Chicken Bugs and the Problems They Cause

Chicken Bugs or parasites can cause many problems in your backyard flock. Mites, lice and even poultry fleas are common pests in chicken flocks that attach to the feathers, skin and leg scales.

Some mites live in the coop and feed on the blood of chickens while they sleep at night while others feed constantly and breed under the leg scales of chickens.

Lice live on the feathers creating egg clusters, that we can see, often near the vent or neck, places chickens can’t reach easily. Poultry fleas are unlike common fleas that bother cats, dogs, and wild animals like squirrels, raccoons, rats and others.

Some parasites live on chickens and drop their eggs into the chicken environment. Therefore, it’s important to treat the coop and not just the chicken.

Coops made of wood with wood shavings on the floor can create an ideal breeding ground for chicken bugs, if not cleaned and treated regularly and if adult parasites are present.

Let’s talk about different treatment products: Due to the non-organic nature of most products used to treat these pesky bugs, I prefer not to use chemical treatments unless I know there is a problem; any chemical treatments instruct us not to use the meat or eggs from treated chickens for a certain time.

For serious infestations, sometimes the strongest chemical product is worth it to help an animal quickly. Some medications can be injected to kill blood-sucking parasites and others applied on the outside of the animal.

Kill Bugs the Natural Way

There are natural products that kill and deter chicken bugs, on the chickens and in the coop. I like to use Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth or DE. 

DE is a fine powder made up of fossilized algae. Due to the fine dust-like particles DE kills many types of bugs by clogging airways or digestive tracts and dehydrating their eggs. As a naturally occurring mineralized product it has several health benefits and uses. 

In the digestive tract it can correct diarrhea or constipation, provide trace minerals, as well as killing intestinal parasites. It’s safe for humans and nearly all animals, so no need not to use eggs or meat during and after treatments.

I believe, from experience, that chicken bugs can be prevented or killed without using toxic chemicals. Make sure you purchase Food Grade DE, the most natural safe form, free of any additives. (Garden stores sell a chemical form of DE, not food grade.)

After cleaning the coop I sprinkle DE on floor and into fresh shavings. This can help destroy any parasite eggs that might be present and dust the chicken's legs and underbellies.

I also sprinkle DE into the dust baths my chickens make in the yard. Any DE the chickens may swallow preening or scratching through shavings will be beneficial, definitely not harmful.

Pyrethrin products are made from chrysanthemum flowers and in proper dilutions are usually side effect free allowing for dipping or spraying chickens and spraying the coop for chicken bugs and their eggs.

The mites that live in wooden perches, cracks and spaces between, creep out at night and feed on chicken blood by biting them. This can be a stressful and annoying problem for chickens trying to get a good night’s sleep.

A good cleaning of the coop monthly and spraying or treating with powdered products can help break down the life and reproductive cycle of these bugs that can positively affect the lives and health of your chickens. Always make sure you understand and follow directions and precautions when using chemicals or medications for chickens.

Most of these bugs are host specific, meaning they can only live on certain animals and often cannot be transferred to or live on people. Chicken bugs like: lice, some mites and poultry fleas usually are on skin and feathers and are easily transmitted from chicken to chicken.

Since your rooster comes in contact with all your hens, it’s important that he, most of all, be free of bugs. You could treat him with medications you might not want to use for your laying hens. You should check your chickens twice a month for lice and other bugs and keep products on hand, possibly an isolation cage, in case you find any infested chickens. With lice, often a good dip or bath and removing feathers with lice egg clusters, will speed up getting rid of the problem.

Mites are the smallest of the chicken bugs. When present you might be able to see very small dark moving specks. Having a pair of high power reading glasses or magnifying glass in your chicken first aid kit, and a good flashlight can help. Having someone hold the chicken while you inspect it is a big help.

Some mites are often found under the wings next to soft feathers, under and above the vent, and in the crest and beard of chickens. Scaley leg mites are rarely seen, but the evidence is clear, once you know what you’re looking for.

Scaley leg mites live under the leg scales of chickens. They burrow in; suck blood, breed and lay eggs. Often what people might mistake for an old chicken with rough flaky legs, is actually infested with these invisible chicken bugs.

Where lice are species or host specific, some mites can move from species to species and survive 34 weeks of starvation.

If you would like Sharon our chicken expert to answer any question about chickens use the box below.

Chicken Bug Questions


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