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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

How to Naturally Treat Chicken Lice

chicken laying

I can still remember that feeling -- that punch in the gut that doesn't go away. I was still fairly new to the wonderful world of chickens, and everything had gone so smoothly up until this point. I had amazing mentors, friends and bloggers helping me along the way. And then this chickens got lice.

No, no way was this happening to me. All of my chickens had been extremely healthy and parasite free up until this point. And now, all of a sudden, one of the hens started acting lethargic. She had only been here for 3 weeks, if that. I quickly checked her over to notice that she was literally infested with lice. This poor girl had been this way quite a long time, and I brought her into our flock this way because I was naive and figured I didn't need to check them over since they came from a trusted breeder whom I had bought from before. But unfortunately, even the best of breeders can have issues when they are used to having a normally healthy and happy flock. We get comfortable in not doing our weekly check-ups, and then, something like this happens and can affect so many others.

Moral of my story -- always, always check over the chickens you buy....even if they are from people you know personally.

I reached out to several fellow chicken keepers on how to treat this girl and eventually my entire flock. In just 3 short weeks, the lice had spread to over half of our flock, though, it was minimal for my original flock. The other hens she came with were much worse off than my flock.

I received suggestions such as dusting in Sevin dust, poultry dust, Eprinex pour on, bathing in dawn dish liquid, dusting in DE and treating with poultry spray. Sadly, this one hen was already anemic and on her last leg, and I simply wanted something that worked quickly. So, I chose the Sevin dust and dusted all of our chickens with them....all 50 of them....

....and I was afterwards.

Please, learn from my mistake, and never ever use Sevin dust to treat lice or anything else on your property...not even in your garden. It is an extremely harmful chemical, not only for yourself and your animals, but it kills bees and beneficial bugs on your property. And, let's face it, if you use it in your garden, you are certainly NOT gardening organically. I also refuse to use "poultry dust", as it is equally as toxic and harmful.

I broke out in hives, had a fever, coughed uncontrollably (I even had a mask on). I was a wreck, and I can only imagine what it did to my chickens.

Thankfully, it immediately killed the lice, however, I retreated with DE a week later (because more lice had hatched) and DE did the job just fine with zero chemicals and absolutely no reaction. I completely understand there is a DE debate on whether it is safe or not, but when used wisely, it works wonders, and my own body thanked me afterwards as well.

lice eggs

Lice eggs on shaft of chicken feather via

Unfortunately, in the end, I also ended up using another pour-on chemical to treat all of our chickens topically. However, along the way, I found that all natural remedies would have worked (on their own!!!!) just as well.

Here is the schedule and the products you should use to treat chicken lice {completely all natural}.

1. Examine all chickens. Lice will be visible on the skin of the belly and around the vent. They will be nasty and crawling quickly, so look thoroughly. Assume that all of your flock could potentially have lice or lice eggs on them. Lice eggs will be seen (pictured above) at the base and on the shaft of the feather. Separate chickens that look anemic or lethargic from the rest of the flock. For chickens that visibly have lice on them, dust (to the skin) cautiously with food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Wood ash is a more natural option if you are against DE. However, DE works just fine on our homestead and we have absolutely zero issues using it.

2. Create a large bathing area for your chickens if you do not already have one. Fill it with fresh wood ash. Wood ash is a completely all natural way to rid chickens of lice and mites. In fact, you can even rub your chickens down (to the skin) with wood ash and a little dusty dirt rather than using DE. It will naturally kill mites and lice. Make sure there is plenty of wood ash in the dust bathing area for the next 4 weeks.

3. Thoroughly clean out coop and give a good layer of DE to the entire coop, including roosts and nesting boxes. Do not put bedding down for 1 hour. Do not allow your chickens back into the coop for 2 hours so that the dust settles. Lock them in their run or allow them to free range without coop access for 2 hours, total.

4. Lice eggs hatch every 7 to 10 days. So, you will need to inspect them again in exactly one week after the first treatment, and until the eggs hatch and complete their cycle (we suggest treating for 4 weeks). The wood ash dust bath, in and of itself, should kill all of the newly hatched lice from your regular flock. However, if you actually see lice (not just eggs) on your chickens in one weeks time, reapply DE or wood ash directly on the chicken down to the skin once more. The same with week #3. By week #4, there should be zero lice (in most cases, there's no lice after week #2). Continue to make sure there is plenty of wood ash in their dust bathing area, or bathe them in the wood ash instead of the DE.

5. For your more delicate chickens who may have become anemic, you'll need to pamper them a bit more. You will need to put the wood ash or DE directly on their skin and give them a nice rubdown for the next couple of weeks since they will be too weak to bathe themselves. You will also need to get their iron levels back up. This will require giving them plenty of raw red meat (which they will love) and other iron rich snacks and meals. After the 4 week healing period, they will most likely be ready to go back in with the rest of the flock. However, if you have roosters, you will need to make sure your ladies are strong enough to support being mated. If not, wait until they are strong enough before putting them back in with the flock.

If you prefer a more gentle way than rubbing your chickens down with DE or wood ash, a nice warm bath with dawn dish liquid will work just fine. But you'll need to make sure it's done on a warm day or that they are blown dry so that they do not get cold. Also, I just can't imagine giving anymore than 4 chickens a bath!

I hope that my horrible experience can help many of you. I doubt we will ever have to deal with this again, as we are completely on top of things now and will give any new hens brought in a thorough run down. However, sometimes life just throws you lemons -- and it is better to be prepared now than when you actually need the reference! As always, the key is prevention -- weekly check overs, quarantining new chickens, a clean coop and living area, and good diets are important! On our homestead, we strive to treat as naturally as possible. Certainly, there are some dire instances when less natural remedies must be used. However, thankfully, we have not had to use anything other than all natural treatments for quite some time now.

Amy Fewell is a work-at-home mom, homesteader, blogger and writer. Her and her family live on a mini-homestead in Virginia where they raise Icelandic Chickens, standard Rex rabbits, ducks, and more!  For more information about their homestead, visit them online at The Fewell Homestead.

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