Mites And Lice Are An Unpleasant Fact About Chicken Keeping That Can Be Treated And Prevented
Before starting a chicken mite treatment it’s important to know if your flock has mites. So the first step is to perform a The Chicken Health Exam. From there, if you have this common problem, there are many choices. In my post Hidden Health Problems there was a lot of discussion about the treatments available for poultry lice and mites. Thanks to this discussion, I wanted to offer technical information about the common treatments we use on birds to keep them healthy and free of pests so you can make an informed decision when the problem presents itself.
There are other effective products available on the market that can be used to control mites and be used as a chicken lice treatment, however they are not approved for use in poultry and their use on chickens would be considered off-label use. It is illegal and potentially unsafe to use a product in a way that is inconsistent with it’s official labeling without the supervision of a veterinarian, so I will not be covering treatments that are not labeled for use on poultry.
All of the following treatment options should be treated as hazardous to your health, even the organic ones. Use personal protective equipment such as a respirator that is intended for use with pesticides (not the silly little paper face masks, a real respirator) as well as gloves and eye protection. None of these products should be used by or near children. Assume these products to be toxic and treat them as such. Never allow pesticides to wash off into nearby waterways. Always follow the labeling on the product and do not use it in any way that is inconsistent with the labeling. I have included Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) links for your convenience and safety. MSDS sheets offer important information such as health hazards, environmental hazards, cleanup, disposal and other pertinent information.
Pyrethrin is an organic liquid concentrate derived form the flower Chrysanthemum Cinerariifolium, also known as mums. Mums are naturally resistant to pests thanks to the pyrethrin in their chemistry which is a natural neurotoxin. Pyrethrin (MSDS) is considered to be a safe, low-toxicity pesticide that is easily inactivated in the mammalian or avian body, however it is highly toxic to insects, cats, fish and aquatic invertebrates. Pyrethrin does not last long and biodegrades quickly which is good for the environment. You can find this as an active ingredient of many mite and lice sprays found in retail stores.
Permethrin is the synthetic version of Pyrethrin. It does not degrade quickly like Pyrethrin, so it offers residual efficacy giving it more time to kill more bugs. In field and garden applications, permethrin leaves residuals that wash into waterways and cause serious ecological issues, but this is not a major concern for us since we are spraying a small amount of it directly on our birds and coop, not over acres of farmland. Just like Pyrethrin, Permethrin (MSDS) is a low-toxicity pesticide that is easily inactivated in the mammalian and avian body, however it is highly toxic to insects, cats, fish and aquatic invertebrates. This product is a common active ingredient in retail pest sprays and concentrates, it’s used in the Nix shampoo so many school children have used to rid themselves of lice and it’s on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. Many military and hiking product companies treat uniforms, bug nets and other clothing items with this to guard against biting insects, especially in areas where malaria is prevalent. You can find different liquid concentrations of permethrin in farm stores and online.
Known widely as Sevin powder or garden dust, Carbaryl is one of the most popular and readily found products for treating mite infestations in poultry. Carbaryl is extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates and pollinators like bees, so caution must be used if applied to crops, but again, we are talking about dusting poultry here not our strawberries. Sevin Powder is as the name implies; a fine powder which is unfortunately easily inhaled. Inhaling Carbaryl (MSDS) can temporarily and immediately exasperate existing health conditions such as asthma, and is labeled as a likely carcinogen by the EPA. Carbaryl is toxic to vertebrates (including humans), but they do detoxify it and eliminate it quickly. You can find Carbaryl as an active ingredient in other products such as Carylderm shampoo which is used to combat head lice. As an alternative to dusting, this product can be used in a suspension and sprayed as a liquid.
Tetrachlorvinphos, commonly known as Rabon is an organophosphate. This product is more commonly used in commercial farm operations and can be found in many pet flea and tick treatments. Rabon is toxic to aquatic life and vertebrates. It is not labeled as a carcinogen, but it has been shown to cause cancer in animals. This product is hard to find for the backyard farmer, and even if you could find it I don’t suggest using it. Rabon (MSDS) is a powered product that can be used in that form or mixed with water to create a suspension that can be sprayed.
Diatomaceous earth or DE for short, is made from fossilized remains of diatoms (algae), which is mined from the earth as a rock and pulverized. Once dried and processed, DE (MSDS) is composed of 80 to 90% silica, 2 to 4% alumina and 0.5 to 2% iron oxide. DE is a fine crystalline powdery substance that is used for water filtration, tooth paste, abrasives, dynamite, brewing beer and much more. It works by abrading and dehydrating pests, which makes this a mechanical pesticide versus a chemical pesticide. DE can present an inhalation hazard due to crystalline silica which is regulated by OSHA in the US. OSHA mandates that DE products contain 1% or less of crystalline silica by volume to reduce the potential of Silicosis in humans, which is caused by inhaling the powdery substance. Inhalation of DE can also exasperate preexisting respiratory conditions and irritate even the healthiest set of lungs. It’s effectiveness against poultry mites is a hotly debated topic.
People tote the many uses of diatomaceous earth, including an alternative to typical worming treatments, however studies have shown it to be largely ineffective on internal parasites. DE is used in many commercial feeds as an anti-caking agent rather than as an internal parasite treatment.
I use and recommend Pyrethrin or Permethrin. I find spraying a solution of these products is effective, safe for both me and the birds and is comparatively easier. I also find the inhalation hazard to be considerably less with a liquid solution in comparison to a powder which is a deal breaker for me and my sensitive respiratory system.
A tip from reader Marykay Mendoza: Permethrin is available in a strip of plastic, online under the name of No Mite Strips. Strips of material permeated with medications and pesticides are not a new idea, and the bee keeping world has been using it for a long time, so it stands to reason that you can hang these strips near or on the roosts and let the bugs find them themselves. Marykay reports her birds are bug-free after 3 days of using the strips. I have yet to test them personally, but I plan to shortly.
The Mississippi State University’s poultry pesticide webpage is a also a great resource for dilution rates to use these products in a suspension or solution
*Please note. The companies, brands or products I mention or suggest have in no way compensated me or influenced my opinions. I offer this information at face value and in good faith. Brands, external Internet links or products named herein are offered only as a convenience.*