Chickens Coop Care Health Issues

Backyard Chickens and Lice

I got an email from my daughter’s preschool that a child there was discovered to have head lice.  Of course, the typical parent paranoia set in from those of us whose children were not affected….yet.  The girls were required to go to school with their longer hair braided.  They were corralled at the door and their heads were searched for hidden parasites.  Of course, all these precautions paid off, there have been no further cases.  This got me thinking.  Did you know that chickens can have lice too?  Thank goodness people cannot catch poultry lice but I still get the heebie jeebies just thinking about them.

There are many variations of poultry lice found around the country yet they all have these identifying characteristics in common.  When identifying lice on chickens, these include:
They are 2-3 millimeters in size.
They have light brown bodies.
Move quickly
Lay white eggs
The absence of wings
Six legs
Flattened bodies, think pancakes
Round heads
Active in the daytime
Only live on the host
Mouth parts that chew
They do not suck blood.
Lice on chickens
Poultry Lice Eggs
Lice on Chickens
Poultry Lice
Poultry lice spend their entire lives on the body of the chicken.  Lice on chickens cannot survive without remaining on the host.  When looking for them, they prefer hanging out near the vent, but can be found under the wings and on the head as well.  Sometime, you will discover the eggs first.  Where the skin meets the feathers, you will see tiny clumped little white eggs at the base.  Poultry lice can be seen walking around on the skin of the chicken as they feast on dead skin, feathers and scabs.  They will not suck blood but do ingest blood from irritated raw areas of the skin.  This behavior is very irritating to affected chickens and in severe cases be fatal.
Chickens that have poultry lice can show an assortment of symptoms that are similar to a mite infestation and include:
weight loss
decreased appetite
drop in egg production
feather loss around areas of infestation
feathers that have an appearance as though they have been eaten by a moth
irritated inflamed raw skin initially near the vent
Prevention
1.  Sanitation.  Keep the coop and run clean and prevent overcrowding in your flock.  Here is how we clean our coop.
2.  Inspections.  Inspect your chickens at least every 1-2 weeks for the presence of lice or mites.
3.  Take preventative measures.  Add food grade diatomaceous earth to your coop and nesting box bedding.  Add it to the dust bathing areas too to kill lice on chickens directly.
4. Quarantine and inspect any new birds that you are adding to your flock for at least 2 weeks. Treat them if necessary.
4.  Prevent wild birds from nesting in or near your coop and run.
Treatment of Lice on Chickens
1.  Clean.  Thoroughly clean your entire coop and run and add food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to all the bedding.
2.  Treat.  Dust each flock member with DE or a garden dust such as Sevin-5%. I have no personal experiences with Sevin but many on backyardchickens.com swear by it. Older labels deemed it safe for pets and now that information has been removed from current labeling. As there are alternatives, I would try other methods prior to using Sevin dust.  Permethrin ( there is an egg with drawl period with its use) is also available as well as Manna Pro’s Poultry Protector.  Cover your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the dust products and also avoid the head of your chicken.  I prefer the DE and Poultry Protector as they are safe to use around the flock’s food and water.
3.  Re-treat.  The life cycle of poultry lice is two weeks.  Mark your calendar and repeat steps 1 and 2 to ensure that you have eradicated the lice.
4.  Prevention.  Take preventative steps as mentioned above for the future.
References/Resources
Photo Credits:  See links under photos

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