Anyone who keeps chickens knows how easy it is to find their birds and chicken houses are suddenly infested with lice and mites. It can happen to anyone, no matter how well you tend your chickens. Which is why it's so important to keep a close eye on your birds – and this means all through the year. But there are things you can do to help prevent an infestation and there are ways you can get rid of these horrible creatures without harming your chickens in the process.
Unfortunately, there are some bugs that do well even when the weather is colder. Other nasty insects tend to die off, but there are a few that stick around and attack poultry even during the winter months. This means it's always a good idea to check your birds over from time to time to see if they have got any lice or mites on them. Next, you need to make sure there are none in the chicken house either. However, when the weather warms up, this is the time when the bugs can really take hold and they can multiply at an incredible rate.
The real problem comes from wild birds because they carry lice and mites and transfer them to your chickens. Wild birds will always help themselves to any chicken feed that happens to be on the ground or in feeders and this is when lice and mites get left behind. The insects then jump on your chickens, in no time at all they multiply and pretty soon you have to deal with an infestation both on the birds and in their houses if the problem goes unnoticed and untreated.
Much like fleas and ticks, lice and mites survive by feeding on blood but they also live on the feathers, scales and skin of your chickens. Birds with heavy infestations get very ill, because their immune systems are weakened. As a result they are more susceptible to any infections or diseases. It will also reduce the bird's growth and chickens tend to stop laying eggs if they are covered in lice and mites. If not treated, an infestation can kill chickens – so if you do notice a problem, then you did to talk to your vet and discuss which treatment to use on your birds.
Most farm shops as well as pet stores do stock louse and mite powder and depending on the infestation, these might do the trick and rid your chickens of these nasty little creatures.
The best way to cope with lice and mites is to get to know as much as you an about them because if you understand the life cycle and how they survive, you'll learn how to deal with them in the most effective and safe way.
The lice found on chickens are really very, very small and can be quite hard to spot at first. They are long, flat, wingless minute straw coloured creatures that are pretty hard to kill. They are not the same as lice found on humans, so if you do get them on you, they won't survive for very long. Poultry lice feed on the dry skin, feathers and scales as well as blood of chickens and are able to jump from one bird to another, especially at night when the birds are roosting close to each other on their perches.
Theeggs which are called nits, can be seen at the base of your chicken feathers where they are laid in clumps and because they are off white coloured, they are pretty easy to spot. However, they are really hard to remove– it's like they are stuck on the feathers with glue.
Once lice are off their hosts, they don't actually live very long and usually die a few days to a week later.
The mites found on chickens are also really small and almost impossible to see with the naked eye during the day. They look like tiny dark specks that move around on the birds feathers and skin. Some chicken mites only feed at night when they become very active. The way to spot them is when it's dark and you need to use a flash light to do so. The advantage of checking your birds at night is they will be roosting so it is easier to examine them without them panicking too much.
Northern fowl mites on the other hand, feed both during the day and at night. But all chicken mites are incredibly harmful to birds because they literally suck all the blood out of chickens. As a result, birds get very sick and if they are not treated as soon as possible after identifying the problem, no matter what type of mite is attacking your chickens, it could prove to be fatal for the birds.
These mites as the name suggests, attack chickens legs and they are impossible to see with the naked eye because they are minuscule. The first sign of a problem is when the scales on chicken's legs start looking and feeling very rough and raised. If left untreated, these mites will eventually end up deforming your birds legs and the condition is very painful for the bird too.
You have to treat your chickens as soon as you notice there might be a problem. However, you have to also treat their chicken houses because if there are mites on the birds, theywill be in the chicken coops too. Mites are incredibly resilient – they can live up to 34 weeks in a chicken house without any food!
There are some very effective natural treatments for poultry mites. You should look for anything that contains pyrethrin – this is a natural insecticide that's safe to use on poultry and it's made out of a type of chrysanthemum. However, in warm weather, you can even give your chickens a bath and use a dog flea shampoo, but make sure it's one that contains pyrethrin.
Treating chickens for any type of mites, means doing a really thorough job. You have to part the feathers and make sure the powders or products actually gets on to the chickens skin.
For scaly leg mites, the most effective treatment is vaseline or petroleum jelly. You have to coat the legs with the ointment and do it every day for a few days. After this you can soak the legs in warm water and then very gently brush them. The dead scales will drop off, but don't try to force them as this will only cause bleeding which could lead to an infection.
When it comes to treating chicken houses and coops, this needs to be done thoroughly too. Mites will hide in the smallest of cracks so it's a good idea to coat perches and cracks with some kind of oil which will smother the mites. The winter months can be hard on your chickens because unlike other nasty creatures that die off, mites will actually thrive. Keeping a watchful eye on your chickens will ensure they are happy and healthy birds and this means you'll be rewarded with plenty of eggs!