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Treating Mites and Lice on Domestic Chickens

Mites and lice on chickens are more common in the warmer months, so now is the time to be on the lookout and be prepared.

Red mites tend to be nocturnal and will suck blood from the chicken while it sleeps, then hide in cracks and crevices in the coop during the day. They are very small, and initially yellow/grey in colour, but will darken as they feed. If left untreated, this results in weakening, loss of appetite, emaciation, lowered egg production, lethargy and eventually death.

Lice lay their eggs deep in the feather shafts of their hosts where they are inaccessible to their preening. You can see a louse as it moves on the skin by parting the feathers, especially at the head, under the wings and around the vent. Lice do not suck blood. They feed on dry skin scales and feathers. They cause irritation by the act of movement on the skin of the bird. As a result infestations can cause feather loss, usually on the back, because a bird may overpreen and pluck her own feathers in attempt to get relief. Birds may also show a reduce in appetite, resulting in weakness, lowered egg production and susceptibility to illness.

How do chickens get mites and lice?
They can be introduced by wild birds or visiting rodents, or get picked up when your birds get into contact with other infested birds.

How to prevent mites and lice in your chicken coop?
Early detection remains the best way to control these pests. Keep the coops and bedding clean and fresh, periodically scrub the coop and nesting boxes with soap and water, put down a layer of hydrated lime every time you clean your pen. After you apply a layer of lime you should then place straw on top to keep it clean. Ensure you provide adequate dusting areas for chickens to care for their own skin and feathers naturally. A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a daily shower. The key is to regularly inspect your flock to catch the problem before harm is done to the chickens.

How to recognise mites and lice?
Mites are incredibly small however you may be able to see them around your bird’s vent or beneath her wing. They are little black insects that will climb all over your arms and legs. Be aware as mites will also bite humans, causing minor irritation in the affected area. Lice are long, narrow, tiny insects that move quickly when you part a chicken’s feathers. When your chicken has a heavy infestation, you can see the lice scurrying around on the bird.

How to treat mites and lice?
If you have mites and lice in your chicken coop we recommend using a poultry dust such as David Gray’s or Pestene. Spread the powder all around the chicken coop making sure you pay close attention to the nest boxes as that’s the place where the mites usually start out from the heat of the chickens sitting in the nest to lay their eggs. Cover the chickens in the dust as well, making sure you ruffle up their feathers and get it on the skin.

Treating large areas infected with mites and lice
If you have a large area you need to treat, we recommend you treat the large area with Coopex. Coopex is a sachet of powder that you mix with water in a sprayer and spray the area. Then treat the chickens with the poultry dust. Coopex is safe to use on the chickens environment but not on their skin.