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July 12, 2013

Backyard Chickens and Fleas

Photo Credit: Microscopic view
Did you know that like our family dogs and cats even chickens can get fleas?  Summertime is the height of flea season. Chicken fleas are not as common as mites and poultry lice, but they can cause many problems for your flock. Chicken fleas can cause irritation and restlessness. But far worse, they can cause malnutrition, anemia, decrease egg production and lead to your chickens not feeling well overall.  This article will discuss three types of fleas that affect chickens-the European Chicken Flea, the Western Chicken Flea and the Sticktight Flea.  The types of fleas that can affect your flock are determined by where you live.

The European chicken flea can be found throughout the United States. It is the most common flea that affects chickens in our country. This flea is on the chickens for a limited time only to feed. Otherwise, you can find it in the litter.  If the flea population is large enough in your flock, it can spread to affect other breeds of birds, pets and people living near and interacting with the flock.

The Western Chicken Flea, also known as the Black Hen Flea, is a flea that is predominantly isolated to the Pacific Northwest. This flea is only occasionally found on the chickens, instead preferring to live among the droppings.

The Sticktight flea is common in tropical and warmer climates. It does not move yet attaches itself to the head and vent area of the chicken.  The female flea with forcibly ejects her eggs into the litter.  The worst part is that the tick larvae thrives in well drained sandy litter!  These fleas can cause blindness from sores near the eyes as this is where the prefer to live on the host chicken.

Photo Credit: Flea eggs
Prevention

Hygiene- Keep a tidy coop and run. Have you noticed that this is always comes up in chicken keeping practices? Please do not under rate the importance of regularly cleaning out your coop and run and replacing soiled bedding with clean bedding in the coop and nesting boxes. When doing so, always look for small tiny pests, especially in the corners and in the nesting boxes.

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (FGDE)- Try sprinkling a thin layer on your coop floor, in the nesting boxes and rubbing it along the roosts.  You can also dust your flock with FGDE too- paying close attention to under the wings and their fluffy bottoms. Please read more about FGDE here before using it for the first time in your flock.

Garlic-Adding a clove or two to their drinking water as well as adding up to 3% garlic powder to their feed can deter fleas. However, there is a possibility that using garlic can cause Heinz Anemia in poultry as it is in the onion family.

Apple Cider Vinegar-spraying a bit on your flock's feathers can help repel fleas and other biting insects

Aromatherapy- Certain herbs, such as mint, are also known to repel fleas.  Try planting these herbs around the chicken coop and drying them for later use.  You can harvest them, dry them and sprinkle them in the coop too!

Poultry Protector-Spray coop, nesting boxes and roosts once the coop is cleaned out.  Let it dry, add the FGDE, then apply clean shavings.

Treatment

There are many treatments and techniques on the market for chicken fleas.  You may find that you have to use a combination of a few to eradicate the fleas. Also be sure to check out the reference list below. You might also find some helpful information in those articles as well.

Step 1: Remove all the chicken from the coop and lock them out into the run.  They cannot return into the coop until they are treated themselves

Step 2: Clean out the entire coop, remove all the bedding and sweep out the cobwebs from the rafters. Discard the bedding. Do not add it to the compost pile. Do not toss it into the run. Some people burn it!
  • Scrub the coop clean with either a water and vinegar solution, a commercial coop cleaner, or a 10% water and bleach solution.  
  • If you can remove the roosts, scrub them down outside and allow them to dry in the sun.
  • Wait until the coop is entirely dry. While you wait for things to dry, treat the flock.
It is very important that you educate yourself about any treatments and their drawbacks prior to using them on your flock. This is especially important if you are consuming their eggs or meat.  Know that from the time this article was written to when you are reading it, precautions, uses and indications of certain treatments can change. Also, just because commercial livestock corporation use these chemicals, you should not use them blindly. Please research current practices prior to using any of these techniques in your own flock. Always use the safest options with the least possible side-effects first.

Step 3: Dust the coop with the product of your choice. Some of these chemicals' availability may vary from state to state. Follow all directions on the packaging and wear gloves. Natural techniques are italcised.
  • Food grade diatomaceous earth- natural technique, no egg or meat withdrawal period
  • Poultry Protector-can be applied directly to chickens, no egg or meat withdrawal period
  • Permethrin- Click here for use.  One study did show that after application on poultry, Permethrin was still detected in the eggs at 21 days and at 42 days for meat, so do use caution and enforce an egg and meat withdrawal periods for you own safety.
  • Carbaryl (Sevin Garden Dust)- Click here for directions. Do not use 10% on poultry. Should not be used in nesting boxes. UPDATE: As of spring 2013 its use on animals has been revoked.
  • Coumaphos- Click here for more information.
  • Malathion-avoid waterers, feed troughs, do not apply to birds. Click here for directions.
  • Rabon- Click here for more information
  • Boric Acid- NOT recommended.  Read why here.
Step 4: Treat the flock. Apply the treatment of your choice directly to every bird in your flock. Pay close attention to under their wings and their fluffy bottoms.  Follow all directions and safety precautions on the packaging.  Wear gloves.
  • Food grade diatomaceous earth-natural, no egg or meat withdrawal period
  • Apple Cider Vinegar-Avoiding the head and eyes, you can try spraying your flock with apple cider vinegar.no egg or meat withdrawal period
  • Brewer's Yeast- mixed information available, yet might be worth a try. no egg or meat withdrawal period
  • Tweezers-gently remove sticktight fleas. Apply an antibiotic ointment after removal.
  • Olive Oil-smother sticktight fleas on the wattles and combs by applying olive oil twice daily for two weeks.
  • Ravap- Click here for directions. Egg or meat withdrawal period unavailable.
  • Rabon- See above. Egg or meat withdrawal period unavailable.
  • Carbaryl- see above. Egg or meat withdrawal period unavailable.
  • Permethrin-see above.  
After treating your flock be sure to remove your shoes prior to entering the house. Wash your hands thoroughly, take a shower, and put on a clean set of clothes. Wash your clothing right away.

It is very important that you repeat the entire process of deep cleaning the coop and re-dusting the flock once again 10 to 14 days later. Sometimes the process needs to be done a third time in order to break the fleas' life cycle.

References:
http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/poultry/ectoparasites/fleas_of_poultry.html
http://www.uky.edu/Ag/PAT/recs/livestk/recpou/poulic.htm
http://ohioline.osu.edu/vme-fact/0019.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1786007

9 comments:

  1. Thank you Melissa...for all the detailed information. Your knowledge and education is such a help! Our chickens thank you too!

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  2. Yikes, I never really thought of fleas getting on my chickens! I cleaned the coop out not too long ago, but I need to add some more DE I think. I also will try adding a crushed garlic clove to their water - thanks for the tips!

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  3. Thank you for the information, poor chicks, they get it from all sides don't they!
    I have not seen any skin/pest problems with my flock of 12 but know they can start at any time. My problem is that I use deep litter for the coop so getting rid of it is counter productive. Using deep litter so the good stuff keeps the bad stuff in check would be ruined if I use DE in it, I don't know if deep litter can kill fleas so I guess I will have to wait and see.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your comment Roberta. I would be very interested in learning more about keeping pests at bay with the deep litter method. If you have any info, would you mind sending me an email: melissa@tillysnest.com Thank you!

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  4. This is a good reminder for everyone. I've been so busy I haven't really checked recently. Fortunately, I do have a big bag of food grad DE on hand that I use in my dust bath mixture. Time to get the bag out. Thanks for the posting -Mark

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  5. "Sticktight Fleas."
    Good grief. I wish this wasn't "exactly what I was looking for!"
    Thank you. By the way, I hadn't thought of the olive oil, but I am having success
    with great glopping slatherings of Vaseline.

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    Replies
    1. You can also pick up Waxelene (near the Vaseline at your local drug store). It's made from all natural products including beeswax and essential oils. Good luck!

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    2. Learning new things, every day! Thank you~

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  6. On this topic DE works but if they start ingesting too much that can lead to health problems & stress. It dries them out internally. DE is ok in small amts. but remember it is a fossil & its like little razors. It dries & cuts bugs.

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Thank you so much for your comments. I love hearing from you!