External Parasites in Backyard Flocks


Overview of Lice and Mites in Poultry

While backyard and pasture poultry may get a more exciting life living outdoors, this life can subject the birds to more external parasites.

Lice and mites are commonly found on outdoor poultry. These parasites can be transmitted to birds from other birds, humans, equipment, or the environment.

Lice spend time living on the birds as well as in the environment. The Northern Fowl Mite spends its entire life on the bird while the Common Red Mite hides in the environment during the day and only feeds on birds in the night.

These parasites feed on the blood of your chickens and can cause anemia, itchiness, feather loss, and disease. While these parasites can not live on you, they are able to bite humans.


Chicken Mite
Chicken Mite
Chicken Louse
Chicken Louse

The presence of these parasites on your birds creates a welfare concern as birds become stressed, uncomfortable, and more susceptible to disease. Further, it has been shown that mites can transmit diseases to birds. Thus, it is important you know how to monitor, treat, and prevent these parasites.

Examining your birds

1. Note the general condition of your bird. Does your bird feel boney or more meaty/fleshy? This can help you determine if the bird is losing weight.

2. Examine the skin for signs of swelling, wounds, or color changes

3. Examine the bird while it walks for any lameness (limping) or weakness

4. Examine the base of the feathers, especially near the abdomen and vent.

Clinical Signs of External Parasites on Birds

Evidence of external parasites on chickens
Evidence of external parasites on chickens

Evidence that your birds may have mites or lice may include:

· Birds are restless or weak

· Crusty material on comb and wattles

· Parasites crawling on the bird or on you after holding the bird

· Weight Loss

· Feather loss and scabs on skin

· Irritated skin, damaged feathers

· Laying less eggs,

· Decreased egg quality

· Feather pecking, cannibalism

· Death


· Look for quick moving insects at base of feather

· To find the red chicken mite, looking on birds at night will help

· Use clear packing tape to catch the parasites on the birds and within the environment (feeders, nest boxes, enrichment etc.)

· Bring the tape to your veterinarian for microscopic analysis


Treatment of lice and mites in chicken coops can be difficult but is possible. It’s important that you only use chemicals or products that are approved for application on birds and that these products are used properly. Not using these products properly can cause chemical resistance within your flock. Ensure you are aware of feed withdrawal times of products so you do not have left-over residues in your eggs or meat.

At this time, pyrethroid sprays appear to be the best option for treatment of external parasites in poultry. Some people have had success with diatomaceous earth or vegetable oil.

There is a possibility to request and emergency drug release, through your veterinarian, for a medication (Exzolt) approved for poultry mites in other countries and now under special legislation in Canada. Exzolt hasa 14 day meat and 0 day withdrawal time for eggs, and is considered a breakthrough product for treatment of poultry mites.

If the parasite load is too heavy, culling birds may be the most welfare friendly option. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian about treatment options for your birds to ensure their welfare and your safety is maintained.

Treatment typically requires two applications that are 7-10 days apart


Outdoor coops are really good at harvesting parasites so it is important to stay on top of parasite management with ongoing monitoring, treatment, and cleaning. Parasitic monitoring should include mite traps. Parasites can be transferred to other birds and farms very easily – visitors (humans and other birds), rodents, equipment, etc. so proper biosecurity should be installed.

If possible:

· Keep your poultry away from wild birds or other poultry

· Do not allow your coop to become too crowded

· Look for parasites on your birds regularly to diagnose and treat early

· Thoroughly clean your coop (including perches, windows, etc.) by removing all

· Discuss fumigation Insecticide treatment of your coop with your veterinarian

Take Home Message:

External parasites can affect bird health and welfare. It is important to montiro whether your birds have any parasites and treat the birds and the environment when needed. Effective cleaning and biosecurity can help reduce the risk of parasites. Some of these parasites not only have the ability to transmit diseases to chickens, some can also bite humans.

Working with your veterinarian can help reduce the prevalence and risk of external parasites.

Marshall Swine and Poultry Health Services
If you have questions you’d like us to answer in monthly newsletters or if you have advice relevant to this topic, or if you would like to be added to our email list for newsletter updates, please contact us at office@marshallswineandpoultry.com



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