Chicken mites and lice can literally suck the life out of your hens. They’re pests that can cause a lot of health issues with your chickens, and should be gotten rid of as fast as possible.
In today’s podcast, we talk about how to treat and prevent chicken mites and lice.
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Hi there, and welcome to session 29 of What the Cluck?!, a podcast devoted to keeping chickens for fun and self-sufficiency. By the end of this episode, you’ll know how to recognize and deal with chicken mites and lice, as well as how to rid your hens of these nasty bugs.
So, first lets talk about lice and chicken mites, what they are, and why chicken mites and lice infect hens in the first place. And mites aren’t anything to be taken lightly. They’re blood suckers, and in extreme cases, they can actually kill your chicken, so if you find mites and lice on your hens, you definitely want to treat them.
At the very least, chicken mites might cause your hens to slow down their rate of egg laying, or just stop laying altogether – not good stuff. So, what are chicken mites?
Mites are tiny insects that like to visit your chicken’s feathers, and they feed off the blood of your hens and roosters. Similarly, lice like to bite chicken flesh, but they differ from mites because they’re slightly larger, and they’re white, while chicken mites are either red or black. I’ve seen the bugs, particularly lice, they seem to be easier for me to see because of their color. It might take a few minutes before you see either mites or lice.
While you might be able to see the chicken mites or lice, especially around the ears or eyes, or around the vent, or in their arm pits, meaning where the wings meet their torso, you can diagnose chicken mites easier by secondary issues, such as loss of feathers, or excessive preening. The loss of feathers will look similar to the damage a rooster can do by mating. You might see patches of open skin, or even raw or red skin.
Chicken mites especially are nocturnal, and will jump from your hen to inanimate objects, such as a nesting box or a crevice in the coop during the day to hide, then hop back on your hen at night. Some will stay on your hen all the time too, particularly lice, when I’ve seen lice, it’s been during the day. Chicken mites and lice can jump from bird to bird, as well.
Now, as an aside, your chicken can also get mites on their legs, these are called scaly leg mites, and I’ve combatted this a time or two. You know a chicken has scaly leg mites if you start to see the scales on their legs lift up.
That happens because the waste from the mites starts to build up under the scales, causing them to lift. Okay, so now that we know what chicken mites and lice are, and why they’re not such a good thing for your chicken, let’s talk about how to treat them.
You can use a chemical treatment, kind of like a flea dip to treat chicken mites and lice, and in extreme cases, this might be a good way to go, just to get rid of them before they literally suck the life out of your chicken. But, let’s assume your mite infestation is relatively minor, meaning you can treat it naturally. You can also use these ideas to help prevent chicken mites and lice.
First on our list of chicken mite and lice treatments is diatomaceous earth. For chicken flocks, DE has a lot of natural uses, but it does come with a caveat, which we’ll also discuss. Now, if you’ve owned hens and roosters for any length of time, you probably have heard diatomaceous earth thrown around as a cure for this and that, and we’ll get into its uses and benefits in this podcast.
It’s also a little bit of a controversial subject, and we’ll talk about that too. So, what is diatomaceous earth? Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized shells of diatoms, which are prehistoric aquatic algae. These fossilized diatoms are then crushed, making a powdery substance. DE is also comprised of silica, clay minerals, and iron oxide. You can find diatomaceous earth in any feed store or on Amazon. You can find it on Amazon at TheFrugalChicken.com/DE and I’ll put a link in the show notes as well.
Now, when it comes to DE, there’s food grade, and then there’s everything else. You always want to offer food grade diatomaceous earth to your chicken flock, the other stuff might harm them, and it’s only construction grade. There’s a lot of difference in terms of purity, so just make sure you’re buying food grade, and you’ll know based on the label. If you buy DE at a feed store, in all likelihood, it’s food grade, but just check the label to be sure.
Even though your chicken is just going to bathe in it, they will likely sample it as well, because they always do, and you don’t want them eating anything questionable. So, diatomaceous earth is controversial and that’s because it’s a powder. Chickens have delicate respiratory systems, and there’s some concern out there that the DE will cause your hens to have respiratory issues.
There’s also some concern that DE is not proven to reduce parasites, making the risks outweigh the benefits. I don’t agree with this assessment. In several scientifically-sound studies, DE has been shown to be effective in controlling chicken mites and lice. In one study which was run by the University of California Riverside, birds were given a dust bath of sand and diatomaceous earth. These hens showed a huge reduction in the amount of chicken mites and lice after just seven days.
The study about chicken mites was published in industry magazines, so it was peer reviewed, and all that, so you can feel pretty comfortable that the test was a real one, and done according to established scientific principles.
Now, the way that DE works is while it’s a powder, the crushed diatoms are very sharp, so they penetrate the exoskeletons of the chicken mites, which eventually causes them to die. DE takes longer to work than chemical solutions, so if your chicken has a bad mite infestation, that’s why DE might not be the best solution. Now part of the reason DE is controversial is because although it’s proven effective against mites and lice, there’s not conclusive evidence it works against internal parasites.
We know it isn’t likely to do anything bad, and the bottom line is that if your chicken is bathing in it, chances are they’ll sample it too. They’re curious creatures like that. So, whether it’s effective or not, they’re likely getting it anyway. The easiest way to incorporate DE into your coop is by offering a dust box with a diatomaceous earth/sand or dirt mix. There’s really no formula for how much of either to offer, so I go with a 1:1 ratio. If you plan to offer your DE bath in a run, you will need to remove it when it rains, otherwise you’ll be left with a gloppy mess.
So similar to diatomaceous earth, you can use wood ash to treat hens with chicken mites, but I would just it in tandem with DE, and not necessarily alone. Wood ash by itself has the potential to be caustic, but mixing it with another substance is fine, and at any rate, just using wood ash to treat mites is not as effective as using it with something like DE, which works both in the short and long term. Now, for clarification, what is wood ash? Wood ash is the residue from burning wood, and if you’re going to make wood ash specifically for your chicken to bathe in, use wood that hasn’t been treated with chemicals in any way.
Make sure it’s cool before you give it to your hens to roll in. Steer clear of ash that’s made from any other substance besides wood. It’s not the same thing, and it won’t be as effective and it might harm your chicken. Wood ash is between 25 and 45 percent calcium carbonate. While there is some cause for concern that wood ash will be caustic, if used lightly, it should be fine since less than 10 percent is potash, which is the potentially caustic substance in it.
So wood ash works against chicken mites and lice because it smothers them. Wood ash has another benefit, and that is as a supplement for your hens. Now, wood ash will also contain bits of charcoal and charred wood, which has health benefits for your chicken flock. They’ll probably eat bits of it, and that’s a good thing. That being said, wood ash is not a good substitute for calcium supplements like oyster shells.
Although it’s largely calcium carbonate, which is the same thing egg shells are made of, a study done on broilers showed that the chicks didn’t get enough calcium from it to grow correctly. Although it’s fine if your hens eat it, you’re better off offering them a different source of calcium. Wood ash is not proven as effective as DE in treating chicken mites and lice, but you can use it in tandem with DE.
Now, the next thing you can use to treat and prevent chicken mites and lice is garlic. We’ve talked in the past about using garlic for internal parasites, but today we’ll talk about it for external parasites like chicken mites and lice. You can feed crushed garlic to your hens, but for mites, you’re better off using it externally. So, let’s talk a bit about why garlic is so good to deter and get rid of mites and lice.
Garlic produces a substance called allicin, which is an oily, yellowish liquid that makes garlic smell like garlic. When a fresh garlic clove is chopped or crushed, allicin is produced, and it’s the plant’s natural defense mechanism. There’s a whole scientific process that goes on involving enzymes converting, but for the sake of this discussion, this is the basic information you need to know. Studies have shown that allicin exhibits some pretty useful properties, and is a effective antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiprotozoal.
Now, alllicin has shown at very high levels to be toxic, it can destroy intestinal cells but in animal studies, it took a whole lot of allicin to accomplish that. You chicken is very unlikely to consume enough garlic to cause a problem. Because it’s so good at vanquishing pathogens, allicin is being studied, and is showing promise in fighting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
It’s also been shown to be a potent antivirus, and in one placebo-controlled study, researchers found that a daily supplement containing purified allicin helped people reduce the risk of catching a cold by 64 percent, while their symptoms subsided 70 percent faster. The patients were also less likely to develop more than one cold, according to the study.
Now, getting back to hens and roosters, one way to use garlic to combat chicken mites and lice is to create a topical spray using the juice from crushed garlic. You can also use herbs in the spray, for example, mint is a good option. Mint repels parasites like chicken mites, so to include it, simply boil water, then allow the mint to steep in it for a while until a strong tea is made. Then allow it to cool, and mix in the garlic juice.
You can also crush garlic and allow it to steep in the mint tea for a few days, to release more of the garlic’s essential oils. Then spray a chicken with the mixture. Offer your chicken flock oregano to give them an immune boost to replace whatever nutrients the mites might have zapped from them. One herb that might repel chicken mites is the bitter herb wormwood. It’s useful against internal parasites, and it might help repel external ones like mites because of its bitter nature.
Treating the coop
Now, if your flock has mites, remember that you’ll want to treat their coop as well, since chicken mites can jump from your hens and hide in crevices, etc. You can sprinkle some diatomaceous earth in there, if you do that, make sure your flock isn’t in the coop so they don’t inhale it. Another option is to power wash your coop using water mixed with an orange vinegar mixture to get rid of chicken mites and lice that threaten your flock.
Citrus soaked in vinegar makes an extremely powerful solution. Just like the diatomaceous, earth, if you spray a homemade citrus cleaner in your coop, make sure your birds aren’t in the coop. The essential oils from the oranges are very powerful, and might overwhelm them. Let the coop air dry for a few hours before putting them back in it. Another option is to make a spray with neem oil, which repels chicken mites. You can mix it with water, but be sure to shake before spraying to mix everything back together.
While chicken mites won’t infest your body, you can still carry them around, so if you handle your hens to treat them, make sure to wash yourself and your clothes in hot water. Also be sure to practice good biosecurity, and scrub your shoes in a bleach or citrus vinegar solution so you don’t re-infect your flock.
Now we talked a bit in the beginning about scaly leg mites. The garlic spray might help to treat them. Some people use vasoline to treat them, the vasoline smothers them, but I like using honey. The honey will also smother them, but it will also treat any bites that might become infected. Obviously, you can’t dunk your whole chicken in honey, so you can’t treat the entire hen with it, but you can at least rub it on a leg infested with mites.
Preventing chicken mites and lice
Now, to prevent chicken mites and lice, you can do that naturally using any of the remedies we discussed already. Unlike traditional western medication, if you use natural methods as a preventative, you won’t run the same risks. So, you can give your hens diatomaceous earth and wood ash to bathe in whenever you want, and you should actually do that fairly religiously to prevent chicken mites, and you can clean their coop, and spray them with garlic spray as a preventative.
Now, here’s a pro tip I want to share with you. To treat a chicken, whether they have an active infection or you just want to nip any problems in the bud, it’s best to try to grab your chicken at night when they’re naturally quieter. It’s easy to just slip into your coop and grab a hen than it is to try to chase them down during the day.
So, that’s this week’s podcast, and I hope it gives you some idea of how to prevent and get rid of chicken mites and lice. Now, if you’re interested in learning how to raise chickens naturally, and want some extra help, I actually have a book available on Amazon which can help you get started. The book is called Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, and if you’re interested in raising chickens naturally, then this book is for you. It’s a 50 page ebook all about how to naturally raise a sustainable flock of chickens. You can check it out at TheFrugalChicken.com/chickenbook. Thanks for listening to this episode of What The Cluck?! and I’ll see you next time!
I’d like to hear from you! Have you ever dealt with chicken mites and/or lice? What did you use to treat them? Leave a comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.