Grit Blogs > Tillys Nest

Poultry Lice

A photo of Melissa CaugheyThis past Spring, I got an email from my daughter's preschool that a child there was discovered to have head lice.  Of course, the typical parent paranoia set in from those of us whose children were not affected....yet.  The girls were required to go to school with their longer hair braided.  They were corralled at the door and their heads were searched for hidden parasites.  Of course, all these precautions paid off.  This got me thinking.  Did you know that chickens can have lice too?  Thank goodness people cannot catch poultry lice but I still get the heebie jeebies just thinking about them.

There are many variations of poultry lice found around the country yet they all have these identifying characteristics in common.  These include:

They are 2-3 millimeters in size.

They have light brown bodies.

Move quickly

Lay white eggs

The absence of wings

Six legs

Flattened bodies, think pancakes

Round heads

Active in the daytime

Only live on the host

Mouth parts that chew

They do not suck blood.

Poultry lice spend their entire lives on the body of the chicken.  They cannot survive without remaining on the host.  When looking for them, they prefer hanging out near the vent, but can be found under the wings and on the head as well.  Sometime, you will discover the eggs first.  Where the skin meets the feathers, you will see tiny clumped little white eggs at the base.  Poultry lice can be seen walking around on the skin of the chicken as they feast on dead skin, feathers and scabs.  They will not suck blood but do ingest blood from irritated raw areas of the skin.  This behavior is very irritating to affected chickens and in severe cases be fatal.

Chickens that have poultry lice can show an assortment of symptoms that are similar to a mite infestation and include:

weight loss

decreased appetite

drop in egg production

feather loss around areas of infestation

feathers that have an appearance as though they have been eaten by a moth

irritated inflamed raw skin initially near the vent


1.  Sanitation.  Keep the coop and run clean and prevent overcrowding in your flock.  Here is how we clean our coop.

2.  Inspections.  Inspect your chickens at least every 1-2 weeks for the presence of lice or mites.

3.  Take preventative measures.  Add food grade diatomaceous earth to your coop and nesting box bedding.  Add it to the dust bathing areas too.

4. Quarantine and inspect any new birds that you are adding to your flock for at least 2 weeks. Treat them if necessary.

5.  Prevent wild birds from nesting in or near your coop and run.


1.  Clean.  Thoroughly clean your entire coop and run and add food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to all the bedding.

2.  Treat.  Dust each flock member with DE or a garden dust such as Sevin-5%. I have no personal experiences with Sevin but many on swear by it. Older labels deemed it safe for pets and now that information has been removed from current labeling. As there are alternatives, I would try other methods prior to using Sevin dust.  Permethrin is also available as well as Manna Pro's Poultry Protector.  Cover your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the dust products and also avoid the head of your chicken.  I prefer the DE and Poultry Protector as they are safe to use around the flock's food and water and all natural.

3.  Re-treat.  The life cycle of poultry lice is two weeks.  Mark your calendar and repeat steps 1 and 2 to ensure that you have eradicated the lice.

4.  Prevention.  Take preventative steps as mentioned above for the future.