Backyard Chickens and Lice

April 9, 2012

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
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 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.
Photo Credits:  See links under photos


Author/Blogger/Freelancer-Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.



23 thoughts on “Backyard Chickens and Lice”

  1. I've read that you shouldn't use Sevin dust – it's clearly marked as being poisonous to domestic animals, and I would be afraid to eat any eggs after dusting my girls wit it. If you do choose to do it, make sure it's 5% and not 10%.

    Poutltry Protector is a spray and so it's easier to apply. You can also use dog or cat flea and tick powder containing permethrine.

    So glad my girls don't have these! *crossing fingers*

    • Personally, I have never used the Sevin Dust but many chicken keepers do use it for mites, lice and other parasites. The food grade DE and Poultry Protector are all that we have ever needed to keep these nasty ones at bay. Great points. Thank you for adding them!

  2. Enjoying your blog 😀 I too am a chicken owner for the past 6 years and have a been a memeber on BYC for that long as well. Glad to see you have current posts and enjoying all your pictures and information 🙂 You can check out my new blog at just got my new crew in and just had to blog about them 😀 Had to post anonymous because i'm not using my home computer with all my info attached.

  3. Thank you for the information and photos! Love your website and FB postings. Please tell me where to view your Chicken of the Day photos? Thanks again…

  4. Sunday we covered Tody in diatomaceous earth (shake and bake method) and then recoated under her wongs, around her neck and other hard to reach places … I noticed yesterday (Monday) that she still had some crawling.

    How long will or should it take to work (kill those buggers!) … or should I retreat her?

    My plan was to retreat her and the flock (and coop) in about a week …

    • It takes a few days for the lice/mites to go away, Remember that the DE works by slicing into their exoskeletons and dehydrating them so it make take a couple of days to work. Be sure to clean out the coop very well, dust that too. Then retreat Tody in a few days again and then at the 1 week interval.

    • We did just that! We dusted Tody (and the chicks) 3x now, 1 week apart (we cleaned and dusted the bedding, nooks and crannies, too!). The chicks (thankfully) haven't had any signs of lice, but Tody's have been hard to get rid of. The last time I dusted her I only saw a few lice running around.

      She absolutely LOVES to be dusted. She's fallen asleep each time. In fact, the first time she was in my arms, I trimmed back her head feathers (crest?). She's a mottled houdans and had a hard time seeing anything. She seems SO MUCH HAPPIER now with her new MOHAWK 🙂

      Hopefully, we will be rid of the lice soon! We are building a large coop and hope to add tot he flock soon.

  5. I just found LICE on two of my favorite chickens! Ack! I'm soooo upset with myself for not checking them often enough. I'm not going to sleep very well tonight, and I'm going to be the first customer tomorrow at the feed store! I dusted their fluffy little bums with some DE for now. Here are my questions:
    Why do I need to clean out the coop and run if the lice can't live off of the host animal?
    Does the Poultry Protector Spray kill existing lice and the nits, or is it just a preventative?
    How do I clean the run if it has an all dirt floor?
    Have your birds had any respiratory issues from using DE?
    By the way, thanks for your great blog. *SIGH* It's official. My skin is crawling….ohhh my poor little birds!
    Thanks for your great blog.

    Heather Z.

  6. Hey all.. Were new to chickens also and been reading up on lice/mites and somewhere i read you can put garlic juice in their water and its suppossed to keep the bugs off them… How true that is i dont know so if anyone has had exp with that id like to hear… Id prefer to treat without an insecticide..thanks for any more advice and i really appreciate this post Tilly's

    • Adding garlic powder up to 3% to their feed can help to combat pests such as mites and lice. It can also help as a natural wormer according to Clemson University. I hope this helps.

  7. I have to agree with the above comment… you write very informative posts. Your blog has everything I like:
    discovery of something new accurate and research-based information, and thorough and careful explanations.

  8. Years ago we had some pullets get heavily infested. I filled a bowl with sevin and gave each one a little bath in it one had such immediate relief he literally laid down in the bowl.

    • Yes, Sevin works well, but now, it is no longer advised to use in poultry as it has been deemed unsafe. There are other techniques that are safer for you and your flock. I always encourage chicken keepers to find out what works best for them and their chicken keeping lifestyle.


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.