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How to Control Mites and Lice on Chickens

Managing your flock for optimum health
Monday, January 27, 2014, 3:31 PM

Chickens love to take dust baths. This helps to keep their feathers clean and in good shape, but more importantly, it helps to keep them free of mites and lice. Mites and lice can be serious pests of your flock. If chickens are left untreated in an outbreak, the results can be a general weakening, lower egg production, loss of appetite, lethargy, and possibly death. Your chickens should be active all daythey are not moving much, there may be something wrong. If it's not time to molt, but they are picking their feathers out, and their feathers appear dull and dirty, especially near the base and vent, you might have a problem with mites or lice. The first thing to do is to determine what type of pest you have.

Identifying the pests

There are three types of mites that most effect poultry:

Chicken or Red Mites:

Identification

  •  Active in warm climates in summer
  •  Feed at night on the chickens, hide in the roosting bars and coop during the day
  •  Look like tiny black or red specks on the chickens
  •  Control with thorough cleaning of coop, nest, and roosting bars, followed by a miticide dusting

Remedy

  •  Chicken mites are fairly easy to control, because you don't have to treat the chickens themselves, which is nice, because they don't like to be sprayed, cleaned, or dusted.

Northern Fowl Mites:

Identification

  •  Active in cool climates in winter
  •  Causes scabby skin and dark feathers around vent
  •  May see tiny specks crawling on birds or eggs during the day

Remedy

  •  Dust birds and nests with miticide immediately

Scaly leg mites:

Identification

  • Burrow under the chicken leg scales
  • Causes scales to stick out, and chicken to walk stiff

Remedy

  • Control by applying a mixture of one part kerosene to two parts linseed oil, and coat legs daily with Vaseline daily for 2 weeks

Don’t forget poultry lice:

Identification

  • Chewing, small wingless insect that will feed on dry scales and feathers
  • Chickens will pull out their own feathers to stop the irritation
  • Result is feathers look dull and rough
  • You can see straw colored bug moving on chicken’s skin
  • You will also see scabby dirty areas around vent and tail, and masses of louse eggs

Remedy

  • Control with a delousing product approved for chickens, applied to coop, nests, roosts, and chickens. Also, make sure to remove old feathers.
  • This will need to be redone 7 days later, then 7 days later again. This will insure newly hatched lice are taken care of as well.

Products for Miticide Control

Sevin Dust

Sevin dust is effective in killing existing mites and can be applied safely to the coop and birds, but must be reapplied for any eggs that hatch. Warning, this is a strong insecticide and miticide.

Poultry Protector

Poultry protector is a natural alternative if you do not want to use chemicals. Potassium sorbate is the active ingredient. It will not kill the mites, but it will inhibit their reproduction. This requires frequent application to birds and coop.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

DE is a simple and cost effective solution for treating and preventing mites, lice, fleas and ticks. Sprinkle it on your chickens or provide it in the dust bath area for added protection.

***As with any chemicals, please read label for instructions on safe application

Prevention

Monitoring your flock for any of the symptoms and acting quickly if an infestation occurs is a good way to manage these pests. I've had good luck with keeping the pests off my flock by moving my coop and runs every week. I do this with coops on wheels, paddocks, and electronet fencing. If you have a stationary coop and run, pest pressures tend to build over time.

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6 Comments

Woodman's picture
Woodman
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1028
chicken mites

Nice summary!  I had an outbreak of mites one winter in the coop when the birds were reluctant to roam outside much, and diamatoceous earth seemed to take care of it.  My flock does well in large paddocks or free ranging the yard.

Dutch John's picture
Dutch John
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 10 2008
Posts: 50
Tobacco leaves

Good old nicotine. Dried and crumbled tobacco leaves are an excellent insect repellent. Spread it out in the night shed and egg nests. You can also soak the leaves in water for spraying, but I find crumbling the easiest way.

Besides it's quality as a repellent, tobacco is a beautiful plant, easy to grow yourself, in most countries legal, does not contain industrial chemicals en therefore it fits excellent in a permaculture system.

Regards, DJ

Gaborzol's picture
Gaborzol
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 24 2008
Posts: 38
Useful article

Thank you, Phil, for writing this. I am a beginner (only the third season with chickens), and my grandparents (both sets had chickens) never seemed to have any problems with them, so I don't know much about treating issues.

Last August a scary thing happened with my flock, and it is close to this subject, so I share it here. I found blod in their laying and roosting area, and tracked it back to a chicken who seemed weak. I looked her around, and discovered a wet butt. Looking closer I saw there were a lot of chicken skin-colored tiny worms in packs around the cloaka, sticking to the skin, wiggling speedily. I looked it up and identified 'fly-strike' where flies plant their eggs that hatch to be maggots on live chickens. Although I tried to wash it by that time both the chickens I found having a wet butt has gone too far and died. Apparently the feeding maggots introduce poisonous excrement into the chicken who then gets weak and die.

Although as a revenge I fed all the maggots still feasting on the carcass a few days later back to the remainder of the flock, I will monitor my flock closer next year - this is a fast killing syndrome, that hits in the late of summer, early fall. 

 

Cherihuka's picture
Cherihuka
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2012
Posts: 41
Keeping chickens healthy

Thanks guys.

I want to clarify one thing on the DE (diatomaceous earth)- even if you read the directions, you've got to get the "food grade" kind. Instructions should advise you to wear a filtering mask or bandana while applying (it's not really recommended for inside the coop, but that's your choice).

I've had chickens for going on 4th season now and love the whole experience and have never raised more than 24 birds at a time (it takes time to discover your own threshold for costs and management), but  it's all a learning curve (unless you were raised on a farm or you're a vet who has excellent time-management). 

Losses have happened a couple of times out of the blue to everyone I know- including my own flock. Once temps unseasonably/ unexpectedly dived to -18  and I realized too late one hen was affected by the temperature shock, so my heroic efforts couldn't help. Hay and heat lamps only go so far.

Another hen was 'jumped' by young rooster that escaped his pen, and accidentally had her neck broken.  

Now with the weather being weird all the time (I guess we can all count on extremes one way or another) I live in dread of some infestation or another. 

I highly advocate the "backyardchickens.com" website (threads on EVERY imaginable topic), everyone is learning and sharing, and it's useful for gaining confidence and tips. There are a few experts and articles to help (check main page), as well as products, and other things. Careful -it's easy to spend hours there; keeping chickens is an addictive hobby, lol. 

One more thing- don't fall into the trap of thinking you'll save money on eggs. Unless you surpass the learning curve in every way and have extraordinary luck and weather...or you really get involved in growing feed... which is do-able but takes committment. Truly I have had many "$12. eggs", and a neighbor (who doesn't use a light for supplement light during winter -red heat lamps do not accomplish the same thing), told me they have finally gotten an egg after all winter without- and they estimate it to be a $300. egg. I estimate they also have 2 dozen hens. But we will both swear it's worth it!

Dutch John's picture
Dutch John
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 10 2008
Posts: 50
Cherihuka wrote:One more
Cherihuka wrote:

One more thing- don't fall into the trap of thinking you'll save money on eggs.

Hmmm. Depends on many things. I think I now found a way to keep 50 chickens on a total annual feed cost of less than 100 euro's. This includes raising the same number broilers. I collect free excess of a local bakery and left-overs of a pig farm. The "emergency fodder" is wheat, bought directly from the field.

Since I gave the chickens all freedom to collect their own food (and locked ourselves up...) the amount of external fodder is reduced by 50% and water by 100%. They now only drink from the pond, and refuse tap water. Note that we have the best tap water in the world, without chlorine....

The chickens seem to be very happy now, which helps egg production too. And to keep on topic: now many other, but particular places are used to take a sand bath.

Regards, DJ

Cherihuka's picture
Cherihuka
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2012
Posts: 41
feed costs/relying on stores vs systems of sustainability

DJ has hit one nail on the head- to sustainably keep costs down - finding ways to support the flock without relying on a feed store. He is quite lucky in his circumstances.

My comment (and current quandary as well) was for those without the ideal property -that with a semi-continuous natural source of feeds and water. Also, those with the time and gas money to scrounge for sources of feed could find them, but you must include gas and time as a cost of time/inconvenience if not direct money.

Local breweries dump their used mash- and this a nutritious feed supplement, and some bakeries might toss out day old bread, but here in the U.S. I've only seen day-old (week old) bread for sale cheaper but not free (even at Wal-Mart), but if you find those the competition between neighbors might not be a problem for now, and as business is driven out over time, well, I wouldn't want to count on others to supply what is needed. Also, I am pretty sure chickens need more protein than grains/bread provide, and that means raising worms (which by the way can also give poultry a 'case of worms'), or other protein... it's not as easy as it might seem to provide for nutritional needs.

So many towns now allow keeping chickens, but most people can't let their flock free range in neighborhoods, nor put in a field of grains. Even with property there are initial costs -for seeds if nothign else (but usually there will be other costs- fencing, etc.) There is an indoor fodder system anyone could implement given some upfront investment and probably a continuing cost of running grow lights (barring a good south-facing window for the shelf system). I won't consider it 'sustainable' if I have to rely on a utility (which costs will only increase over time and/or become unreliable), but it's a start.

How many of us can afford to put a solar panel on the chicken coop and greenhouse for heat and one for running grow lights, and put in a solar pond aerator, (well that list goes on...lol). My point is that anyone can do anything, given enough funding and resources like free use of property with free flowing water. Without those, there are going to be costs, both initial set ups and some on-going, even if it means an investment of time, sweat, repairs for fencing, etc.... so my feeling is that the eggs won't be free without a lifelong commitment toward the needed feed sources. 

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