How to treat chicken lice

Written by deannab
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Even with the best of care, you may find an infestation of lice in your backyard flock. Body lice, shaft lice, and head lice will irritate your chickens, cause a drop in laying, and will negatively affect their fertility. Signs of chicken lice include tan or transparent insects on your chicken's skin, especially under the wings, on the tail, around the vent, on the back, or on the breast; or clusters of nits (louse eggs) at the base of the feather shafts. Though chicken lice can't live on humans, they are very contagious; if you find them on one chicken, you'll need to treat your entire flock. And because insecticides don't kill the nits, you'll need to repeat the treatment two or three times before you can be sure they are gone.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Bottle of 55% malathion spray
  • Tablespoon measure
  • Water
  • Squirt bottle
  • Tub of food-grade diatomaceous earth
  • Sieve or flour sifter

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  1. 1

    Remove all floor litter, roosts, and nesting material as soon as you spot lice on your chickens. Replace the roosts with clean roosts.

  2. 2

    Measure four tablespoons of 55% malathion spray per gallon of water and pour into squirt bottle.

  3. 3

    Apply generous amounts of the malathion mixture to the bases of walls, the clean roosts, the empty nests, the floor, and the ground around the chicken coop. Do not contaminate food or water sources.

  4. 4

    Replace nestbox hay and floor shavings with fresh material.

  5. 5

    Use your sieve or flour sifter to sprinkle diatomaceous earth into the chicken's feathers. You may also apply it to the chicken coop perimeter, mixed in alternating layers with the hay in nestboxes, or add a small amount to the chickens' dusting area.

  6. 6

    Wait seven days, then repeat. You may have to repeat this process two or three times before their life cycle is broken.

Tips and warnings

  • Diatomaceous earth (DE) works because the sharp edges of the fossilised diatoms make microscopic slices through the fleas' exoskeletons. Then, because it is a desiccant, it dehydrates the parasites. Because it is a mechanical treatment rather than a chemical process, they do not build up immunity to DE, and it does not need to be rotated with other treatments. But it must be reapplied after the ground has dried from a rainstorm.
  • If you scatter diatomaceous earth by hand, wear rubber or plastic gloves to keep your skin from getting too dry. Try using a scoop instead.
  • Calculate how much space you have per chicken. If each chicken has less than five square feet of space, you need to have fewer chickens or more space in your coop. Ten square feet of space per bird is optimal. If your chickens live too closely together, pests are more likely to present a problem no matter how many times you get rid of them.
  • Diatomaceous earth can be harmful if inhaled. Do not apply on a windy day or around small chicks. Wear a face mask for extra protection.
  • Malathion belongs to the same chemical class as tear gas and sarin, so take care to not contaminate your chickens' food or water with it, and be sure not to use the tablespoon that came in contact with it for anything else.
  • Non-food grade diatomaceous earth, used for filtering and often referred to as "pool grade," is carcinogenic. Do not use anything but food grade diatomaceous earth, which will be labelled as "Chemical Codex Food Grade."

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