Help! my hens have lice, what should I do?

If you are currently raising hens or are thinking about doing so in the near future, among the most important aspects of raising hens is dealing with the diseases and infections that can develop. Lice are considered to be the most common parasites that hens must contend with. While there are a couple of preventive measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of lice, you should still know what to do when you notice that one or more of your hens have lice. The following offers a detailed guide on how to detect and treat lice issues.

What Are Poultry Lice?

Lice are standard parasites that are typically found in backyard chickens. There are many different types of lice that a chicken may suffer from, the primary of which is Menopon gallinae. Lice are known to latch onto human hair and can feed on human blood until eradicated. As for hens, lice will lay eggs directly on a hen’s skin, which means that the eggs will be positioned below the hen’s feathers.

While adult lice can be as large as a sesame seed, most lice are tiny with a length of as much as 0.24 inches. These parasites have flat bodies and six legs. Visible detection on hens is relatively difficult but is possible upon close inspection. If you want the treatment you use for hen lice to be effective, you should understand the life cycle that lice have.

When a louse egg hatches, it will live directly on the hen’s skin and will feed on the skin until it breaks. At this point, the louse feeds on the hens’ blood. Lice can live for upwards of 12-21 days and will spend the majority of that lifespan laying eggs. When lice are in small numbers, the lice will likely die off before treatment is needed. On the other hand, treatment is likely necessary if you identify a large number of lice living on one or more of your hens.

Symptoms of Lice Infestations in Hens

Even though lice are tiny and difficult to notice, they become more evident in large numbers. By keeping a close eye on your hens, you can look for changes in behavior that indicate that the affected hen is suffering from irritation. For visual detection, look closely at a hen’s feathers. Keep in mind that a hen’s feathers should be soft and clean. At this point, you may notice that lice are scattering around the hen’s feathers. The symptoms associated with poultry lice include:

  • Feathers that have a dirty appearance to them
  • Broken feathers or a loss of feathers
  • Balding areas
  • A notable drop in weight
  • Hens appearing listless and weak
  • Scratching caused by irritation
  • Sore or reddened skin close to the vent area
  • A reduction in egg production
  • Nits, which are clumps of eggs that can gather around the shaft of a feather

If you’re looking for nits on your hen, keep in mind that these clumps of eggs have a whitish-gray appearance to them.

Treatments for Poultry Lice

There are several treatment methods that you can use once you detect lice on your hens. The most common treatment involves applying a standard lice treatment, which typically comes in a spray solution. If you would like to use a more natural alternative, consider dusting your hens with diatomaceous earth, which is completely natural and safe for your hens. No matter which of these treatments you use, it’s important that you repeat the process to make sure that all lice have been killed.

Even if the lice are near the end of their lifecycle, you should continue using the treatment in case the lice lay more eggs. While treating your hens is important, it’s also essential that you clean out the chicken coop to eliminate any lice that have yet to latch onto your hens. Get rid of all bedding in the chicken coop before cleaning out the henhouse with a high-pressure hose.

Preventive Measures You Can Take

Even though treating hens that have lice isn’t too difficult, you can reduce the need to treat your hens by taking some preventive measures that will lessen the likelihood that your hens become infected with lice. First, you should understand that lice and mites are completely natural and will invariably occur from time to time, which can’t be avoided entirely. The things you can do to reduce the risk of lice include:

  • Quarantine any of your new hens, after which you should check them for lice before adding them to the coop.
  • Make sure that the coop is cleaned regularly, which includes the bedding.
  • Use diatomaceous earth in your hen’s bedding and in a dust bath.

With these tips in mind, you shouldn’t have too many lice problems.

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