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Recognizing and Treating Mites and Poultry Lice

Mites and Poultry Lice

Two of the most common categories of external parasites you're likely to encounter when raising chickens are mites and poultry lice.

Mites are nearly microscopic, but they can sometimes be seen with the naked eye along the shafts of the feathers or on the underside of the roost. Look for scabs or inflammation around the vent area of your chicken as an indicator of mites. Mites like the vent area due to the exposed tender skin and the high levels of moisture. Another sign of mites is the appearance of blotchy spots on birds with light-colored feathers. This is where the mites have left their droppings, which discolor the feathers.

Unlike mites, lice can only live on chickens and their feathers. Since most lice feed on dead skin or feathers, they are typically found on the feather shaft or someplace near the vent. Eggs, also known as nits, can sometimes be seen at the base of the feather shafts, or as you're pulling back feathers near the vent, you will see lice scurrying for cover.

You can help prevent mites and lice outbreaks by regularly cleaning your coop and run, and making sure to remove any loose feathers that could be harboring nits. Provide your chickens with areas for dust baths. Chickens naturally like to take care of their own feathers and skin if given the opportunity.

If you find that one of your birds has mites or lice, you should treat your whole flock immediately. There are a variety of treatments available in the form of powders and sprays. Some people like to use petroleum jelly on scaly leg mites, since it smothers the mites and prevents the eggs from hatching. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions. Whichever you choose, you will typically need to treat each bird individually, making sure to work the medication between the feathers and down to the skin. You'll often have to repeat the treatment two or three times to make sure you've taken care of newly hatched parasites.

Mites and lice are nasty pests, but keeping your coop clean and knowing how to identify mites and lice, if they do occur, will allow you to protect your flock. This helps you all to live more happily and productively.