Chicken lice are an unfortunate fact of life when you raise poultry. No matter how clean you keep your coop and how meticulously you care for your chickens, sooner or later, lice are bound to strike.
Lice tend to find their way to your chickens via wild birds in the area. Like many of the common chicken pests, once they set up shop, they’re going to stick around unless you make the effort to eradicate them.
Through trial and error we’ve come up with this natural chicken lice treatment that truly works, and it’s pretty inexpensive to boot!
How to Identify if your Chickens Have Lice
First off, we need to figure out if indeed, lice are what you’re dealing with on your chickens. Luckily lice are easy to spot, and easy to positively identify.
Unlike other pests that bother backyard flocks such as Northern Fowl Mites, which are hard to see with the naked eye and tend to hide in the coop, Poultry Lice live right on the bird and are big enough to see without any help. Poultry lice feed off your chickens at all hours of the day, living their entire lives right on the bird, and even reproducing on your poor hens.
It’s good to know too, that chicken lice are different from human head lice, although they behave similiarly. Treating your chickens isn’t going to give you lice, but if you have severe infestations of lice you may have them crawling on your hands while you treat your flock.
Symptoms of an infestation:
- Egg production is down inexplicably
- Chicken comb and wattles are pale
- Chickens have been seen itching and biting at their feathers frequently
- Feather loss around the vent area
Where to look for lice:
Look for lice around the vent area and under the wings of your chickens. It’s a good idea to check the entire flock for lice every few months so you can get rid of them before you have a lice infestation.
Lice are straw colored, flat insects that look a little bit like sesame seeds. If your chickens have them, you’ll see them running for cover as soon as you part the feathers around the vent area of each bird.
You may not see actual lice, but may instead see nits, which are clusters of lice eggs on the feathers. They look like white or gray bumps around the base of the feathers, where it connects to the bird.
You may only see a few lice and nits, or if you have a severe infestation, you may see tons of them. Either way, you’ll need to start treating your entire flock right away to get rid of this pesky pest.
What if you don’t find any lice?
No lice to be found? That’s good news!
You’ll still want to take preventative measures to keep lice and other common external parasites from ever becoming a problem. The best way to do this is to set up a simple dust bath outside for your birds to use. Dust bathing is a natural preventative your birds use to keep them pest free!
Why treat chickens for lice naturally?
There are loads of chemical treatments on the market, so why not use those?
The way you go about treating your chickens for lice is entirely up to you, but we tend to lean toward natural cures as much as possible for many reasons. We’ve found this natural way to be an effective treatment for lice, and doesn’t contribute to any negative health issues for the flock or for you.
It’s healthier for the chickens to not be exposed to chemicals.
Pesticides aren’t good for your flock’s health, they contain all sorts of toxins that may not outright kill your birds, but certainly aren’t building good health.
It’s healthier for you too.
Anytime you’re treating your flock for pests, you’re going to come into direct contact with the substances you use. Pesticides aren’t good for your flock and they aren’t good for your health either.
You can still eat their eggs.
If you treat your chickens with chemical pesticides you’ll need to abstain from eating their eggs for several weeks so the pesticides aren’t contaminating your food. If you choose to go with a natural treatment, however, you can continue eating their eggs.
This natural treatment is considerably less expensive than any chemical treatments on the market.
Natural Chicken Lice Treatment
Supplies to Treat Chicken Lice
- A shallow box or bin
- A dust mask or respirator
- Safety Goggles
- Lice infested chickens
- 1 bag Diatomaceous Earth
- 1 can wood ash
Wood ash can be sourced from a fire pit or wood stove. Any wood ash will work, as long as it hasn’t gotten wet and is completely cooled. It’s okay if it still has a few chunks of charcoal in it, there’s no need to be too picky.
The safety goggles and dust mask are for your protection. There will be dust flying everywhere, and believe me, you don’t want to inhale it or get it in your eyes. Please be careful when conducting this natural chicken lice treatment!
Diatomaceous Earth is a naturally occurring powder that kills and prevents small insect pests. You can find it online or in stores like Lowes, Tractor Supply, or Runnings. We like to buy food grade DE to use for this natural treatment.
Step 1: Mix the Poultry Dust
Make sure you’re wearing a dust mask and goggles to protect yourself.
Start off in a well ventilated area close to the chicken coop. We like to dust the chickens in the chicken run, because there’s plenty of fresh air and it’s fenced in, so there’s no risk of chickens escaping.
Don’t try to dust your chickens inside the chicken coop, the dust will linger in the air for hours in there, making it hard for your chickens to breathe fresh air.
Carefully pour the diatomaceous earth and wood ash into your bin or box. You need these to go into the box in equal parts but there’s no need to measure, this isn’t exactly rocket science!
Stir the wood ash and DE to combine, being careful not to disturb it too much or it will go airborne.
Step 2: Dust the Chicken
This step is much easier with a partner. Chickens magically develop super strength when they’re stressed out, and this step absolutely will stress them out. It’s tough to hold the chicken and dust her at the same time, if you can find some poor sucker who’s willing to help with this step, do so!
Gather one chicken at a time and bring them to the dust filled bin. Hold the chicken’s wings against her body and put her head under your arm. Putting the hen’s head under your arm will make her feel calmer and you’ll be less likely to get frantic flapping chicken wings in your face. Give the hen a few moments to calm down in this position before you move forward.
Starting with the vent, dust the chicken generously with the DE/wood ash mixture. Hold the chicken over the box while you do this, so any excess dust falls back into the box.
The hen does not need to be in the box, and it’s probably better if she isn’t because if her feet touch solid ground she’ll no doubt use that against you to try to escape.
To dust the chicken, just take handfuls of the mixture and press it right up against the skin, then use your fingers in a raking motion to spread it out along the feathers. Pay particular attention to any areas you’ve seen live lice or nits as that’s where they’re most likely to congregate.
Next dust under the chicken’s wings, along her abdomen, and across her back. There’s no need to get the dust all up her neck or around her face, you want to keep as much as this out of her lungs as possible so focus mostly on the body. While dusting make sure to ruffle the feathers so the dust gets on the chicken’s skin as much as possible.
When you’ve finished dusting the bird, gently set her down, she’ll shake off the excess dust and you can move on to the next one.
You’ll need to dust every single bird in your flock for this natural treatment to be successful. Even if you don’t find lice on some birds, if one chicken has lice, the others do too, or they will soon. Best to cover all your bases and treat the whole flock.
Step 3: Repeat to Eliminate Successive Hatchings
The previous step helped to kill the adult lice that were already on your hens, but guess what? Before you killed them, those lice laid eggs, and those eggs are going to hatch into new lice. The entire life cycle of lice unfortunately extends past the living ones on the birds, and you’ll need to eradicate the newly hatched lice too.
If you look carefully at your chickens feathers you may see the eggs, they’ll appear as a white cluster around the feather shaft. Unfortunately there’s no easy way to kill chicken lice eggs, so you’ll have to wait until they hatch and then wreak havoc on them.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 once every week until there are no more signs of lice on your chickens.
This usually takes 2-3 weeks of treatments. I know it’s a disgusting job and no one wants to do it, but if you don’t keep up with the treatment of lice every week the lice life cycle will never end.
To prevent future outbreaks of chicken lice, you’ll need to help your chickens do what they do best, take dust baths!
The easiest way to help your chickens prevent pests is to set up a dust bath that they can use whenever they want. In nature and when free ranging, chickens take dust baths every day to help them shed dead skin and feathers as well as get insects off of them.
Set up a dust bin/box in the chicken run with equal parts wood ash, Diatomaceous Earth, and soil or sand. Cover the dust bathing area to protect it from rain, wood ash and rain don’t mix well! Having a dust bathing area available will encourage your chickens to bathe more often, which will help keep lice from ever becoming a problem again.
You will also want to make monthly flock inspections of each chicken a part of your routine so that if chicken lice ever come around again, you can eradicate them early.
Treat Chicken Pests in Your Flock
Pests are a sad reality of owning chickens. Here are some common pests and what you can to do banish them from your flock.