Manage poultry parasite risks to avoid problems with fowl

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For poultry owners, scouting for parasites is an important management practice for the flock. Let us take a closer look at a variety of parasites that can attack poultry by either sucking blood or feeding on skin and feathers.

Northern fowl mite:  The most common external parasites in chickens, turkeys, game birds, pigeons etc. are northern fowl mites. Spread through bird contact, signs of infestation depend on severity.  Chickens may lose weight, exhibit decreased feed intake and egg production, or become anemic.

Look for dark patches on the feathers and on the skin around the vent area, especially during cooler months.

“No Mite Strips” are an effective way to control this mite.  Some powdered insecticides also work, but read the labels very carefully.  Organic producers may want to use diatomaceous earth as a natural insect preventative.

The lifecycle of these mites is five to seven days, so be vigilant in repeating treatments to prevent a large infestation.

Sticktight fleas:  Although they are called fleas, sticktight fleas are stationary compared to other fleas.

Females attach to the skin around the face and wattles to lay eggs.  Larvae develop in the soil around chicken cages, and a few weeks later, adult fleas emerge to continue their lifecycle. 

If chickens are raised in wire cages three or more feet above the ground, there will not usually be a large infestation.

Sevin dust can be used on the fleas and the litter.  An alternative treatment method is to coat the adult fleas with petroleum jelly.

Scaly leg mites:  These mites burrow into and live under the scales of the feet, lifting the scales and deforming the feet.

Chickens in wire cages three feet or more above the ground do not usually have problems with these mites.

Prevention is easier than treatment, so inspect new birds before adding them to the flock. These mites are frequently picked up at poultry shows, so treat all chickens upon returning from a show.

Treat scaly leg mites by dipping chickens’ legs in linseed oil or petroleum jelly at 7-day intervals for three weeks.  Never use fuel oil, kerosene, motor oil, or other liquid petroleum products on chickens.  Even after mites are dead, the swollen and deformed look may remain.

Chicken lice:  Lice feed on blood and other fluids, and they cause birds to become restless.  That feeling adversely affects feed intake, digestion, growth, and egg production.

Lice tend to be more abundant in unclean, overcrowded conditions.  Pesticides used for Northern fowl mites will usually control lice.

Fowl ticks: These soft ticks are also known as blue bugs. They are very different from ticks found on dogs and cats.  Fowl ticks are reddish brown to dark brown with wrinkled skin.

Chicken mites:  Also known as red mites or roost mites, they are often confused with the Northern fowl mite, but these mites do not spend their entire life on the host.

Fowl ticks and chicken mites are temporary parasites that cause similar damage, like bloody lesions of various sizes.

To minimize these temporary parasites, eliminate cracks and crevices where these pests shelter, prevent wild birds and rodents from entering with screens or other barriers, and thoroughly clean and sanitize the poultry house.

For more information on poultry pests, please contact the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 732-7030.

Dates of Interest

August 7 – Carroll County Agricultural Development Council Meeting, 7:00 p.m., Carroll County Extension Office.

Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.