Treating and Preventing Lice on Chickens

Learn how to identify the presence of lice to avoid an infestation in your chicken flock.


| April 2016



Body Louse

The body louse is the most common type of louse found on mature chickens.

Illustration by Bethany Caskey

The Chicken Health Handbook: A Complete Guide to Maximizing Flock Health and Dealing with Disease (Storey Publishing, 2015) by Gail Damerow is the ultimate resource for raising healthy chickens. This second edition is updated and revised, featuring full-color photographs and detailed illustrations to assist chicken owners with a variety of health concerns. Damerow, the country’s most widely recognized authority on the subject, explains how to identify the types of lice that can infest chickens and offers treatment and prevention strategies.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Chicken Health Handbook.

Lice

Lice come in two varieties: blood-sucking and biting. Blood-sucking lice attack only mammals. Biting lice attack both mammals and birds. Several species infest chickens — more, in fact, than affect any other bird — and a chicken may host more than one species at a time. How badly chickens become louse infested depends in part on their strain; some strains are more resistant than others. Debeaked birds, because they can’t groom properly, are more likely to become seriously infested than chickens with their beaks intact.

An infested bird can be so irritated from being chewed on that it won’t eat or sleep well. Egg production may drop by as much as 15 percent, and fertility may also drop. Chickens become restless, scratching and pecking their own bodies. In the process, feathers are damaged — not a good thing when birds are raised for show. In a serious infestation, especially in chicks, birds die.

Louse infection — technically called pediculosis — often accompanies poor management and is associated with such problems as malnourishment, internal parasites, and a variety of other infections. Whether louse infestation causes these problems, or these other problems make chickens more susceptible to lice, is arguable but entirely academic: poor nutrition, infection, worms, and lice are all undesirable.

Louse Species

Louse species vary in shape and size, ranging in length from 1/25 to 1/4 inch (1 to 6 mm). Most lice are yellow or straw colored, making them difficult to see on white chickens but easier to spot on dark-feathered varieties. Interestingly, northern fowl mites are not compatible with lice, because lice will either eat the mites or starve them by outcompeting them. A chicken with lice is therefore not likely to have mites, which is a good thing because lice are easier to get rid of than mites. All species of lice are wingless and spend their entire lives on the chicken, quickly dying otherwise.





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