The Quick-fire Guide to Treating Poultry Mites and Lice

The quick-fire guide to treating mites and lice

Senior Editor • Backyard Chicken Coops

Last Updated: 16 December 2016

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Big things come in small packages; and for mites and lice, those big things mean big problems . These micro-monsters can wreak havoc on your flock, leaving them weakened and susceptible to all sorts of nasty diseases. A serious infestation can even be deadly. So act fast—this could be an emergency!

How do I know if I have an infestation?

There are many different varieties of mites and lice (you can read more about them in this article), but most of them match the same basic description: skittery little critters roaming around your chookies’ feathers, feasting on their blood or dander! No matter what variety of skin-crawlers you’ve got on your hands, the treatment is the same. So read on!

The one exception are scaly leg mites , but fortunately, the name speaks for itself. If your chook’s leg scales are visibly lifting, start slathering petroleum jelly over their legs to suffocate the mites living there. After two weeks, you can stop worrying, but expect to wait for as many as 12 months for the legs to heal completely.

How do I treat mites and lice?

  1. Immediately dust all of your chickens thoroughly with diatomaceous earth, or Pestene powder (both available in our hen health kit). Both of these are harmless to chooks, but you should wear a dust-mask to avoid irritating your lungs.
  2. If you have a secondary coop or chicken tractor, move your chooks there while you clean out their current one. If you can, give them some iron-rich treats like broccoli or spinach to offset any blood loss and keep them busy.
  3. Take everything out of the coop, and clean it thoroughly. Dispose of any bedding, don’t put it in the compost: you want to kill the mites, not relocate them! Burn it if you can, or double-bag securely, and throw it in the bin.
  4. Do one, or all of the following, depending on how severe the infestation is:
    • Spray the coop down with a high-pressure hose.
    • Pour boiling water into the cracks and joints.
    • Clean with dehydrated lime (wash thoroughly before letting your chickens back in).
    • Wait until everything is dry, then dust with Pestene powder or diatomaceous earth.
  5. Once the cleaning is complete, you can bring your girls back home.
  6. You’re still not done! The mites and lice undoubtedly laid eggs in the little time they had. After 7 days, dust your chickens and coop with Pestene or diatomaceous earth to kill the fresh hatchlings.
  7. Check after another 7 days, and dust again if needed. Persistence is the name of the game!

In all this activity, you might get some mites or lice on you, but don’t worry—they can’t live on humans, though you should avoid accidentally ferrying them to a friend’s chickens!

How do I stop this from happening again?

To prevent mites and lice from taking foot again, take these measures:

  • Do what you can to keep wild birds away from your property. Secure your chicken feed, remove wild bird nests, or even build that scarecrow you’ve always dreamed of!
  • Layer your chooks’ dust-bathing area with diatomaceous earth.
  • Use pest-repellent hemp bedding, and change it every 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Layer pest repellent dried herbs, like mint and lavender, in their bedding
  • Mix a little apple cider vinegar, and garlic into your chickies’ water.
  • Do a full coop clean every 6 months.

Chooks acting funny? Don’t think it’s mites or lice? Check out our healthy chicken checklist!

10 Surefire Ways to Treat Lice in Chickens

My friend has 4 sweet little chickens. I know they are wonderful because they were part of our flock originally. We wanted to get her set up with some fresh eggs from her own backyard quickly and that was the best way possible.

She called me about a week ago, and said that one of the hens was losing her back feathers.“It’s probably molting”, I said. However, the other hens weren’t losing their feathers, and she looked miserable. Upon further inspection, we found the culprit. Lice.

Lice in chickens can come out of seemingly nowhere, and make a chicken very miserable.

I can imagine that they are itchy (although I have never been a chicken so I can’t attest to that for fact) and quite often, the bird will lose feathers. Most of the time, a free range, or even outdoor bird can easily take care of the issue themselves by taking daily dust baths. But, what do you do when your dirt is all packed down and the chicken can’t get a proper dust bath?

What Causes Lice to Infest Chickens?

If your flock looks a bit itchy, you might have a lice problem. Lice is often transmitted by wild birds. These birds carry the parasites near or in your coop, where they are then transmitted to your chickens. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have human lice (like head lice), you probably know all too well the signs of a lice infestation.

Luckily, the lice that infest chickens generally don’t infest people. While you might find them crawling on your clothing, they will be unable to feed on you. Many people, too, confuse lice with mice.

While they are very similar, there are some differences. Lice, for example, feed on the feathers and skin of your chickens, while mites will feed on the blood of your birds. These pests are both attracted to the same conditions, and can both be detrimental to your chickens’ health.

There are several types of lice that might infest your chickens. Shaft louse is one common type of lice, and this lice species is tiny, with each individual only growing to about four millimeters in size.

These lice are yellow and move quickly. They feed on the scales and feathers of your chickens and can cause feather pecking, weight loss, skin irritation, and behavioral changes.

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All lice are small, flat insects with six legs. They move quickly on their hosts, laying eggs at the base of the chicken’s feathers, while the adults take up residence on the skin. Lice have a very short lifecycle, but they are almost constantly reproducing – which spells bad news for your backyard flock.

Chicken lice can hatch just four days after an egg was laid, and it only takes nine days to reach maturity. An adult louse will live for an additional twelve days after this.

How to Prevent Lice on Chickens

Luckily, lice infestations can be easily prevented. Make sure you keep wild birds away from your property as best as you can. Keep your chicken feed cleaned up and secured, and remove any wild birds nests near your home.

You may also need to set up scarecrows. The side benefit of this is that deterring wild birds will also deter airborne predators, like hawks, as well as low-crawling scavengers like rats and racoons, all of whom would like to make a snack out of your chickens!

You can also prevent lice by layer your chicken’s dust baths with diatomaceous earth. Providing a dust bath is, in general, one of the best ways to ensure that your chickens stay healthy and parasite-free, as dust baths provide chickens a method by which to clean themselves and produce a natural barrier against these pests.

Ensuring that the coop is clean and filled with fresh bedding at all times is another good step against lice infestations. Try to clean your coop once or twice a week, or make sure you add plenty of fresh bedding instead, if you’re utilizing the deep-litter method of bedding. You might consider using pest-resistant beddings, too, like hemp bedding.

To take things one step further, add some dried herbs to the coop. You can sprinkle these on the bedding or hang them from the coop ceiling. Good options to consider include mint, lavender, oregano, and basil.

You can also mix some apple cider vinegar and garlic into your chickens’ water to help them stay healthy – just make sure you don’t add apple cider vinegar to a galvanized waterer, as it can cause degradation that will leach chemicals into your hens’ water supply.

If you know other people who raise chickens, try to limit their visits to your farm and contacts with your chickens. This can easily lead to the pests being transported to your birds on their footwear, clothes, or equipment.
Finally, if you add any new birds to your flock, make sure you take the time to quarantine them before introducing them to the other chickens. This will give you time to observe them for symptoms of lice infestation, and it will also give you time to treat them if necessary.

How to Tell if Your Chickens Have Lice

There are several telltale signs that your chicken might have a lice infestation.

You may notice a decline in egg production that occurs quite suddenly or gradually. Your chickens may have feathers that appear to be broken or have disappeared altogether. Your chicken will also be more apt to engage in frequent preening, too. Preening by itself is not a sign of a lice infestation – but preening that occurs more often than not could be indicative of a problem.

You might notice that your chicken tries to scratch itself, too. Upon closer observation, you might notice that your chicken has lice crawling around the feather shafts, as well as nits.

Nits are clumps of eggs that can generally be found at the base of the feather. Nits are most often found around the vent, which will have a tendency to be red, sore, and even swollen.

Your chickens might exhibit some behavioral changes, too. They may move more slowly or have significant weight loss, s they will likely eat less. Their combs may become pale and they may have pronounced bald spots. In addition to having missing feathers, they may have feathers that look downright dirty.

There are several different types of mites and lice, but usually, these will be the symptoms. The treatment, luckily, will be the same no matter what kind of lice your chickens have (with the exception of scaly leg mites, which are a different story).

How to Get Rid of Lice on Chickens

Here are some tips you can follow to help your chicken recover from a lice – or other parasite – infestation.

1) Place Wood Ash and Dirt in the Coop

You can place some cooled wood ash and dirt mixture in the coop area. This will help the bird get more of a dust bath and suffocate the little bugs. I usually have some in their coop during the winter months, when their yard is all covered with snow.

2) Use Diatomaceous Earth

You can use diatomaceous earth. Gently holding the bird you want to sprinkle the DE (not pool grade-you want to use food grade) over the entire body. I sprinkle about a cup in their dust bath area to help as well. The DE cuts the lice and kills them.

Once one chicken has lice, you are sure to have it spread. The best defense against lice infecting your whole flock is to treat them all. And to use preventative measures like having loose dirt for a dust bath, and DE sprinkled in it.

If you can’t find diatomaceous earth or don’t have any on hand, you can also use Pestene powder. Both of these materials are harmless to chickens, but you should wear a dust mask while applying it, as it can irritate your respiratory system.

3) Move your chickens

If you can, move your chicken while you are treating a lice infestation. If you have another coop or a chicken tractor, move your birds so you can thoroughly clean the old coop.

4) Clean the Coop

Make sure you delouse the coop thoroughly once you notice an infestation. Depending on how severe your lice problem is, you might want to spray the coop down with a high-pressure hose and pour boiling water into all the crevices. You can clean the coop with dehydrated lime and then dust it with diatomaceous earth once everything has dried.

Avoid allowing your chickens back into the coop until all of these cleaning procedures are finished.

5) Provide high-iron treats to promote healing

While your chickens are recovering from a lice infestation, it’s important that you give them plenty of iron-rich snacks to offset the blood they will have lost through the lice bites. You can give them foods like spinach or kale -these treats will not only keep them satisfied, but they’ll keep them extra busy so they aren’t as focused on scratching or preening.

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Iron is definitely more needed in chickens who are suffering from mites rather than from lice, but it’s a good idea to give your chickens the extra energy, anyway – they will need it to fight off the mites. Here are some other foods you might consider:

Cooked eggs Cooked poultry
Seafood Meat scraps
Cauliflower Dandelion greens
Kale Broccoli
Wheat Watermelon
Molasses Cornmeal
Raisins Oatmeal
Collards Strawberries
Beet greens Sweet potatoes

6) Start checking the calendar

Even if you’ve treated your chickens for lice once, remember that you probably only killed the lice – and not the eggs. No matter how well you cleaned the coop or treated your birds, there’s a chance that some eggs survived.

About seven days after executing your first cleaning and treatment, it’s a good idea to go through all of the steps again. You have to be stubborn and persistent in order to beat a lice infestation!

7) Watch all of your birds – but especially the broody ones

It’s important to interact with your flock on a daily basis for a number of reasons, but particularly because it can help you weed out the early signs of a lice infestation. Check them at least every month to make sure they aren’t showing signs of parasitic infection. You may need to physically lift them and examine them to do this.

Broody hens, in particular, must be inspected regularly. Because they will refuse to get off their eggs and dust bathe, they will be more likely to contract a lice infestation. In addition, some of the signs of broodiness that you are likely familiar with – irritability, missing feathers, etc – can also be signs of lice infestation, so make sure you are very aware of the signs.

8) Apply neem oil

Neem oil seems to work best on mites instead of lice, but it can often help repel lice from infesting your coop, too. Simply spray neem oil around the perches, nest boxes, and crevices in your coop. This is believed to help keep lice away with its strong (to them) smell.

9) Use a garlic juice treatment

You can spray your chickens – as well as the inside of your coop – with garlic to help repel and treat lice infestations. These are found to be effective at killing lice and mites as well as repelling them in the future. When fed directly to your chickens, garlic can also be an excellent internal parasite remover and preventative method, too.

10) Use a chemical treatment

This is definitely not recommended unless you have tried all of the other treatments we have suggested and they have failed. Nine times out of ten, all lice infestations can be dealt with by some through cleaning and herbal remedies. However, many people choose to use chemicals to fight pests. These are very easy to abuse and should only be used under veterinary guidance.

One of these options is Sevin dust. This product has controversial results and can be harmful to you and to your animals when used incorrectly. It can also kill bees and beneficial pollinators, and if you are hoping to obtain organic certification, this will restrict your ability to do so. Again, consult a veterinarian if you feel as though you must use chemicals to treat a lice infestation.

Have you ever had lice in your chickens? What are other ways you have treated it?

latest update: July 16th 2019 by Rebekah White

Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.

Naturally Treating Chicken Mites with Essential Oils and Garlic

I’ve always prided myself in keeping a healthy and clean flock. Sure, we’ve had a few run-ins with chickens that we’re brought into the flock throughout our chicken keeping days (who hasn’t?), but we came out with more knowledge once we actually walked through those issues first-hand. Our first misadventure was lice. We had bought several French Black Copper Marans that, unbeknownst to us at the time, had lice. We had no idea what we were doing back then (years ago), and we learned, very quickly, to look over future sets of birds that we bought.

Surpassing that, we’ve never had any issues with external parasites in our flock. Well, until the mite infestation of early 2018.

The Virginia weather has been so crazy this year, that I’m sure it played a role. The other issue is that our flock hasn’t been free-ranging like they had been before, due to us having to re-grade and re-seed our backyard area. Certainly, we’re remedying that by feeding them a mostly raw diet with feed scraps and veggies, but we’re missing the point of the rotational grazing and free-ranging—it’s not just about the diet. The biggest reason we free-range is to keep down on internal and external parasites. Because chickens are rotating or free-ranging, they are less likely to be consumed by parasites, in general, because their diet is so widely diverse, and they are dispersed across the property rather than sitting in one place all day long.

Unfortunately, with the current property projects, our chickens have been lacking in the free-ranging department.

Whatever the case may be, I walked outside one morning this winter to discover that our chickens had, at some point, become mite magnets. Northern Fowl Mites, to be exact.

Mites are nasty little things. They feed on the blood, dead skin cells, and feathers of your chickens. Chickens most commonly get them from migrating birds. Because our chicken coop sits directly under the wooded area of our property, this shouldn’t have shocked me.

While there are natural preventative measures that you can take to help lessen the possibility of your chickens getting mites, sometimes, they simply don’t work. It takes a perfect storm for chickens to get mites. Let’s go over some ways to prevent them from getting mites, and then I want to share with you how we were able to naturally get rid of them, without any chemicals!

Ways to Naturally Prevent Mites

  • Dust Bathing Area. Your chickens need to have a dust bathing area available to them at all times—yes, even if it’s raining and snowing. This is their natural defense when external parasites arise, and the only way for them to naturally get rid of the parasites themselves. Make sure you have a bathing area that is either under-cover, or has a removable cover.
  • Add wood ash to their dust bathing area, as it is a natural mite deterrent and kills the external parasites when it comes into contact with them. I prefer adding wood ash to my dust bathing area, versus Diatomaceous Earth (DE), as it has a higher efficacy than DE when it gets wet.
  • Brewer’s Yeast or Cultured Dried Yeast in their feed. While this can be hit or miss, adding brewer’s yeast or cultured dried yeast to their feed can help deter mites, but it’s not always 100% effective if other factors are at play. You could also try adding garlic to their feed, but they’d have to consume a lot per chicken for the efficacy to be high enough that not a single chicken had a mite issue.
See also:  Goose Down Dust Mites

We could talk about adding herbs to the coop to deter mites, but the plain fact is, herbs in the chicken coop won’t deter mites. Mites are tiny parasites that hide in crevasses and bedding, so while they might not hang out in nesting boxes due to nesting box herbs, they will most certainly be hanging out on the chicken roost and ready for a feast when your chickens roost at night.

While nesting box herbs can most certainly help, mites can just bury deeper into feathers and onto skin to avoid nesting box herbs.

Mites can also hide in feed and other nutrient dense area that have waste or dust, if there’s a warm-blooded host around. So make sure you check throughout your feed bins regularly.

Natural Mite Treatment

So you’ve tried all of the natural preventatives, which are very few but easy to maintain, but you still have mites. I found myself in this same exact situation. While at first I looked at the sky and cursed this small parasitic filth, I took it as an opportunity to show you that mites really can be treated naturally and without chemicals. Perfect timing for my chicken book that’s coming out Spring 2019! More on that another day.

Let me show you how to get rid of chicken mites, naturally!

  1. Clean the Coop Thoroughly. Take out all of the bedding, burn it. Do not compost it. Simply toss it out, burn it, and be done with it. Sweep out the coop to ensure you got most, or all, of the little nasties. I did not add bedding back into the coop after cleaning (step 2), just the nesting boxes.
  2. Treat the Coop. Spray down your coop with eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, peppermint, basil, and cinnamon bark essential oils. All of these essential oils have been proven to have anti-parasitic effects when used topically. You can make this spray by placing 45 drops of each oil into a 16 oz. glass water bottle. Add your essential oils (eucalyptus and tea tree are important!). Fill the bottle up most of the way with water, then top off with about 1-2 tbsp of witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, or white vinegar. Spray down your entire coop, top to bottom, with this solution, concentrating heavily on dark areas and cracks in the roost and nesting boxes. After it dries, you can add straw back to your nesting boxes, but I would leave the coop floor bare and scoop out poop each day. Once the roosts are dry, dust them down with Diatomaceous Earth. Continue to dust the roosts with DE a couple of times each week.
  3. Dust Chickens with Wood Ash. The same wood ash that works wonders in the dust bathing area also works wonders with manually dusting your chickens. Take wood ask and dust each chicken individually, making a point to try and get it to touch the chicken’s skin. Concentrate on the neck, top of the tail where their oil gland is, the vent, and under the wings.
  4. Treat the Chickens. In a study done at Clemson University, mite infestations were successfully dealt with using the topical application of garlic. Use the below recipe once a day for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, to rid your chickens of mites. You can continue to dust your chickens with wood ash once a week, but it may not be necessary.
Chicken Mite Treatment Spray

20 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (or 1 oz garlic extract)

45 drops eucalyptus essential oil*

30 drops lavender essential oil*

30 drops peppermint essential oil*

20 drops cinnamon bark essential oil*

20 drops melissa essential oil*

2 tbs White Vinegar (unless using garlic extract)


  1. In a 16 oz. glass spray bottle, combine garlic (or extract) and essential oils. If using smashed garlic, allow it to sit for several hours before using.
  2. If using garlic extract, do not use white vinegar. Simply fill the rest of the bottle up with water 3/4 of the way full. If using smashed garlic, add vinegar.
  3. Shake the bottle well before each spray. Spray directly on the skin of the chicken, concentrating only on the neck, the vent area, and the top of the tail where the oil gland is. I also spray their feet and the base of the roosting bar so that when they lay back down on their feet and roost, the mixture gets onto their bellies. Do this treatment at night after they’ve gone to roost.
  4. Continue this treatment for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, to rid your chickens of mites. You can continue to dust your chickens with wood ash once a week, but it may not be necessary.

We were able to successfully rid our chickens of mites with essential oils and garlic! I hope that this method helps you as well. More than likely you’ve come across this blog because you’re currently having this issue, or what to know what to do if you have this issue. I’m here to tell you that it works!

* Need to buy essential oils? Get quality high-grade EOs from yours truly, here. These are the only oils I use on my homestead!

Or reach out to me if you’re interested in getting wholesale pricing on EOs.

> While you’re here, check out my new book The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion! Full of lots of great recipes for your home, barnyard, and family!

And be on the lookout for and announcement about my new book (about chickens) in the coming months! You’ll find this recipe, and more, within its pages.

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