|the 'pearly masses' of nits|
There are nine species of lice that effect chickens. Fortunately, only four species are common in N. America. The above species and the head louse, Cuclotogaster heterographus are very common in the Pacific Northwest. These external parasites are most likely to show up during autumn & winter. They are typically introduced from wild bird populations and have nothing to do with the cleanliness of one's husbandry practices or lack thereof.
|white crowned sparrow|
The body louse species that I am dealing with feeds on skin detritus, as well as chewing on skin & feathers. It is a small--about 1/8" long, straw coloured insect that is moves rather quickly. It is specific to birds and does not feed on mammals; not pleasant, but easy to control. So far, even though I have a chicken flock of over fifty birds, I have found the presence of nits and the occasional louse on only one these chickens- my Golden Brabanter rooster, Bigfoot. (He just will not dust bathe and this rebellious personal habit has now created consequences. Some new foundlings were also brought to me recently with lice as well. They were quarantined and have since been treated.) However, I know that like fleas, if I see one of these buggers more must be around. Though I have yet to see one of them on the waterfowl, the guineas, or the other chooks, and I handle ALL of my birds regularly- some of them every day.
|Me? Lice? Will you still cuddle me?|
An unnatural choice is Ivermectin. Introduced in the 80's, Ivermection is a broad-spectrum parasitic medicine. It is often injected into the nape of the chicken's neck. It can be challenging to administer the appropriate dose, and side effects can include blindness, tremors, and seizures. Not something I want to chance. (Like so many medical products, I doubt the companies manufacture them because of the goodness of their hearts.) Eggs should not be eaten for a couple weeks after administration. (If you read the poultry sites there are people who do eat them and say they did not become ill, but really folks, toxins can stay in your body a long time and they are rarely benign indefinitely.)
|rosemary-not just for roasting|
Cedar shavings often get a bad wrap on poultry sites, but I have not observed any problems using them for coop bedding and have spoken with a number of farmers that have used them for over forty years without detriment. They are certainly effective when it comes to deterring insects.
A monthly tea of garlic in the flock's water is also beneficial for removing/preventing both external & internal parasites. I use 8 minced cloves per gallon that I let steep the night before. In a pinch, 1500mg garlic oil tablets also work-- 2 per gallon. (I also offer a non-treated container of water, to prevent dehydration in case a bird will not drink the flavoured water. The treated water is always completely consumed long before the untreated one. I have yet to experience eggs with off or sulphurous flavours like a lot of literature suggests.)
To remove the existing parasites, I gave Bigfoot (and the foundling pullets) a bath in warmish water with a gentle liquid soap and lavender oil. Prior to his bath, I used olive oil to dissolve the clusters of nits at the feather bases. Coconut oil is supposed to also be great for this as well as having other healthful benefits-- http://www.tribune.com.ng/index.php/natural-health/17346-why-coconut-oil-treats-eczema-lice-arthritis. For the other birds, they get spritzed every few days with a spray composed of warm water, lavender oil, coconut oil, and lemon juice. There is a product on the market called Poultry Protector that works well- http://www.carefreeenzymes.com/id36.html. It's an enzymatic that I have used will good results, but it is rather pricey and does not remove nits. All of these treatments are also good for mites, fleas, ticks, etc. Thankfully, ticks & fleas are pretty uncommon on chickens in our area. I am knocking on wood right now, as I have not had these other parasites on my birds.
|A clean Bigfoot|