Spring and summer are prime time for poultry pests like mites, lice, worms, flies, other biting insects. These pests are small but make no mistake- they can create life threatening conditions within your flock.
Mites + Lice
These small biting insects can leave your flock anemic, weakened, and stressed which can lead to severe illness or death. There are several types of mites that impact poultry; we’ve dealt with Northern Fowl mites, Red Roost mites, and Depluming mites. Keeping your flock away from wild birds is good practice all around, but it won’t prevent them from getting mites or lice. Unfortunately dealing with these pests is just part of the chicken tending experience.
Red Roost mites live inside the chicken house and can be seen during coop changes or crawling on the roosts and other coop surfaces at night. Other types of mites live on your birds full time and signs include itching and over grooming, feather loss, weight loss, and pale combs. We dealt with Depluming mites for the first time this past year the first sign I noticed was all of my bearded breeds suddenly no longer had beards! I initially thought I was dealing with a hard molt, but the lack of pin feathers elsewhere coupled with over grooming and itching solved that mystery.
Lice can congregate virtually anywhere on your bird, but in many cases you’ll find larger populations around the eyes, ears, and combs of your flock that look like coffee grounds or dirt. They can also appear as a dandruff-like build up around the base of the feather shafts.
To check your flock for mites, look around their vents- especially at night. When searching for signs of mites or lice, I highly recommend the use of a magnifying glass which will come in handy way more than you think! I have this light up magnifying glass with different magnifications and use it often. I also recommend this rechargeable headlamp (which will come in handy so frequently you won’t know how you lived without it) to help you check for mites at night.
While it’s considered “normal” for your birds to have a light worm load, a heavy worm load can lead to dire consequences including malnutrition, vitamin and calcium deficiencies, and weakened immune systems. Some chicken tenders treat their flock for worms regularly to keep this pest under control, but it’s a safer practice to have a fecal float test done every 6-12 months to determine whether your flock needs to be wormed, and the type of worms you’re dealing with. There are two common types of worms you’ll encounter as a backyard chicken keeper: round worms and flatworms. Gapeworm is uncommon; most suspected cases of gapeworm wind up being respiratory or yeast related.
When treating for worms, it’s important to ensure proper dosage by weighing your birds and calculating their individual dose each time. Too little can cause resistance, and too much is unnecessary. Using measurements like a “pea-sized amount” aren’t accurate and should be avoided in the management of your flocks’ health.
The most dangerous pest that most chicken tenders are inundated with as the weather warms up are flies. Though they may seem like nothing more than an annoyance, make no mistake these pests can cause serious harm to your flock, especially when combined with other pests or health issues. Stinky, messy butt feathers (usually a sign of worms) or open wounds can attract flies to lay their eggs, and upon hatch the maggots will slowly and painfully eat your bird alive. Flystrike was one of my worst fears in taking on backyard chickens, so when I finally had to deal with it in my flock I was reduced to a puddle of panic. Maggots move unbelievably fast and can cause major injury over large portions of their body quickly.
Our rooster Lily became ill and was being monitoring in a dog crate on our patio so he could still see his ladies to keep his stress level down. Because of this coloring I didn’t notice his messy bum and while checking on him, I noticed a single maggot fall off of him. I immediately got him into a bath to rinse them off, cut away his feathers, and was shocked to discover the maggots had already eaten away the skin on 1/3rd of his body. The wound spread from his vent to under his wing and across his hock. After the initial removal and treatment, I spent days nervously searching for any more signs of maggots because my real fear was them being inside of his body and eating away at him.
I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, which is why I recommend dealing with flies aggressively. To keep them at bay, we use a combination of this bug zapper, and this bait:
To use the bait, I sprinkle a thin layer inside of an empty cat food can that we had scraped the food out of. The smell of the food attracts the flies and the bait instantly kills them. This stuff is extremely effective and will reduce your fly population dramatically in just 24 hours.