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Keeping Chickens Free of Lice and Mites

Chicken parasites

Keeping Chickens Free of Lice and Mites

Poultry lice and mites are common external parasites that you will often discover when keeping chickens. They are easily transferred to chickens by wild birds, rodents and other chickens that you may introduce from time to time to your existing flock.

The following information is based on my first, monthly “Eggucational” presentation on issues that arise when keeping chickens that I gave to over forty-five customers on a blustery Sunday afternoon in October. I have included a shortened, edited video of the presentation at the end of this post in case you would like to see how to handle your hens during identification and treatment of lice and mites.

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What are lice and mites?

Simply stated, mites are eight-legged creatures that suck blood from your chickens whilst lice are six-legged and live off feather dander and flakes of skin from chickens. Mites can cause anemia through draining blood from your chickens along with diseases due to their direct contact with the bird’s blood supply. Lice, on the other hand, cause discomfort to chickens by aggravating their skin causing redness and inflammation.

Of the two, poultry lice are probably more common when keeping chickens here in Victoria due to our colder climate which they prefer. Poultry lice don’t survive longer than a few days off the bird and won’t transfer to you or your family luckily.

Mites, such as Red Mite and the Northern Fowl Mite seem to be more common when keeping chickens in warmer parts of Australia such as Queensland but not always. Mites prefer poultry but can transfer to another animal or a human such as yourself if they have to in search of blood to drink.

How your chickens catch lice and mites

When keeping chickens, the main way that your chooks will collect mites and lice will be from wild birds such as pigeons, mynas and sparrows etc. Wild birds are great carriers of both external and internal parasites. Wild birds are normally attracted to an easy meal provided by your chicken’s feed and it’s a simple hop for them to transfer onto your birds or your coop.

Mites and lice can also be introduced onto your existing chickens when you purchase new chickens to keep. Depending on where you buy your chickens, you can find heavy lice or mite loadings on the birds. Some chicken re-sellers have strict parasite control processes in place but others won’t have anything.

Rodents such as rats and mice can also introduce mites, lice and fleas to your flock. Rodents come into contact with a wide range of dead and living animals and then transfer parasites to chicken coops and chickens when, like wild birds, they begin stealing your chook feed.

How you can detect lice and mites

There are a number of different ways that you can detect the presence of lice and mites. Some involve checking your chicken’s living environment and others involve physically checking each bird.

Inspection of coop

Inspection of your chicken coop when keeping chickens may reveal an excessive number of feathers in the nesting box(s), or area. The coop and run area may also have a higher than normal number of feathers blowing around. If your chickens have a lice or mite infestation you may find quite a few hard and soft feathers in their nest which is not at all normal.

To confirm whether or not you have mites, you will need to check your coop at night with a torch. Mites tend to be nocturnal and live in the corners, crevices and cracks of your chicken coop rather than on the bird. It is only at night time that they become active and start seeking out chickens to feed on their blood.

 

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Inspection of chickens

A good time to inspect your chickens for both lice and mites is at night time when they are more placid and docile. Handing your hens when they don’t become too stressed is important for both their and your own sanity! By using a miner’s light that straps around your head, it enables you to free both of your hands to securely hold and position your birds so that you can part the feathers and examine areas of skin beneath.

The most important area to inspect on your chickens is the vent area or 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 (nits).

If you see straw coloured lice scurrying around on the skin, clusters of white eggs bound to the base of feather shafts or inflamed red skin you probably have poultry lice. If you discover tiny red or darker coloured insects, scabs on the skin surface or clusters of red looking eggs you are more likely to have mites.

Other important areas for inspection when keeping chickens are under the wings and around the neck area. Any areas on chickens that have feather dander and soft downy feathers is preferred by lice as they like to feed on it.

When inspecting your chickens you might sometimes find lice jumping off the bird and onto your arm. This tends to happen during hotter conditions when lice are having difficulty in maintaining an even temperature so become “jumpy”. You won’t find this so much in Winter or colder temperatures as they are quite happy breeding and going about their business in relative comfort.

When keeping chickens it’s extremely important to regularly check your birds for signs of lice and mites. Check at least monthly but twice a month is better to catch the signs of a growing parasite population such as bald patches, excessive feathers in the nest and red or angry patches of skin

The Life Cycle of lice and mites

External parasites normally have different lifecycles and lifespans. Lice take longer to become mature while mites mature a lot faster. It’s vital that you understand the differences and tailor your treatment accordingly.

Poultry Lice:

  • 7 days to hatch
  • 21 days to adult
  • 14 day adult lifespan

Once the female louse reaches maturity at around 21 days, she is then able to start reproducing and laying her nit eggs. This is why it is important to treat both the mature lice and juvenile lice that may not hatch for up to seven days.

The juvenile lice go through three different growth stages until they become adults. The adults then have about a two weeks lifespan before dying. Few treatments are ovicidal (able to kill the eggs), so it is always important to treat lice and mites twice as a majority of treatments will not stop the nit eggs from hatching and the lifecycle continuing.

Mites:

  • 3 days to hatch
  • 7 days to adult
  • 90-day lifespan

Most mites that like chickens can rapidly reproduce after just 7 days. Mites go through three different stages from larvae to protonymph to deutonymph before they become egg laying (and biting!), adults at between 7 to 10 days.

Mites can live for up to three months which means that they can build a large population quite quickly. Because they drain blood from chickens over a reasonably long period of time, they tend to be the least desirable external parasite to have in your flock.

Housing

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to thoroughly clean your coop and/or enclosure. Remove all litter and bedding material, spray the cleaned surfaces with a good insecticide such as Elector PSP and replace with fresh bedding/litter material such as wood shavings.

It’s a great idea to also sprinkle a product such as Diatomaceous Earth or Creature Comfort throughout the coop and mix into your fresh bedding/litter material. Creature Comfort is a combination of natural ingredients including DE, Lavender, Orange and Eucalyptus which repels parasites such as lice and mites and makes the natural dust bathing action of chickens far more effective and damaging to parasites.

Remember that mites particularly like wood and a happy to live in the cracks and gaps in perches, nesting boxes and the coop structure itself. Using more metal in your coop greatly reduces the living areas available to mites.

In conclusion, always clearly identify and be aware of the life cycle of the parasite that you are treating so that you don’t inadvertently undo all your good work. Use a treatment that you are comfortable with based on the type and population of parasites that you find on your chickens. Lastly, remember that once the parasites are gone there is repair work needed to restore full health to your birds so don’t forget this often forgotten final step in the process.

Different treatments for lice and mites

You have a wide range of options when it comes to treating lice and mites but some are stronger and/or more toxic than others. You will also need to consider whether you prefer a “natural” treatment that leaves no potentially harmful residues. A further consideration is a treatment that supports the repair and restoration of good health along with good feather and skin condition.

Drenches

Typically used more with cattle and sheep, Moxidectin and Ivermectin are both treatments that can kill a wide range of both external and internal parasites. Neither is registered for egg laying birds in Australia however so you would only want to be using them under the direction of a Vet and for heavy parasitic infestations.

Registered lice and mite treatment

Maldison 50 is one lice and mite product commonly used in Australia which is registered for use on egg laying birds here. It is very effective in killing mites and lice if used correctly but will not kill internal parasites.

A benefit with Maldison 50 is that it doesn’t have an egg withholding period which means that you can continue to eat the eggs produced by hens that are being treated. Maldison 50 is, of course, a stronger compound that kills lice and mites effectively but has no ability to repair the damage done by parasites.

Natural lice and mite powder treatments

Natural lice and mite powders such as Pestene and Lice Away take a bit more time to apply to your chickens but are a 100% natural way of treating them. Pestine contains Sulfur and Rotenone insecticide but has no ingredients that will repair skin or feather damage and supports the bird’s return to full health.

Lice Away is a new product that we have developed in conjunction with our poultry Vet. Its ingredients include natural insect repellents such as Neem, Ginger and Peppermint along with the drying and abrasive Diatomaceous Earth (DE).

Lice Away conditions and nourishes damaged skin and keeps skin drier and cleaner. It also provides an enriched barrier on the skin and around the feather shafts that protects them while creating conditions that are detrimental to external parasites and their breeding.

 

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How to use powders

    1. Always wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as latex gloves and a dust mask when using powder as despite it being 100% natural and safe to use, it can cause sneezing and coughing
    2. Be seated in a well-ventilated area
    3. Have all the chickens that you want to treat close by so that you can easily go from one to the next without having to move around too much
    4. If you have flighty chickens or have discovered that they have mites, treat them at night when chickens are generally more placid
    5. Always reapply the powder three days after the first application then repeat dusting every seven days until no more lice or mites (including the nit eggs), are detected

25 thoughts on “Keeping Chickens Free of Lice and Mites

  1. We have had so much rain and our chickens are finding it difficut to stay dry. Are they more suseptable to mites when wet? We have noticed them grooming each other today?

    1. Hi Jane,

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t believe that chooks are more susceptible to mites when wet but I have never had mites on one of our hens before and only a dozen of our customers have ever had them, fortunately. A flock is definitely more susceptible to all parasites when there are wild birds and rodents in the coop though and a good reason to use an effective tread-on feeder.

      To check for external parasites like mites or lice, look around the vent area of each bird for signs of nit eggs which are laid by the insects along the base of the feather shaft. If nit eggs are present, then you know you have a parasite problem. Lice get very jumpy in hot weather so will often get onto their handlers skin but can remain hidden in colder months quietly going about their business.

    2. When it rains a lot chickens can not dust bath so lice and mites can grow in numbers on them. Dust baths help chickens control mites and live.

      1. We get red mite build up in winter months here. These blood sucking mites do not live on the chickens but they live in cracks and joins of the roosts and nests and chicken housing and climb onto the chickens at night when they come inside to roost.
        I use surface insect spray with a thin nossle to spray into cracks. I do this in the morning after the chickens go out for the day. This is a very effective way to kill red mites. I powder the nests with Pestene quite regularly to help reduce lice infestations on the chickens. In winter when hens are not laying much I have to catch the hens and powder them directly.

      2. Very good point Cherry, thank you! I always recommend that any enclosed run areas are protected from the rain so that hens always have a dry area to dust bathe.

  2. Ours have mites and we are treating but we concerned they’ve gotten on the dog. He’s a maremma. Have you had any experience with treating the mites on other pets?

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Mites will certainly bite other animals and people but can’t complete their lifecycle – they just want to be on birds. We use our new Wipe Out Mites spray to spray on to any animals or surfaces where live mites are present. Once dead, they are gone from the animal but the source must also be treated to ensure that they don’t reappear.

  3. I need your help I bought 3 chooks 6 days ago, one of them has a red bum without feathers and today she laid a flat soft egg. please what can I do?

    kind regards

    Alejandra

    1. Hi Alejandra,

      Thanks for providing more information. You’ve purchased old hens or what are called “spent” hens in the industry. They are often missing feathers around their rear ends and it can be quite red.

      It’s quite normal for them to lay large, soft-shelled eggs that are easily broken. I hope you didn’t pay any more than $5 for each hen as they are well past their best egg-laying period. A good layer mash feed will help as well as a separate dish of coarse shell grit but there’s not much else you can do.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Jason

  4. I’ve tried everything. Im currently dusting myself and my cat with pestene and maldison powder. Do u know if this will rid us of these mites but take 4 weeks? Ive been battling mites for over 2 yrs getting on my cat and am trying to aviod having to get rid of him but not much is working and theyve become resistant to bleach and DE.

    1. Hi Charles,

      Something is going wrong as mites won’t become resistant to DE and not sure if you would want to be using bleach in the coop. Mites take 7-days hatch from the nit eggs so you must keep any DE or anti-mite powder on the areas where the nit eggs have been laid for at least 7-days. This means the eggs will hatch into the powder and die. I’m not sure where your reference to 4-weeks came from as it doesn’t align with the lifecycle of any common internal or external parasite of poultry that I know of?

      Mites tend to live in the wood in the nooks and crannies of your coop and are nocturnal so will come out to feed on the chicken’s blood at night similarly to a mosquito. They will bite other animals but can’t complete their lifecycle on them and really, just want to be on birds.

      You might need to review your application method when using a mite or lice powder such as Pestine or our Liquid coop and hen spray Wipe Out Mites as it really shouldn’t take long or be difficult.

      Jason

    1. Hi Matt,

      The times that I have used Maldison 50 to treat lice hasn’t been very effective so would probably avoid its use for scaly leg mite (which we have never had before). I normally recommend Vaseline with a few drops of tea tea oil mixed into it. Keep it on nice and thickly for at least 7 consecutive days to suffocate the mites.

      The damaged scales will then fall away to be replaced with new scales so that their legs look brand new again! Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Jason

  5. We have had our 5 chickens for 8 months and have just discovered they have mites. We have cleaned out the chook house with a high pressure hose and dusted the inside with DE then dusted the chickens with Pestene. We have put the DE powder through their fresh bedding and all through the house. Is there a better option that we should be doing? What would you suggest would be the next step?

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your comments. Mites have been very common over the past few months and I have heard of more cases than in my previous 9 years of selling hens!

      Water won’t do much to remove them but if it is boiling it will do. You can wash-down (with great care!), all wooden surfaces with boiling water which will kill mites. Another option is to use a product called Wipe Out Mites which is a water-soluble neem product. It is mixed fresh each time and is sprayed into all nooks and crannies in the coop. It can also be sprayed directly on hens as it is 100% natural and non-toxic.

      The key thing to keep in mind is that parasites have a life cycle and nothing will tend to kill the nit eggs that they lay. This means that you have to do multiple applications of any insecticide in order to kill all of the parasites as you must wait for the eggs to hatch. I normally recommend a three-step treatment for hens then a complete replacement of bedding and nesting followed by a dusting of all fresh nesting/bedding with a natural product like our Bugs Away.

  6. We have a lice/mite invasion here in our Brisbane coop and all over us. We where away for a week and they have taken over. We’ve bought Maldison 50 and DE with the plan to clean out the coop, spray it, keep the chickens away for a few hours and spread the DE in the pen and their house with fresh bedding. Then make a weaker solution and dip the chooks. I’ve never seen it so bad and I’ve kept chooks for 30 years! I wonder if it’s because when COVID came lots of people rushed out and bought chooks and don’t know how to care for them?

    1. Hi Tricia,

      Sorry to hear about your predicament! Poultry lice aren’t too much of a problem and fairly easy to treat but mites are another story. The wild birds have been bringing plenty of mites into coops lately and I’ve heard about more cases in the past three months than ever before.

      The key thing to be mindful of is the lifecycle of the parasite so multiple treatments over at least 7-days is needed. Few chemicals or products will kill the nit eggs that the parasite lays so you must kill the hatched insects then the hatching juveniles over the 7-day incubation period.

      It’s not so much the increase in chook ownership since COVID struck but the weather conditions which seem to have supported the mite and lice population. Wild birds then spread the parasites around by honing-in on chicken feed and coming into the chicken’s environment. A good tread-on feeder can help stop the food source for both rodents and wild birds.

      Good luck with it all!

  7. Our chickens have had a lice (or mite) attack including ourselves. We are in Adelaide and have had chickens for years without a problem until now. The problem is we cannot get rid of them from the hens or us. I thought they don’t live on humans but I continually have a feeling of something crawling on me and have bites on my body. The chickens do have plenty of space in the garden to have a dust bath and we use DE. What else can we do for our house (and us)?

    1. Hi Maria,

      External and internal parasites have been very bad over the past 6-months with a lot of mite activity. Using DE certainly helps but mites need a more thorough insecticide and one that gets into the nooks and crannies of the coop.

      Red mite lives in the wooden parts of the coop (or outside the coop), then come out to feed on the hens for an hour or so at night. Mites will get onto us humans and our pets etc but won’t be able to complete their lifecycle without a regular feed of bird blood. Here’s a link to an email I sent a few weeks ago on Dealing with mites

      We use a product called Wipe Out Mites which is a water-soluble neem which is sprayed onto all wooden surfaces and onto the hens themselves. It is a 100% natural liquid so very safe to use and there is enough in each bottle to apply three treatments in the coop over the required 7-days.

      1. Hi, thanks for the info on mite life cycles, that’s very helpful. Something that may be of interest to you: I’ve lived in Germany for the past 5 years and here everyone has wooden chook houses, with very few major mite/parasite issues. At first I did not understand how that was possible, growing up in Perth my family always had a tin shed sort of thing for the chooks and even that was a nightmare with the bugs. Turns out the secret is to paint the inside of the house with lime paint. Not modern whitewash, that’s a slightly different thing: to be effective against mites etc it’s got to contain actual lime, which works in a similar fashion to DE. I’d never heard of this before, but all the local folks I knew with chickens assured me this was the way to go. So now I too have a wooden chookhouse which gets a fresh coat of lime twice a year, has fine sand with a bit of DE for the floor and a fully enclosed run to minimise wildlife contact, plus I give my girls a rotation of herbal/essential oil blends in their water to prevent internal and external parasites. It works so well, especially considering the damp climate! Would love to hear if anyone in Aus has tried something like this. Cheers, Hayley

        1. Hi Hayley,

          Thank you very much for your comments which are wonderful thank you! It’s great to get another chicken-keeping perspective and from Germany.

          We are fans of lime not that we have had much prior experience with using it. We will do soon though as we have a new range of hempcrete chicken coops under development as I write this. Hempcrete uses a lime binder to make the product and results in high levels of alkalinity in hempcrete walls. This means that rodents and parasites have no desire to eat it or live in it which is fantastic.

          Thanks again for your interesting comments!

          Jason

  8. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for posting all this info, it’s really helpful.
    My question is: I introduced 4 x day old chicks chicks to my one hen, 4 weeks ago and now have a might infestation. I am following your directions but would like confidence that it is safe to use Pestene on the one month old chicks.
    Thanks,
    Trish

    1. Hi Tricia,

      We have never used Pestene so you would need to carefully read the instructions to see if it is safe to use on young chicks. I wonder how the mites came into your environment. Did they come from the chicks or were they from your existing hen?

      Good luck with eradicating them and let me know if you have any other questions.

  9. Hi, Thanks for this great information. I have 5 Isa Brown hens which are 18months old . For the last few months I have noticed a loss of feathers on their rear end leaving it red and now we are getting soft shelled eggs or no eggs at all . I have checked for mites or lice on several occasions and can’t find any evidence . I have regularly cleaned their run and throw around DE.. This last week they clearly seem unwell with their combs becoming dull in colour .. my husband and I got in their again tonight and had a good search around but we still found no evidence.. However we have always had a problem with mosquitoes, could this Create a similar stress to the chickens to make them unwell ??
    With thanks
    Debbie

    1. Hi Debbie,

      Thank you for your message. Your hens are getting old for laying now (for ISA’s), and it’s not uncommon for them to develop bald, red bottoms at this time. It’s also not uncommon for egg-laying to stop and/or egg shells to get softer. I would keep them limited to a high-grade feed and have a separate dish of coarse shell grit available for them during daylight hours.

      Mosquitoes won’t cause any issues as far as I know but the hens may have picked up something from their coop or range areas as insects and wild-birds are out in force at the moment and they can bring with them a range of diseases and parasites that can cause harm to the flock. Just support their nutrition as much as possible and hopefully, they will get rid of whatever toxin is in them and recover.

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