Chicken Parasites: Keeping the Critters Away From Your Flock

There are two types of chicken parasites that can affect your flock when raising chickens. They include internal and external parasites. Internal invade the internal organs of your birds, while external stay on the outside of the bird. The two common external, include groups of insects and mites. The internal fall into two groups as well. The two groups are protozoa and worms.


External:

Insects: Insects are distinguished by their three part bodies and three pair of legs attached to their middle part. Common annoying ones for us and our birds include: bugs, fleas, flies, and lice. They do not spend their entire lives on the birds, so they give us a good chance to eliminate them while they hide out in the dark corners of our buildings.

Here are the most common types of insects(chicken parasites) that can affect your flock by group:

  • Bugs: poultry bug or "Mexican chicken bug," bedbugs.

  • Fleas: European chick flea, western hen flea

  • Flies: Biting Flies (blackflies, biting gnats), Filth Flies (common house fly)

  • Mosquitoes: several mosquito species transmit poultry diseases (Aedes and Culex)

  • Lice: blood sucking and chewing: Head louse, body louse, shaft louse, fluff louse.

  • Mites:
  • Mites are usually quite small, some are even microscopic. Most mites spend a lot of time off the bird and are spread on equipment and people. Some remain on the chicken's skin while others burrow in feathers. Mite infestation can cause numerous problems including increased bird stress through irritation, low egg-production, and sometimes even death.

    Here are the most common types of mites that can effect your flock by group:

  • Red Mites: also called the chicken mite.

  • Fowl Mites: northern fowl mite, tropical fowl mite.

  • Skin Mites: scaly leg mite, scaly skin mite.

  • Feather Mites: quill mite, others.

  • Internal Mites:
  • Sometimes mites make their way inside the chickens body. Cyst Mite, air sac mite.

  • Chigger Mites: also called "jiggers," "harvest mites," and red bugs.

  • Soft Ticks: also called "fowl tick," "adobe tick," "blue tick," or "chicken tick."

  • Hard Ticks: Lone Star Tick, Gulf Coast Tick.

  • How do we control these chicken parasites?

    Keep in mind that not all of these chicken parasites are prevalent in all areas of the country. Wherever you reside, you will quickly come to know the ones that infect your area.

    In the U.S., you can also contact your local county extension agent, to see which mites are common for your area.

    Most chicken parasites can be controlled by good management practice, such as giving your housing a thorough cleaning. Once the parasite invasion has begun, sometimes the only method to rid your chicken coop of these guys is a pesticide. You can do this with an individual application or treatment of the entire flock.

    Note: Which ever method you choose to eliminate chicken parasites, keep in mind that the approved list of pesticides is short and that you can inflict a lot of damage to your flock and yourself using these chemicals. Please check with you local extension agent or a poultry specialist for details before you begin a treatment.

    There are also some safe and natural ways to prevent and kill existing chicken parasites.

    Some of these include:

    Pyrethrum: It is a fairly safe natural pesticide. It is a plant extract that is relatively non-toxic to humans and birds alike, but is highly toxic to the insects. You can spray this in cracks and crevices to prevent insects, as well as be used in a powdered form to put directly on the birds.

    Dog dip/shampoo: Yes, if you have a small flock it wouldn't be inappropriate to bath them with flea / tick shampoo. On a warm day wash each bird in warm water, soaking the bird thoroughly and working a good lather among the feathers. Then rinse each bird at least twice with warm water. Pat feathers dry with a towel.

    Internal:

    The internal fall into two major categories which include both worms and protozoa.

    Worms: Worms can also be divided into two different kinds that can effect your chickens. The two kinds are roundworms and flatworms. Under good management, worms and chickens can actually co-exist fairly well. Through gradual exposure to worms, chickens can actually develop a resistance. When these parasites are overloaded is when the natural resistance cannot exist and disease takes place.

    Controlling Worms: If you only try to control worms by dishing out medication, you will have an expensive and never-ending process. Parasitic worms can usually develop resistance to medications, however they can be effectively taken care of by good management practices.

    Here are some good management methods that will help control chicken parasites:

  • Good sanitation

  • eliminate intermediate hosts (such as grasshopper, earthworm, etc., that have ingested worm eggs expelled by infected chickens)

  • rotate the range of free-range birds

  • avoid mixing chickens of different ages

  • don't raise turkeys with chickens

  • Most worms spend a good part of their life away from a chicken's body. Some things you can do to keep the worms out is to not let chickens pick in their own droppings. This will keep them from being re-ingested. Most chickens can tolerate a certain amount of pests. You only need to worm if it is causing the chickens to look scrawny and is beginning to affect the health of the chicken, and once again, check with the experts before you decide to use a wormer.

    Protozoa:

    Protozoa are single-celled organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. Under a microscope they look almost round. Most protozoa are harmless, but some are parasites that can cause disease. The two main phyla of protozoa that affect chickens are Apicomplexa and Sarcomastigophora. Included in them are several types that can cause serious diseases,but lucky for our part of the world, most of those are very rare or not found at all in North America. That being the case I will list these names, but we will not take a full look.

    Dangerous protozoa for chickens:

    Coccidiosis:Irritates the intestines of young birds and prevents the absorption of nutrients and cause slow growth and diarrhea.

    Histomoniasis: This is commonly known as "blackhead." This is serious in turkeys, but chickens are usually okay.

    Taxoplasmosis: A disease of the central nervous system.

    Trichomoniasis: Causes a mouth and throat disease known as "canker."

    Blood Parasites: Most of these are not common in North America. Transferred by blackflies and mosquitoes.

    Keep in mind that good management practices are the best way to control chicken parasites and diseases. Designing and building a coop that is easy to clean, can make raising chickens much easier.


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