Lice and Mites in Poultry

Posted by Susan Lenz on

PREVENTION is the key with preventing outbreaks in your coop.  Lice and Mites quickly become fatal to your birds if left unchecked and outbreaks become costly and time consuming to treat!

How do I know when my poultry have lice?

Monthly or bi-monthly flock inspections of each chicken should be performed in order to identify and address parasites before an infestation worsens and birds begin exhibiting signs of parasites. Particular attention should be paid to brooding hens as they dust-bathe less frequently than usual and are especially vulnerable to parasites.  

The best place to check your birds is under the vent (bottom) at skin level.  Part the feathers quickly and check for any signs of mites and lice.  they will disperse quickly into the feathers so you must be fast and look in multiple spots to detect.  its important to be aware that red spider mite is often only active of a night time and may not be seen on birds through the day.  They live in the coop walls and roof and come out to feast on your chickens blood of a night.  If you are seeing red spider mite of a day time you have a very bad infestation on your hands!

Some of the common signs of any type of mite or lice infestation in a chicken are:

  • Decreased activity or listlessness,
  • Pale comb,
  • Changes in appetite,
  • A drop in egg production,
  • Weight loss,
  • Feather-pulling, bald spots, redness or scabs on the skin,
  • Dull, ragged-looking feathers and spotting the bugs or mites on the chicken.
  • Head shaking and hunched body position 

The two most common categories of external parasites in chickens are mites and poultry lice. Poultry lice are NOT the same as human head lice and people cannot contract lice from chickens.


Poultry lice are fast-moving, 6 legged, flat insects with round heads that live only on the chicken and its feathers. They are beige or straw colored and are typically found at the base of feather shafts near the vent. Poultry lice feed on dead skin and other debris such as feather quill casings. When parting the feathers near the vent to inspect for parasites, they can be seen briefly as they run away. The eggs laid by the female are seen at the bases of feather shafts

PREVENTION is the best method! If you are not using preventative measures, you WILL have a outbreak

In order to prevent infestations of lice and mites, the coop should be cleaned regularly with particular attention paid to disposing of loose feathers that can harbor hatching eggs (nits).  Products such as Avian Insect Liquidator can be used on both the coops and the birds and has a 6 week residual to protect your birds.  We stock a wide range of products to prevent and treat lice and mites.  PREVENTION is the best way.  Many people believe that they only need to treat the birds, however mites start at a coop level and without regular treatment you are bound to have a outbreak at any time. Sprays are required for walls and roof areas, as powders will not be suitable.

• Limit visits from fellow poultry-keepers who can transport the beasts on their clothes, footwear or equipment, (vehicles, shared farm equipment, etc.) 

• Keep poultry feed in a secure location so as not to attract wild birds, which can carry parasites and diseases. Many lice and mites are brought into coops by sparrows and wild birds. Consider a feeder such as our Chooktred treadle feeders to prevent wildlife bringing mites and lice to your coops.

• Always quarantine new birds for at least 14 days before introducing them to an existing flock to watch for parasites.

• Ever wondered why your chickens roll round in the dusty ground? This is called dust bathing. By providing adequate dusting areas for chickens helps them care for their own skin and feathers naturally. A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a daily dirt shower. It helps them maintain their skin and feathers and controls parasites. By adding food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to the dust bathing area combats external parasites.  Winter is a very active time for mites and lice as most soil is wet and does not allow your chickens to dust bathe, mites are also seeking a food source to stay warm - which happens to be your chickens!

By adding garlic to your chickens feed (garlic granules) and crushed garlic to your poultry water can help prevent lice as they do not like the taste of the blood of the chickens that eat garlic regularly


Upon identification of lice or mites in any flock member, treatment should begin immediately. There are many different products employed to eradicate mites and lice with varying degrees of effectiveness, among them are: Avian Insect Liquidator, David Grays Powder, Pestene Powder, Superfine Diatomaceous Earth and products like Neem Powder or oil. Please be aware that natural products such as Neem and Diatomaceous Earth need to be used regularly in the environment to be actively working and will not trreat a outbreak, they are prevenative products only.  When lice or mites are detected on one bird, the entire flock should be treated. Treating birds after dark when they have gone to roost is the easiest way to treat the entire flock.

One product that we love to use and recommend highly is Avian Insect Liquidator. This product comes in three sizes. The 500ml ready to use with a trigger spray, and two sizes in concentrate (100ml which makes up to 2litres and the 500ml which makes up to 10 litres). We suggest mixing the 500ml into a nice large bucket with warm water into the 10 litre solution and dipping your birds in the solution. Make sure that you do not get the solution into ears, eyes, nose or mouth areas. We suggest doing the dip method every season change as a prevention to a outbreak. After dipping each bird, use the remaining solution to spray out your coop. We also suggest spraying your timber coops with this product every 4 - 6 weeks. Avian Insect Liquidator keeps actively working for 6 weeks and stops the cycle of hatching survival.

Red Spider Mite is much harder to eradicate than the common mite, and many people do not realise they have an outbreak until a fatality is found (this is why using a prevention method is very important) Red spider mite live in the timber and generally come out to feast on your birds of a night time. This makes your birds very anemic and a good indicator can be if your birds do not want to go into your coop to roost at night!

We often have the conversation with customers in store that believe they have been using preventative measures and have trouble believing a fatality has been caused by mites but after long conversations get to the point they may have only used a powder in the base of the coop and nest boxes perhaps, or may only use a product once every 6-12 mths etc, and it is important to note a spray such as Avian insect liquidator or coopex needs to be used on walls and roof areas as this is where mites will love to live and breed. Using a powder only will not keep mites and lice at bay, especially in a wooden coop.

Treating both the coop and the birds is the only option. This needs to be done regularly as red spider mite breed at an alarming rate. When treating the coop pay particular attention to timber that is overlapping, tongue and groove and where timber joins and meets. Mites LOVE to live in the hard to reach areas and will continue to breed if not eradicated quickly. Stronger products may be required to eradicate completely such as MaldisonMalaban Wash or Coopex. These products are for the coop treatment only and not to be used on the birds (we suggest Avian Insect Liquidator for the birds themselves).

Always wear a respirator when applying Pestene and diatomaceous earth and the job is much easier with the help of another person to hold the bird, I dust underneath the wings and vent area of each bird sparingly but thoroughly. I also clean and treat the entire coop with particular attention paid to nests and roosts.

**Treatment must be repeated twice after the initial application in 7 day increments, in order to kill the eggs (nits) that had not hatched at the time of the previous treatments.**


These tiny, eight-legged insects can live both on the chicken and in the coop. They are partial to cracks and crevices in wood, roosts and inside nesting boxes. You can often see a greyish dust like substance on perches or timber which are the mites in brute force.

Mites can be grey, dark brown or reddish in color and can often be seen along feather shafts and underneath roosts after dark. Mites are active at night when they venture out to leech blood from chickens. With its moist, rich blood supply, the vent area is a favorite feeding ground of mites.

Signs of a mite infestation are:

  • Scabs near the vent,
  • Eggs on the feathers and feather shafts and a light colored bird’s feathers may appear dirty in spots where the mites have left droppings and debris.
  • A heavy mite infestation can lead to anemia and death of a chicken.
  • Head shaking 

Mites will bite humans, causing minor irritation in the affected area. Another common mite is the scaly leg mite.


Scaly leg mites (Knemidocoptes mutans) are microscopic insects that live underneath the scales on a chicken’s lower legs and feet. They dig tiny tunnels underneath the skin, eat the tissue and deposit crud in their wake. The result is thick, scabby, crusty-looking feet and legs. The longer the mites reside under the chicken's leg scales, the more discomfort and damage they inflict; an unchecked infestation can result in pain, deformities, lameness and loss of toes.

Scaly leg mites spread from bird to bird in a flock, therefore when one bird is infected, all should be treated. As always when external parasites are found in a flock, the coop should be thoroughly cleaned.


Avian Insect Liquidator is a product that is available in both a concentrate and ready to use form. Dipping the legs or spraying them with AIL will eradicate leg scale and the product keeps actively working for a 6 week period.  We also stock a great leg scale balm which will speed up the process 

We sell a number of products to help prevent and eradicate these nasty creepy crawlies from your coops in our online shop and our Margate store. Come and have a chat to us about all your needs - we are always happy to advise on the best method for your particular needs :-)

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