Chicken Mites and Lice
Small insects – BIG problem. Mites and Lice are external parasites that like to live on your backyard chickens. Either parasite will drain your chooks of vitamins and minerals, leading to a variety of deficiencies and worst case, death.
I recommend checking your flock at least once a month if possible. Night-time is a good time. If you find it hard to catch them – get them while they are sleeping! The most important area to inspect on your chickens is the vent area (the area around where they lay their eggs). This area has good blood flow, soft feather dander and a consistent temperature. These conditions are ideal for mites and lice so they will tend to concentrate their activity around the vent area and lay their eggs.
Chicken mites survive by feeding on the blood of your chickens. Some live on the chickens, some live in their housing and come out to feed at certain times.
Lice do not feed on the blood – they survive by ingesting the skin scales and debris in their feathers. They also live their entire life on the chicken.
➡️ Weight loss
➡️ Reduced egg production
➡️ You may notice clumps of red mites or their excrement within their coop or nesting areas
➡️ Pale comb due to anaemia
Red mites are usually spread by wild birds coming into contact with your chicken coop. They the hide in cracks, crevices and any dark spots in the chicken coop during the day, and then come out at night to feed on your feathered friends, once again retreating when the sun comes up. They LOVE timber for this reason. These guys are TINY and you may not notice them until you get a full blown infestation.
I treat my chickens every month as a preventative. For their monthly regime, ensure you are treating your chickens at night when the mites are active. You can give them a dust of Pestene, or Diatomaceous earth, which should dehydrate the mites and effectively kill them. I use a natural spray as a preventative.
If you are treating an infestation, you will need to treat each chook, one-by-one. As you remove them from the coop (which you will treat next) dust with one of the above-powdered products or a spray , such as Avitrol Mite and Lice. Repeat the treatment every few days until you clear the infestation.
Red mite can bite people as well and will cause irritation and itching of your skin. If you have a heavy infestation, spray yourself with insect repellent and cover up with long-sleeved clothes, long pants, and boots before you start. Have a hot shower afterward and put clothing straight into the washing machine on a hot water cycle. Do not wear the clothes into the house!
It is important when you discover any of the issues below in your flock, to also treat from the inside out. Up the protein and nutrition as much as you can. Our Calci-Protein blend is perfect for this, and I would add any of the products from our Natural Blend Range to boost their immune systems.
Once you have removed all the chickens from the coop and treated them, the chicken’s housing will need a thorough clean. Dispose of any bedding or litter on the ground of the coop and pen – do not compost this!
Scrub the surfaces with hot soapy water, then hose and leave to dry off. Make sure to pull all nesting boxes out and clean around them. Don’t forget to scrub the roosts.
You will then need to use an insecticide. Pestene, Coopex or Malaban Wash will work well here or, if you wanted an organic product Diatomaceous earth is a good choice. Make sure you apply to all crevices, nesting areas and dark areas GENEROUSLY.
I like to sprinkle one of the organic products through the nesting material each time I change it. I then top it with our beautiful Nest Blend to really make sure the ladies are covered. Spray natural mite and lice spray through roosts and coop surfaces.
We also use plastic nest boxes. This makes it really hard for mites to find somewhere to live.
Once the coop has been treated (and if using a liquid product, dry), the chickens are okay to go back in the coop.
Check your chickens and coop around 7 days later. You may need to re-treat, dependant on whether you managed to kill the eggs off the first time.
Scaly Leg Mites
Scaly leg mites live on your chicken’s feet, where they feed and also leave droppings. You will notice their legs appear scabby and scaly. If left untreated, this spreads throughout the rest of the flock really quickly.
To treat, soak your chooks feet in a warm bath of water, and gently wash away any excess scales. Dry the feet and apply a medicated solution such as Aristopet scaly leg and face treatment or our natural mite and lice spray I then cover with a vasoline or oil to really smother any live mites and hold the medication in. Because there will still be eggs there, you need to repeat this every few days for a week or two, just to make sure you get them all!
Read all about Scaly leg mite and their treatment here.
Australian lice are commonly referred to as ‘shaft louse’ because they live on your chicken’s feather shaft. If you look at the base of the feather shaft and see a clump of debris – these are the eggs, and you have a problem. The debris is white and dusty looking. You may also see live lice running around – they are about 1-6mm in size and often a mustard colour.
Shaft louse feed on the scales and feather debris of your chickens. If left untreated, they will cause a number of problems for your chooks.
➡️ Feather pecking
➡️ Weight loss
➡️ Skin irritation
➡️ A pale comb
➡️ Listless nature
➡️ Drop in egg laying production
The easiest way to prevent lice, is to provide access to a dust bathing area. You can add some Pestene or Diatomaceous earth to known dust bathing spots in the garden. Also, try to limit any wild birds in the chicken coop or run.
If you’ve found lice on your chickens, dust them with Pestene powder or Diatomaceous earth and dust the coop thoroughly.
Prevention of Mites & Lice
Prevention is definitely easier than cure in the case of mites and lice.
➡️ Do your best to eliminate wild birds from the area where your flock is – cover runs with mesh so they can’t get in.
➡️ Dust baths provide a natural way for your chicken to keep themselves clean, exfoliate their skin and help shed old and loose feathers. Importantly, it helps to smother insects and parasites that may be living on them. Chickens that free range will usually make their own dust bath – often in your vegetable garden! You can learn how to make a dust bath here.
➡️ Add Diatomaceous Earth or Pestene Powder to dust baths, your chooks and the coop floor. Just be careful to wear a dust mask when applying these.
➡️ Apply a spray such as Vetafarm Insect Liquidator to your chooks and their coop every four-six weeks. Avian Insect Liquidator is a mite and lice spray with Insect Growth Regulator which controls mites and lice on poultry and their environment. Or for a natural alternative try Natural Mite & Lice Spray.
➡️ Clean up any feed spills to deter visiting rodents or larger animals. Maintain a vigorous program of rodent eradication in and around the coop.