Mites & Lice! Treatment and Prevention

A parasite is any living thing that lives off another living thing. External parasites can either suck blood or eat feathers. Chickens with bad infestations become thin, don’t lay eggs well, and have reduced fertility. With really bad infestations your birds may die. Chickens can get anemia from these bugs. Hens, to some extent, can treat themselves by dust bathing. Dust bathing is really good for your chickens. It dislodges the parasites and also helps get dirt and oils off of them. Make sure your chickens have an area to dust bath and if they don’t, put a big pan filled with sand in their pen. Inspect your hens regularly for signs of parasites.



Pictures by cheeka


Parasite symptoms: (All of these symptoms don’t apply to every parasite listed)

  • Itchiness
  • Bare patches
  • Lots of scratching
  • Loss of weight
  • Diarrhea
  • Symptoms of paralysis
  • Swollen legs with scales standing up
  • Laying slows or stops
  • Sitting hunched up with ruffled feathers
  • Reduced fertility
  • Listless


Here is a picture of a mite infestation.


Picture by bluebee

Mites
Mites are spider like creatures. These bugs are under 1/25 of an inch in their length. Most are microscopic (can’t be seen with our eyes). They usually live off of blood, tissue cells, or feathers. They can be spread by contaminated shoes, other chickens, equipment, clothing, etc. Mites aren’t always on the chicken; some actually spend a good amount of time off the bird. Here are some common mites.

Red Mites

This mite has eight legs and crawls on the chickens during the night to feed on their blood. Red mites are gray until they eat, after filling up with blood they turn red. Found in tiny cracks, crevices, or in nesting boxes, these can actually kill chickens. Also check under the perches for red mites. Living up to one year without feeding on hens, take care to treat the birds multiple times. When using a broody hen, inspect the nest she will be brooding in very carefully, making sure to check every crack for these mites. Birds may not go up at night if the infestation is bad. In hot weather the population of red mites really increases. A single female can lay up to 120,000 eggs. Check your birds at night for red mites. They will be crawling around on perches and on your birds. They can bite humans if the infestation is really bad. These horrible little bugs can carry New Castle disease, Fowl Cholera, and Fowl Pox.

Scaly Leg Mites

Scaly leg mites are small mites that burrow under the scales on chickens legs. They spread very slowly from bird to bird. If the legs are seriously affected, the scales will be lifted and under the scale, it will be inflamed and bleeding. If it goes unnoticed for a while, the legs will have little white encrustations (crusts) between the scales. Remove these but only after soaking and several treatments of petroleum jelly or else they will bleed. Only really bad infestations cripple the bird. An easy treatment is Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) on the legs. This will smother the mites.

Notice the raised scales.


Pictures by TimBaumann



Northern Fowl Mites

A Northern mite is the most serious external parasite. It shows itself as damp patches on feathers, there will be many crawling around on the patches which occur in the neck feathers and vent feathers. The wings and tail affected by these birds looked like they have been chewed on. They also cause scabby skin and darkened feathers around vent. You may also see them (in bad infestation) crawling around on egg in nesting boxes. These mites multiply very quickly, so act fast with treatment. Take all the chickens out and put them in a different coop for a while. After a couple weeks in an unoccupied coop, these mites will die. Clean the hen house very well, making sure to get every corner. Treat your chickens every week until the mites are gone. Killing these mites is hard but not impossible. Chickens should not be put back in the infected coop until the coop has had time to air out from all the powders/sprays. Northern fowl mites are hard to control, don’t give up.

Feather Mites

These mites live on the feathers and eat the plumage. The damage to the base of the feather is very bad and ruins the feathers. Thankfully, they are not common in North America. Some types of feather mites cause so much irritation that the birds pull out and scratch their feathers in order to get relief.

Chigger Mites

Chigger mites are red and infest the skin of chickens as well as humans. They leave small itchy red spots where they have been feeding. These mites can be straw colored and are very small. The immature chiggers are the ones that feed on blood. Chiggers are commonly found under the wings, on the breast, and legs. When feeding chiggers inject poisonous saliva that liquefies the skin, they then feed off of that. It then causes really itchy skin, swelling, and scabs. Young birds stop eating, drinking, and may die. I’ve been bitten by a few chiggers before and it really itches.

Lice
These pests are either blood sucking or chewing parasites. But chicken lice only eat feathers or shedding skin. Lice vary in size and shape length is 1/25 to ¼ inch. Most are yellow or straw colored. They are very hard to see on white chickens but easy on dark. Luckily, lice die quickly when off of chickens. They’re many types of lice that can be seen, head, body, and feather lice. By grooming, chickens can keep lice at a minimum. So debeaked birds or overgrown beaked birds are more likely at risk for lice. Because lice bite chickens, they pull their own feathers out to try and make the irritation stop. Chickens lay poorly and have low fertility when infected with lice. They are spread through contact with other contaminated birds. You can see lice crawling around on the chicken's skin and vent. Louse eggs will be clumped on the feather shaft.

Here are lice eggs around the feather shaft.

Picture by demerson
Body Louse

Body lice chew through the skin into growing quills to get to the blood. You will find scabs on skin and light eggs. Body lice move really fast so it may be hard to see when you check your birds.

Head Louse

This is the most serious louse pest. They are very harsh on young birds and they spread from the hen to her chicks. Seriously infected chicks will die.

Common Fowl Louse

These are the most common louse. Because parasites itch, feathers are picked and scratched, making bare patches. They reproduce rapidly laying groups of eggs called nits.

Treatment
A good treatment for mites and lice wood ash for your chickens to dust bath in. Sevin Dust I found out has been banned for use on poultry. There are other treatments like poultry sprays. Treat by spraying on the chicken and on the roosts, nesting boxes, everything. I use Garden & Poultry dust to help prevent (not treat) mites and lice. They’re many other treatments for these parasites. Covering the nits in petroleum jelly prevents them from hatching and they then fall off.

Prevention
Always keep your chicken coops clean and dry. Use dust like Garden & Poultry dust to prevent these parasites. Make sure your chickens have a place to dust bath. Regularly check your chickens for these parasites (at night will be easier because you won’t have to catch them).


If you have any question please feel free to ask.
~WillowBranchFarm~

For further reading and forum discussions on lice and mites, see here:

https://www.backyardchickens.com/forums/predators-and-pests.13/