Keeping lice and mites in check is a must for every backyard chicken keeper. However, with so many products on the market, how do you know which ones are right for your flock? Are they safe to use? Are there natural/non-toxic alternatives available that are effective? In this article, I will be listing some of the various products available (for treatment and prevention). I will also list some of the health and safety hazards of common poultry pesticides and suggest safer alternatives that can help your flock stay free of lice and mites for good!
Plain & Simple Dirt
It is so true that prevention is much better than treatment! Chickens use dirt/dust to keep themselves naturally parasite free via dust-bathing. Simply supplying chickens with adequate space and a plot of dry, dusty earth can go far when preventing external parasites is concerned! An quick, easy way to provide chickens with dust is to fill a kiddy pool with dry garden soil.
Pyrethrin & Permethrin
Pyrethrin is a concentrated liquid derived from the Chrysanthemum flower. It is commonly used as a natural garden pesticide and is sold in liquid form. This makes it an effective pesticide for the coop/run area. It is not very good for applying directly to the birds. Pyrethrin is only effective as a louse/mite treatment but has a low toxicity level. You can likely find Pyrethrin in the garden center of your local home improvement store. It is also available for order at Amazon.
Permethrin is a more synthetic (less natural) version of Pyrethrin. It is commonly sold as a fine dust (approved and intended for poultry). Although it is not completely natural, Permethrin has a lower toxicity level than most treatments and does not easily permeate the skin. Some products containing permethrin (like Nix) are even approved for treating head lice in humans. Permethrin is also rather inexpensive and can be found at almost every Farm & Feed store as well as Amazon. 🙂
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a very popular product in the U.S as an external parasite treatment. Some even say it doubles as de-wormer… However, such claims have been far from scientifically or medically validated… Little research has been done on the effectiveness of DE.
So, What exactly is Diatomaceous earth? The answer is simple: finely-ground sedimentary rock. The sedimentary rock used to make Diatomaceous earth is rich is fossilized algae (also known as diatomite). When ground into a fine powder, diatomite can be abrasive on external parasites. However, for the info, I tried DE and found that it did not very effectively treat pre-existing lice in poultry. Both food-grade and standard forms made no difference. I also tried deworming several hens with food-grade DE, which proved non-effective.
The rough, yet fine particles of DE make it useful for many things… In fact, DE is commonly used to make beer, toothpaste even dynamite. However, although this abrasive substance can be useful, it can also pose a very serious health hazard to humans and birds when inhaled. So… although DE might be a better alternative than some other available pesticides for temporary use, I do not recommend it for treating external parasites in poultry. I especially do not recommend it to chicken-keepers that have pre-existing lung/breathing conditions/issues (such as Asthma and/or Allergies). 🤧 😷
Essential oils are natural and some (like eucalyptus, tea tree, mint, citronella and cajput) are effective pesticides/fungicides/bactericides. However, many essential oils (like tea tree) are very irritating when they come into contact with chickens’ skin. For this reason, I advise only using essential oils only as an insect deterrent in the coop and not directly on the birds. To use oils as a deterrent, simply put a little oil in a small spray bottle filled with water and spray on the walls/perching areas of the coop. It not only works well as an insect deterrent but doubles as a natural deodorizer. 💩
Bathing is likely one of the most natural ways to treat chickens affected with lice/mites. However, underlying health problems and/or a lack of adequate resources for proper hygiene may result in reoccurring parasite infestations. For such cases, bathing will not completely solve the issue… just temporarily mend it. Additionally, if you have an entire flock dealing with external parasites, bathing could be very tedious and time-consuming. However, occasional bathing done correctly and when needed poses no harm (You can read how and when to bath a chicken here: How To Give Your Chicken A Bath). If you choose to bathe your chickens, take note that chickens have sensitive skin. Many products, especially scented products and products containing essential oils, can irritate chickens’ skin. I use (and highly recommend) baby shampoo, which is very gentle. 😉 💦
Carbaryl (also known as Sevin or Garden dust) is an insecticide. It is highly effective at eradicating lice and mites in poultry. However, carbaryl scientifically and medically proven to be highly toxic. I do not recommend using products that contain carbaryl for this reason. 😵
Tetrachlorvinphos (also known as Rabon, Gardona, Stirofos and Garcide) is an Organophosphate. Although is a common ingredient in many pet flea & tick shampoos/medications, tetrachlorvinphos is also sold for use on livestock. However, the safety of this chemical insecticide is highly debatable. Most studies indicate that Tetrachlorvinphos is toxic. It may also increase the risk of cancer. For this reason, I do not recommend using products containing Tetrachlorvinphos.