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“Mites are very similar to lice but they are much smaller and tough to see unless there are vast infestations on a bird. Some hide in cracks in the wood and building, coming out at night to feast on the hens. ”
Mites and Lice on Chickens
Mites and Lice make life pretty miserable for your birds and the same pests can bite humans. But there are things you can do, actually that you should be doing already, that will reduce the chances of you having to deal with mites and lice on chickens and there are ways to deal with a infestation of mites and lice on chickens.
- Clean coops at all times
- Healthy birds are less likely to get infested
- Check the birds for signs of infestation on a regular basis
Signs of an infestation:
- Seeing bugs on your hands or bites after handling the birds or being in their coop
- Sick looking birds
- Birds not wanting to roost in their normal spot
- Pale combs
- Ruffled feathers caused by abnormal dirt bathing
- Preening more than normal
- Head shaking
- Dirty looking feathers that might be egg clusters and not dirt
- Scratching more than normal and damaged feathers
- Red skin, especially around the vent
- Scales on legs raised and scabby looking
- Raspy breathing caused by air sac mites
- Unexplained deaths
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“Northern fowl mites and red roost mites are the most common type and are tiny eight legged insects that live in cracks during the day. Grey colored, or dark brown, or reddish color, you will find them after dark on the feathers and vent areas where they suck blood from the bird.”
There are many types of lice that will infest chickens:
- Cuclotogaster heterographa, or head louse, they are visible to the human eye, about one tenth of an inch long. They will stay right at the base of the feathers to eat skin and feather, not suck blood. Found frequently on young birds and can kill birds if there are a lot of them.
- Eomenacanthus stramineus (= Menacanthus stramineus), the body louse is probably the most common type of lice and the most harmful pest. Between 1/10th and 1/8th of an inch long, brown to tan colored. Feeds on feathers and blood. Found mostly on the skin where there are fewer feathers but will be found all over the bird in bad cases of infestation. You can see the egg clusters on feathers and skin.
- Goniocotes gallinae, the fluff louse, is tiny, 3 to 6 hundredths of an inch long, barely visible in good lighting. They feed on feathers around the base of the feathers.
- Lipeurus caponis, the wing louse, is just over a sixteenth of an inch long and is grey colored. Found on the inner parts of the wings, the tails and head feathers. It eats feathers so bad that it is called the depluming louse.
- Menopon gallinae, the shaft louse, around one sixteenth of an inch long. Feeds on skin and feathers and can suck blood. Eggs are white looking clusters around the base of the feathers
- Columbicola columbae, slender pigeon louse, is a sixteenth of an inch to 3/32th of an inch long, found everywhere on the bird. Feeds on feathers, lays eggs under the wings on fine feathers
Mites are very similar to lice but they are much smaller and tough to see unless there are vast infestations on a bird. Some hide in cracks in the wood and building, coming out at night to feast on the hens.
Whitewashed coop interior
“Doing a thorough cleaning of the coop, followed by a good coat of white wash, followed by a good spraying with permethrin both inside the coop and out including the exterior of the coop during dry weather.”
. Northern fowl mites and red roost mites are the most common type and are tiny eight legged insects that live in cracks during the day. Grey colored, or dark brown, or reddish color, you will find them after dark on the feathers and vent areas where they suck blood from the bird. DE or diatomaceous earth isn’t very effective on mites and works better on lice. Spinosad, a product of Saccharopolyspora bacteria, will kill mites, flies, beetles, and many other insect pests. It is diluted and sprayed on a thoroughly cleaned coop, even on the birds themselves. Elector is a popular brand containing Spinosad and can be found on Amazon at this link. The product is quite expensive but will kill mites in one application.
Permethrin spray and/or dust, Ivermectin either oral or injected or topical, and Vectra 3D although it is not approved for use on poultry. Ivermectin is not cleared for use on laying hens though so avoid it unless the eggs are used for replacement chicks. The old standby, Sevin dust, is no longer approved on chickens due to its ability to put traces into eggs. If you aren’t eating the eggs but hatching replacement stock you could probably get away with Sevin dust.
The best method of control is to carefully inspect and dust all birds when they are brought home, isolating them in a distant coop for a few weeks to see if any pests hatch out after the initial treatment. Providing a dry dusting bath for the birds, either inside the coop or out under the covered run, helps. Wood ashes, fine playground sand, and some poultry grade diatomaceous earth mixed in will help prevent mites and lice from getting out of control. Dusting the roosts and nest boxes with pyrethrin or permethrin powder a few times a year is a good idea.
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“There are signs that some mites and lice are becoming resistant to permethrin and the old poultry lice standby sulfur is making a comeback. Back in the sixties sulfur was the go to insecticide when you were going out into the woods or picking blackberries to keep ticks and chiggers off.”
Ivermectin applied to the skin at the back of their neck helps on some birds. Doing a thorough cleaning of the coop, followed by a good coat of white wash, followed by a good spraying with permethrin both inside the coop and out including the exterior of the coop during dry weather. More on whitewashing at the end of this article.
Both lice and mites are spread by wild birds, mice, and rats so a good treadle feeder is a must to keep the vermin from infecting your flock. Diatomaceous earth can be rubbed into the feathers on infested birds. Diatomaceous earth comes in many forms and is safe if you pick the right type. It is approved for a commercial kitchen bug killer in the right form. Food grade or Amorphous diatomaceous earth will have a small amount of crystalline silica, less than one percent, while swimming pool grade is going to be 20% dangerous silica so avoid that type even if it is cheap.
Then there is calcined diatomaceous earth, which has been heated till it melts, cooled and fractured into tiny sharp shards, not safe for hens because of the inhalation risk but good for a general outdoor insecticide. Calcined DE is dangerous for humans if you breath the dust so avoid using it. The Amorphous DE can be used as a food additive, a desiccant in grain, even fed to chickens to kill fly larvae.
ADE kills by absorption and eroding the outer layer of the chitinous exoskeleton of bugs. The ADE slowly erodes the out layer till the bug starts leaking fluids and the combination of fluid leaks and the ADE absorbing four times its weight in fluid will desiccate the bug. ADE will dry out naturally once the humidity drops so the dust doesn’t wear out or go bad. Wear gloves when working with it as it will dry out your hands really, really, bad. Try to find large 50 pound bags marketed as ADE for feed, much cheaper than the repackaged 2 pound bags marked up 20 times the price.
There are signs that some mites and lice are becoming resistant to permethrin and the old poultry lice standby sulfur is making a comeback. Back in the sixties sulfur was the go to insecticide when you were going out into the woods or picking blackberries to keep ticks and chiggers off.
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The old state university publications on treating mites and lice listed cresol (coal tar) and gasoline mixed together and brushed on the chickens. Kerosene and cresol were also listed, mixed with laundry soap, to be sprayed on the chickens.
When you treat for scaly leg mites expect several months before the legs are looking healthy again. The old scales will slough off and new, healthy tissue will grow back in time. Another prevention method is to whitewash the coop. Most people thought whitewash was a cheap paint but it was disinfectant and pest control back when we didn’t have modern chemicals.
Take a gallon of warm water, mix in two cups of salt and seven cups of hydrated lime that is found at a feed store or garden store. A quarter cup of Elmer’s glue makes it stickier. Keep it stirred up and paint it on, spray it, use a rag, just get it on the wood, cement, or anything else that isn’t moving around. The mixture will go on clear but dry to a white, shabby chic looking surface. The lime is a caustic, the other end of the pH scale than acid, so it acts as a natural insecticide. Besides killing pests it acts as a crude paint to whiten everything and make the inside of the coop brighter.
There are other mites that gather on the combs, wattles, and faces of chickens. Applying castor oil or any other thick oil to smother them works along with the other treatments for lice and mites. There are also stick tight fleas, that suck blood just like a normal flea except they bite in and stay while sucking blood out of the host. These fleas are tiny and burrow into the host and are difficult to eradicate. They are found on wild rabbits, dogs, cats, people, almost any mammal. If infested try using the castor oil and regular lice/mite treatments before moving on to the more specific stick tight flea remedies.