I remember it like it was yesterday. I picked up my favorite hen for a few minutes, put her down, and felt a creepy crawly on my arm. Looked down, and sure enough, it was chicken lice!
Of course, like any reasonable adult, I ran into the house and jumped in the shower!
And then I started researching. Turns out, chicken lice can’t live on humans. And they don’t live in their bedding. They have to have a living, breathing, clucking host to survive.
Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with mites. Yet. Mites are worse, and can live in the coop bedding and walls.
Here on the farm, we don’t like to use chemicals. At all. So what do we do to treat a chicken lice infestation? Thankfully, there are a few options.
Diatomaceous Earth for chicken lice
I’m going to briefly discuss this one, because although I love this stuff, there is a huge controversy out there. And I don’t believe this is as effective as any of the other options. Although, it is more natural.
Diatomaceous Earth (also known as DE) is a powderized form of fossilized diatoms, or marine phytoplankton. It is high in silica, and it essentially dries out the exoskeleton of insects. It is only effective when dry. I have used it to eliminate ants, earwigs, and slugs with great success.
The controversy behind DE is that it is unsafe to breathe. The high silica content can severely damage your lungs if inhaled. So it can hurt our animals’ lungs as well. I use it sparingly around my chickens, and I haven’t had any issues with it.
DE is good for prevention of chicken lice and mites. I put it in my chickens’ dust baths, along with sand and wood ash. But in my opinion, it’s just not strong enough to fight an infestation.
You know what they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. DE is very helpful for prevention.
If you do decide to use Diatomaceous Earth to treat chicken lice, put some in an old salt shaker or something similar, and lightly powder each chicken, avoiding the head. Make sure you only use “Food Grade” Diatomaceous Earth. There is no egg withdrawal when using DE to treat lice.
Poultry Dust for chicken lice
Poultry dust is my most preferred method of treating chicken lice. It’s pretty inexpensive, and there is no egg withdrawal. It also has multiple uses around the home and garden. I usually buy it at Tractor Supply, but you can get it online if you don’t have one near you. Most poultry dusts contain Permethrin.
Poultry dust comes in a handy shaker bottle, so it’s pretty easy to apply. Just be careful not to breathe the powder. Carefully dust each chicken thoroughly, avoiding the head. This is easiest done when the chickens are sleeping on their roost (unless your chickens are weird like mine and sleep at the top of their 8 foot run!).
I occasionally put some poultry dust in the deep litter bedding as well, if I notice a lot of bugs. I also put it in their dust baths sometimes, just for added prevention of chicken lice.
A second application of poultry dust should be applied in 7-10 days, to kill any newly hatched lice.
Permethrin for chicken lice
Permethrin is my second favorite way of treating chicken lice. It is a synthetic chemical, so I only use it when absolutely necessary. It is, however, approved by the FDA for use on animals meant for slaughter, in food gardens, and in restaurants.
Permethrin is a liquid that is diluted and poured or sprayed on chickens for treating chicken lice and mites. I prefer diluting into a spray bottle and spraying my chickens, when they are asleep. Make sure to pay special attention to under the wings and around the vent, as that is where lice like to congregate.
A second treatment of Permethrin is needed 7-10 days after the initial application, to kill any newly hatched lice. There is no egg withdrawal with Permethrin.
Pyrethrum for chicken lice
I haven’t personally used this one, but after a little bit of research, I feel like I might like to use this one instead of Permethrin. Pyrethrum is the natural version of Permethrin, and is derived from Chrysanthemums.
Next time I have to deal with chicken lice, I’m going to try Pyrethrum.
This product is organic and approved for use on all types of livestock, and their premises. As with most other treatments, a second application should be done in 7-10 days, to kill any newly hatched lice.
Elector PSP for lice and mites
Elector PSP is one of the most expensive treatments, but it is also arguably the best treatment. I highly recommend this product for the treatment of mites especially. It is listed as a premise spray, but is approved for spraying directly on the chickens as well. It is a concentrate, so it needs to be diluted according to the directions. So while it does cost quite a bit, you will get a lot of diluted product to use.
Elector PSP is one of the only known lice treatments in which you don’t have to do a second application. This product will kill all of the eggs as well. It is also extremely effective in eliminating the coop of mites. Most people have reported success in using Elector PSP once on their birds and the coop, without reapplication or having to fully clean out the coop.
Herbs and Essential Oils
I want herbs and essential oils to work, I really do. But I’m not convinced. I believe these work more like Diatomaceous Earth, where it is more for prevention than for treating a chicken lice infestation. And if nothing else, they should make the coop smell nice and fresh. I guess I’ll just have to really do some research and try it out myself when my chickens have lice again.
Word is that Wormwood keeps lice and mites away. And lavender, mint, and rosemary naturally repel them. Garlic, added to the chickens’ water, supposedly makes the chickens taste bad to lice and mites. Anise, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg oils reportedly kill lice and mites.
Manna Pro has a product called Poultry Protector that is an all-natural spray that reportedly works very well in the war against chicken lice and mites. Since it uses essential oils, frequent application is necessary. So the cost really adds up. Green Willow Homestead has a DIY recipe for Poultry Protector that looks very intriguing. I might try this one!
If you have a chicken lice infestation, you MAY be able to get away from cleaning out the entire coop. Chicken lice don’t live very long off of their live hosts. However, you should definitely clean off the roost bars (or dust with DE or poultry dust), and clean out the nest boxes thoroughly.
If you have a mite infestation, though, you must clean out the whole coop and dispose of the litter. Hot composting the litter MIGHT reach high enough temperatures to kill the mites, but if you can’t get it hot enough, the litter should be burned, thrown in the trash, or buried.
For a mite infestation, I recommend using a pressure washer to completely wash all the walls and floor of the coop. Use a diluted bleach solution to thoroughly clean the area, and allow to air dry. You might then consider whitewashing the coop. The lime in whitewash helps to repel mites and bugs.
If you have opted to buy Elector PSP, you shouldn’t have to clean out the coop. Simply spray your diluted spray all over the coop, walls, bedding, nest boxes, and roost bars. If you use the deep litter method, you should turn the litter while you are spraying, to ensure you get a fine mist on the majority of the litter.
Chicken lice and mites are inevitable if you have chickens. Don’t blame yourself, it likely has nothing to do with you or your care of them. Lice and mites can be brought in to your flock by wild birds.
While it isn’t an easy job, it is an important job to get rid of lice and mites as soon as you see them. Lice and mites can literally suck the life out of your chickens. They won’t lay as many eggs, they may seem lethargic, they can get anemic, and they could even die from an infestation.
Try to keep wild birds from mingling with your flock. When you get new birds, be sure to quarantine them for 30 days before integrating them with your existing flock. During that quarantine period, make sure to look the new birds over for lice and mites, as well as other potential health issues. If there appears to be an issue, treat them as soon as possible, so you can be certain they are gone before they go in with your other birds.
Chicken lice and mites are probably an issue you will come across a few times in your journey with backyard chickens. But with proper prevention and treatment, you can beat it!
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