A hen with a red backside was our "red flag" that we had a parasite problem. Two triangles just above the bum fluff behind the wings. Feather lice in our case. They eat feathers, not blood, so feather loss and skin irritation make for lovely red patches with just bare skin. What we noticed was that the hens that were lowest on the pecking order and that roosted together had the most severe infestations, that had progressed to feather loss and in one of the hens, severe irritation and mild prolapse. The lice are tan and even in severe infestations may not be readily visible. Feather lice don't want to get in your hair, so fear not. It's nastier in theory than truth, but still beyond nasty to have to deal with. I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it. Mild treatment would not have helped our bunch. It was BAD. Pull up your hair, put on your boots, here we go.
We identified two problems. (three if you count wild bird pass through, which we cleared up by putting all food in feeders inside the coop to make it less accessible to wild birds)
The hens that roosted together were the lowest on the flock totem pole and the most affected, and I'm pretty sure their diet (too many treats) had something to do with it. They were mostly hand fed and the more aggressive hens would get the higher nutrition portion of the treat food (bird seed) and the lower ranking hens would end up with mostly millet, which was still more appealing to them than their layer crumbles but lacks the nutritional punch for a laying bird. The more aggressive birds had minor cases, where the less assertive birds were COVERED and had seriously chapped bums.
Red irritated skin with irritated vents immediately makes me think feather lice. Look at the bases of the feathers for a "q-tip" like crust. These are the nits. You may not see the live lice as they scramble away. They probably picked it up from the rooster and they're probably roost mates or prefer to lay in the same nesting box, getting more cross contamination.
I wanted the parasites gone and gone yesterday. not realistic of course. We got Permectrin II and all six hens got a lovely bath in a 5 gallon homer bucket. They really don't get mad. Lice takes two treatments. Most treatments aside from the ridiculously, prohibitively expensive, do not treat the nits, only live lice. You will have to wait for the next batch to hatch out and treat the second time before you can declare the battle won.
We also treated the coop, laying boxes and yard, got up all straw, bedding and added diatomaceous earth and sand to their dust baths and nesting boxes (FOOD GRADE!). We took a two week break on eating eggs, although the labeling says it's not necessary. Better cautious than sick and I'm allergic to pretty much everything.
We may have lost our "organic" status (not commercial, I kid, family flock) but I had another 6 fledglings transitioning from a brooder box indoors to the main coop outdoors pending an all clear check of the infested birds and I didn't want to have to treat them on top of the other six. We do it in the early evening as they're starting to think about roosting up for the night, making sure they are soaked all the way to the skin so there is no hiding places for the lice in the dry feathers.
The prolapse was treated by three days of isolation in the dark to slow her laying and after three days she was good to go and by day two SIGNIFICANTLY less red. We also took them off treats completely and gave a nutrient drench and they're on only laying crumbles and oyster shell for the time being.