How To Bathe A Chicken for Mites, Lice and Other Pests


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If you own chickens for poultry or to have fresh eggs at home, the last thing you want is a case of mites, lice, or other pests taking over your coop. If you think that there is a pest problem in your coop, you need to act immediately to treat the pests and prevent them from returning.

Pests can really ruin your chicken’s life, so if you care about their well being or don’t want to risk it spreading to your home, treatment will need to start immediately.

How do you bathe a chicken for mites, lice, and other pests?  Knowing how to bathe a chicken only part of what is needed to eliminate this infestation.  It’s important to understand the following:

  • The symptoms of an infestation
  • How to treat and bathe your chickens
  • Treating the Coop
  • Food additives as preventative measures
  • Different kinds of mites that create different issues
  • Other steps to take for prevention

Following this guide will help to eliminate the infestation.

The reason mite treatment is so important is that these nasty critters are parasitic, which means they’re not merely annoying, they are feeding on your chickens’ blood. Mites cause feather loss, diseases, and discomfort, and potentially even death. If you think pests are taking over your coop, we’re here to give you the information you need to keep your chickens clean and healthy.

How to Bathe a Chicken for Mites, Lice, and Other Pests

These little monsters can wreak havoc on your flock and truly cause damage to your chicken-babies.

Since there are many variations of mites and lice, the solution will differ depending on what kind of pests your chicken has encountered.  Most will look relatively the same and appear as little brownish-red spots on your chickens.

Searching between their feathers, you will see quite quickly if you have a problem. Mites do move quickly and don’t always cluster in one spot, so this alone may not be effective in discovering the pests.

The different types of mites and lice which target poultry are:

  • Red Poultry Mites
  • Northern Fowl Mites
  • Scaly Leg Mites
  • Shaft Louse (Lice)

These pests are a problem because of the side effects that your poultry will experience if infested by mites or lice:

  • Feather loss
  • Anemia
  • Itching
  • Diseases
  • Discomfort
  • Or even death

The steps to bathe a chicken will be about much more than bathing them, so we will take it step-by-step in this article. Warm weather is a common time when mites can descend on your flock, so this is the time to make the effort to look for and treat pests.

The first step in bathing chickens is to Purchase some inexpensive Organic Sulfur Dust – this is the best treatment for mites and has been used for years to combat pest infestations.

Note on Sulfur Dust from Entomology Today.org:

Sulfur dust has been used for decades to control mites on chickens. The sulfur is usually provided to chickens in a “dust bath;” essentially a box of dust, which may contain fine dirt, sand, diatomaceous earth, insecticides, and other powdery substances. The chicken sits in the dust and fluffs it into its feathers to remove parasites — this is a natural chicken behavior. Sulfur dust baths are very effective at controlling northern fowl mites, even for chickens in the same coop that do not use the dust bath. But dust baths may not be practical in larger commercial poultry houses where numerous chickens dust bathing might cause a large amount of sulfur to be kicked up into the air.

For smaller and non-commercial poultry houses, sulfur dust will usually be the way to go, but it will not prevent the mites and lice alone. This is because the pests are constantly laying eggs, and even if you kill the matured adults, you may have a resurgent colony less than a week later.

What Are the Mites and Lice that Affect Poultry?

Mites and lice are usually brought in by another chicken that you didn’t know was infected, which in turn spread the infestation to the entire flock. It can also be spread by wild birds and rodents, so it may have been completely out of your control.

A mite will only live for 5-7 days, which may sound short, except that during this time, each mite may lay over 100,000 eggs! (source) This is why it is so difficult to completely eliminate them because the eggs are constantly hatching just when you think you’ve won the war.

Mites and lice feast on your chickens’ blood and body dander causing disease and even death. You won’t want to eat the meat or eggs from a diseased bird, so the issue should be taken very seriously.

Mites come out at night to feed, while your chickens are vulnerable and sleeping. Mites are like bed bugs, very sneaky in their parasitic technique and will wait for nightfall to feed on blood! For this reason, you will need to check more than just the bird.

Be sure to check:

  • The bird itself
  • The walls of the coop
  • Under the roosts
  • In the bedding
  • In any tight cracks or tight hiding spots they could be burrowed in

Mites like dark and quiet places that they can feel safe in, while the lice stay attached to your bird’s skin.

Symptoms That Your Chickens Have Mites, Lice or Other Pets

Lice Eggs on a Chickens Feather Shaft
Lice Eggs on a Chickens Feather Shaft

If you’re reading this article, you may already be suspicious that something is going on inside the coop.

The symptoms to look out for which indicate you have an infestation are:

  • Restless behavior or running around frantically
  • Weight loss (because they are sucking the nutrients out of your chicken’s body)
  • Redness of the skin or dried blood on their skin
  • Anemia and iron loss
  • Not laying as many eggs or being as productive (“Infestations can lead to a 10-15% reduction in egg production,” according to Entomology Today)
  • If the chickens and hens do not want to go into their coop or are reluctant, this is a sign that something is wrong.
  • Actually seeing the reddish-brown spots of mites on their skin or the white fluffs of lice
  • Whitish crusty deposits at the base of the feather shafts indicate lice

Can They Be Transmitted to My Pet?

Whether or not your chickens can transmit these pests to your pets is a common concern among chicken owners.

According to Backyard Chicken Coops,

“Unfortunately there’s no definite answer as to whether lice or mites will transfer from chickens to other animals.  Evidence suggests that the critters like to hang out on other mammals, so it’s worth checking your pets to see whether they’ve got a mite or lice problem. If they do, look through their bedding and their fur – if you suspect any activity, give them a good dusting and a warm bath.”

Just because there isn’t much information out there on whether these pests will jump from the chicken to your pets, there is plenty of evidence that it is possible for dogs and cats to get mites or lice.

If you think your chicken has transmitted lice to your dog, check out this resource: How to Recognize and Treat Dog Lice.  More information can be found here: Recognizing and Treating Dog Mites.

Although there is little proof of mites jumping off the chickens and into the home, they are very keen on surviving. They will hop from a rug to your clothes to your couch to your dog. They can easily do this, and in my opinion, after extensive research on pests, it’s very plausible that your pets could also be affected.

So if you weren’t concerned about your chickens, maybe your pet’s health or your home’s cleanliness will be a better reason to justify a pest-sweep!

You will always want to give your pets their monthly flea and tick treatment to prevent these bugs from taking over the inside of your home as well.

If you notice your dogs or cats are itching/ you see any bugs – wash all of the bedding every week for about 2 months to be sure no re-infestation occurs.

The Process of Bathing the Chickens and Cleaning the Coop

Chicken lice egg clumps at base of feather shaft.
Chicken lice egg clumps at base of feather shaft.

Now that you understand why mites and lice are incredibly harmful to your coop, here are the signs to look for, symptoms to recognize, and early-detection tips for your pets – and then it’s time to bathe those chickens!

It will not be a bath with water, but a dust bath and home purification.

The process will go as follows:

  • Dust down all of your chickens with Organic Sulfur Dust, diatomaceous-earth, or pestene powder. All of these are harmless but wear a mask to avoid lung irritation.
  • Dust down the chickens themselves (avoiding face and eyes) and massage gently into their feathers if you see a few places they are intensely getting chewed up.
  • If you have a room or secondary coop, it is best to move your chickens there first so you can thoroughly clean the one they currently live in. If your chickens are skittish or don’t respond well to being moved, bribe them with iron-rich treats like spinach to counteract the iron-loss and anemia they have experienced from the mite attacks.
  • Take everything out of the coop to clean it thoroughly.
  • Burn all bedding – don’t just throw out, or they will hop out of the trash can or just be moved to the inside of your house. Burning them is the best method of killing them.
  • If you don’t want to burn them, carefully put all bedding into a plastic bag (carefully because fast movements will cause them all to jump off) and seal the plastic bag. You can throw them away like this (being careful to still keep them outside and not infect your home), or you can kill them with extreme temperatures.

    By this I mean, you can kill them with extreme heat or even extreme cold:
  • To kill by extreme heat, leave the sealed bags of their bedding out in the sun for 4-5 days. The direct sunlight will kill them over time.
  • To kill by extreme cold, leave the sealed bags in your freezer for 4-5 days. This will kill them as well.

I recommend burning for the fastest and most effective method to avoid spreading.

  1. Sprinkle your chosen powder all around the coop, in the cracks, on the bedding bases, and anywhere else you think these mites or lice may be hiding.

These are the main steps, but if your infestation is particularly bad or you simply want to do any and all of the recommended steps, you can take it even further by doing some of the following:

  • You can spray the coop with a high-pressure hose
  • Pour boiling water throughout the coop to kill bugs in the same way burning would while reaching the hard to reach cracks
  • Dust the coop with the powders listed above every few days (once everything is dry)

Now you might think your chickens are safe – but the war on pests is not yet won!

As mentioned, the short life cycle for these pests is really less of a problem than the dumbfounding amount of eggs they can lay in that short life. Therefore, one cleaning will probably not be enough.

You will do this above process of steps every few days for a minimum of 3-4 times (or until you don’t see any more mites or lice in your coop). Treating your coop and the chickens at the same time will be a crucial key for successfully eliminating the mites.

It may take some persistence, but that’s the deal when owning poultry and caring for them properly.

IMPORTANT NOTE – Lice and mites cannot live on humans but do shower afterward in hot water to get everything off of you. This is also to prevent them from jumping off of you and onto your pets.

Treatment for Red Poultry Mites

Val Co advises that:

“Red Poultry Mites are harder to treat because they live primarily in the small cracks in the building. While treating the birds in the same manner is helpful, it doesn’t completely relieve the problem. Some producers have found that heat treatment to the barn after it’s been emptied and cleaned will kill the mites. Treatments (in occupied barns) should be done two to three times, every five to seven days, because they are not known to be effective on mite eggs. By doing the treatments every few days, new mites are eliminated before reaching the egg laying adult stage.”

Therefore – if you have red-poultry mites, the treatment frequency will need to be upped substantially.

Natural Treatment Options for Your Chickens & Coop

If you’re looking for some more natural treatments for your coop, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered!

According to Fresh Eggs Daily, you can treat the chickens with a garlic concoction instead of the powders. The powders should not be harmful, but they are less natural than garlic.

The recipe below has been found, “by poultry scientists in the UK to have a 100% kill rate over 24 hours.” Encouraging news that you can use this as a one-time treatment or for preventative care.

The recipe for Natural Mite Garlic Juice Spray would be something like this:

  • A cup or so of water
  • 1 ounce of Garlic juice
  • essential oils, such as bay, cinnamon, clove, lavender, spearmint or thyme—about a teaspoon of any one of these

To prevent mites in the first place, spray bi-weekly.  But if you think mites are already present, then they’ll need more frequent sprays.  Focus on spraying under the wings as well as around the vents.

 You can also take a tip from this guide on natural preventative herbs, which you can lay around the coop to keep pests at bay.

The herbs that are proven to repel mites are:

  • Chamomile
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Mint
  • Lavender

Pests also hate apple cider vinegar, so adding this to your chicken’s water will keep them from jumping in and infecting the water source with parasites.

Another genius natural remedy which we have to credit to Fresh Eggs Daily is the Coop Mite Spray. Try this as another preventive treatment:

“Coop Mite Spray: Spraying your coop and roosts for several days in a row with a mixture of 2 cups water, 1 cup cooking oil and 1 tablespoon dish washing liquid will help kill off the mites that leave the hens by suffocating them. Shake well before using because the mixture will separate.”

This is another spray that you should spray frequently and regularly.

Top Three Pests That Gravitate Toward Chicken Coops

Since this guide is about all pests that may target your coop, I wanted to mention all of the possibilities so you can be on the lookout for unwanted creatures.

The top three pests that gravitate towards your chicken coops are:

  • Chicken mites – The most prevalent, which we have focused on in this article.
  • Poultry lice – Can lay up to 300 eggs during their three-week lifespan
  • Rats and mice – Not covered yet in this article, rodents love to make a home where they’re not wanted as they are very good at finding shelter. They will not hesitate to take over your chicken’s home and not only invade, but also transmit harmful diseases such as salmonella to your flock.

A tip for preventing rodents is to purchase some rodent traps – these can be placed around your coop to catch them before they enter. Be careful to get the kind that won’t snap on your chicken’s feet and harm them. I would recommend the sticky pads to catch rats and keep an eye on these daily to be sure your chickens aren’t getting caught in any traps not intended for them.

Controlling & Preventing a Pest Problem

Now that you understand the enemy, the process, and treatments, you will want to understand the preventative measures you can take to protect your home and chicken coop.

The easiest way to prevent mites, lice and other pests are:

  • Have a separate dusting area – keep this at least a few feet away from their coop but have an area where you can give your chickens a good dusting bath frequently. Having this conveniently nearby will allow you to clean them more regularly and make maintenance less of a burden.
  • Keep the coop cleaner – no judgment at all here, but the main reason that coops get infestations from rodents and pests is that they are simply not clean enough. If you’ve noticed an ongoing issue of mites, lice, or rats, you need to do better by your chickens or not own a coop at all. Keeping it clean will discourage future infestations so be sure to wash the bedding regularly and keep it sanitary. Also, disinfect dropping boards and do routine checks in the cracks/joints for any pests that could be hiding.
  • Quarantine new additions to the flock – since one of the main ways that these pests get into your coop is through the addition of a new bird that you aren’t aware is infested, keep any new additions separate until they can be examined. Check them thoroughly for lice and mites to avoid introducing an infestation to your healthy coop.
  • Be sure the coop is dry – after a rain, check the next morning that the coop is dry and sealed properly. If it is wet, these are not the proper conditions for your chickens, and pests won’t survive as well in a dry/well-ventilated area.
  • Keep the chickens away from other animals – even squirrels can have lice that bring the bugs into your coop. For this reason, keep them away from other wild animals that could be carrying pests or disease. I realize this is a hard one to keep an eye on constantly as a squirrel will sneakily break into the coop for a bite of food then run back out. but do this to the best of your abilities.
  • Add natural repellents to their bedding – this means mint leaves, lavender, garlic powder, thyme, and chamomile to the chicken’s bedding. This is yet another proven method to deter unwanted guests.
  • Add hemp bedding which will also repel pests. Be sure to change at least twice a month.
  • Spray pesticides – you’ll want to be very sparing with this as it is harmful to the birds. Also, if you are planning to eat these birds as poultry, you don’t want to consume harmful pesticides yourself through the meat-consumption. Spray on the fence and cracks of their home, following all directions on the product. Keep the birds away from the spraying at this time to avoid contamination. This is a more drastic measure, so do not start here.  Only use pesticides if the infestation is not responding well to other treatment options.

Add Iron to Your Chickens’ Diet

You’ll need to combat anemia and iron deficiency from the pests that have fed on your chickens’ blood. You can help your chickens stay healthy by adding the following to their feed:

  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Spinach
  • Dandelion greens
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Beet greens
  • Sweet potato
  • Raisins
  • Oatmeal
  • Cornmeal
  • Molasses
  • Wheat products
  • Seafood (bones out of fish)
  • Cooked poultry (dark… but effective)

All of these additions will add nutrients back to their bodies and aid their weakened immune system.

You can also add garlic cloves to their water and garlic powder in any of their feed (as mentioned above, most pests are repelled by the pungent fragrance of garlic). And of course, garlic is good for your immune system as well as your chickens.

How Many Mites Are On My Chicken?

Since we’ve covered the basics, tips, steps to take, and preventative measures, let’s add a little extra knowledge so you can educate yourself on how severe the problem may be.

Poultry scientist Laura John has found incredible numbers on the severity of your mite infestation. In her article titled, “Chicken Mites and Northern Fowl Mites : controlling infestations,” she says:

“Detecting and monitoring the mite population level is an important factor for effective control. A minimum of 10 randomly selected birds should be examined for mites weekly. Infestation levels can be estimated by blowing on the bird’s feathers and counting the mites that are immediately seen. The following index can be used to estimate mite infestation levels:

  • 5 mites counted = Bird may be carrying from 100 to 300 mites
  • 6 mites counted = Bird may be carrying from 300 to 1,000 mites (light infestation)
  • 7 mites counted = Bird may be carrying from 1,000 to 3,000 mites – small clumps of mites seen on skin and feathers (moderate infestation)
  • 8 mites counted = Bird may be carrying from 3,000 to 10,000 mites – accumulation of mites on skin and feathers (moderate to heavy infestation)
  • 9 mites counted = Bird may be carrying 10,000 to 32,000 or more mites – numerous large clumps of mites seen on skin and feathers; skin pocketed with scabs (heavy infestation)”

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has been useful to you in initiating the war on pests! Here is a parting gift and resource on Common Chicken Health issues and preventing poultry problems.

As the responsible chicken owner that I’m certain you are, your chickens are in good hands. You’ve read this whole article and want to take action. Intention is probably the most important part of the equation because, without that, you have no action.

It may take many cleanings and persistent attention to detail, but with determination on your end, they don’t stand a chance! 

These pests may have won a battle, but they will not win the war!

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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