease-carrying wildlife from visiting regularly.
- Always quarantine new birds properly before introducing them to an existing flock.
- Provide adequate dusting areas for chickens to care for their own skin and feathers naturally.
Mites and lice will not be repelled by herbs, but other smaller insects may be. An article by Herbalist Susan Burek in a 2011 article in a chicken keeping magazine suggests that many herbs are effective insecticidals.1 Burek explains that various varieties of herbs can repel or kill some insects. However, Burek stresses that the use of herbs should be part of “[a] multi-faceted (pest prevention) prevention plan.” Coops must be kept clean and chickens should be kept healthy in order to fend off pests themselves through dust bathing and preening. Finally, Burek cautions, avoid toxic chemicals and diatomaceous earth, which upset the natural environmental balance (ie: bees necessary for pollination and other good insects that eat parasitic insects).
I do not add diatomaceous earth to my chickens’ dust-bath areas due to the risk to their highly sensitive respiratory systems. Good sanitation practices, frequent flock inspections and providing ample access to sand for dust bathing are sufficient preventative measures for my flock without exposing them or myself to a daily cloud of respiratory danger.
When lice or mites are found on one bird, the entire flock and coop must be treated. There are many different products available to eradicate mites and lice with varying degrees of effectiveness and safety, among them are:
Always rotate treatment products to prevent the development of resistance by parasites.
My preferred treatment for lice and mites is poultry veterinarian recommended Elector® PSP . The active ingredient is Spinosad , a product of the fermentation of Saccharopolyspora bacteria. Elector PSP has NO EGG withdrawal period!
Spray in cleaned, empty coop and on birds at the rate of 9 ml per gallon of water. Always mix a fresh batch for each use.”Spinosad (fermentation product of Saccharopolyspora, a type of bacteria). Single use controls all stages of mites. Also kills flies, beetles, agricultural insect pests. Can be used directly on laying hens and to spray buildings.”* Elector PSP can be purchased HERE.
This video shows Mr. Chicken Chick & I treating three of my hens for mites with Elector PSP.
This video explains HOW Elector PSP works. Read more information about Elector PSP HERE.Treating birds after dark when they have gone to roost is the easiest way to treat the entire flock without having to chase anyone. It’s best to tackle the job with a partner. If using a dust product, while wearing a respirator, dust underneath the wings and vent area of each bird sparingly but thoroughly using the shaker can or a pest pistol.
With all methods except Elector PSP, the entire coop must be cleaned out and treated with particular attention paid to nests and roosts.With Elector PSP, the building can be treated directly with the birds inside it, but parasites are a good reason to clean out the coop anyway.
An extensive list of treatment options (with application rates) for eradicating poultry pests including, lice, mites and fleas, can be found at this link to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
**Treatment for lice and mites with most products 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. This does not apply to Elector PSP, which is a one time application.**
Sources & further reading:
Herbal Pest Management, Susan Burek, Herbalist BackyardPoultry Magazine June/July 2011
A Personal Perspective on using DE, Herbalist Susan Burek
List of herbs good for pastured animals.
The Dirt on Diatomaceous Earth, Shagbark Farms
Mites of Poultry, The Merck Veterinary Manual
*External & Internal Parasites of Poultry, Eva Wallner-Pendleton, DVM, MS, ACPV
* Learn more about the use of Elector PSP here and here
Pesticides Used for Control of Poultry Insect Pests
Technical Summary for Elector PSP