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Introduction

Article updated on 17th October 2018. Over the years as a backyard chicken keeper and breeder, I’ve heard lots of claims and remedies for how to safely treat mites or lice on chickens and other poultry; such as products like ivermectin, Maldison 50, Permethrin (synthetic pyrethrum), Carbaryl (Sevin), pest powders, dipping solutions. Or, more natural solutions like diatomaceous earth, pyrethrum/pyrethrin, garlic, onion, dust bathing, vinegar baths, and ensuring certain environmental conditions are kept, etc.

Disclaimer: The following information is gathered from a variety of sources and is primarily based on my experience and opinion - I am not a vet - please consult a professional if you have any doubts or need to administer medication for your hens.   

So what does really work and what is the real truth about chemical remedies vs so-called natural solutions to keep our backyard chickens and other poultry safe and healthy? In this article, I want to first discuss the ethics about treating poultry for mites and lice in regards to chemical and natural products and then I will detail the products I (and other poultry keepers/breeders) currently use/recommend for their flocks. Then in the last part of this lengthy article, I’ll mention a few popular treatments I don’t use and why.    

Administering Ivermectin via eye dropper to back of neck (image above)

Firstly, many so-called remedies to rid and protect our poultry from lice and mites have not been proven to work through any subjective testing. Even more alarmingly some methods of mite and lice treatment, which have no scientific or field evidence at all to prove effectiveness, are widely circulated around the world as “miracle cures” when in fact they could be doing our chickens and ourselves great harm!       

It’s such a pity people new to keeping chickens have to plough through tonnes of emotive dribble plastered all over the internet to try and find reliable unbiased information on how to prevent and treat their backyard flock for mites and lice.

I would go as far to say, there seems to be a large elephant in the room when it comes to how people treat their chickens and other poultry for parasites like mites and lice. It’s almost like chicken keepers and particularly breeders are too scared to openly declare how they manage their flock because they are worried about reprisals.

And although keeping their treatment methods “secret” is their right, the problem is when new chicken keepers try to find basic reliable information about treating their birds for mites and lice they end up finding an array of confusing misinformation.

As always, the loudest voices are often what’s heard but they’re not always right. Advocates of some so-called organic or natural mite and lice treatments for chickens are all over the internet. Their beliefs are fed by a yearning for the perfect world where nature has an organically safe solution to everything.

Of course, this notion is complete rubbish and it annoys me greatly when I see some of the ignorant information promulgated by “well meaning” naturalists as honest truths when in fact their remedies are more like witch doctor medicine with a big dose of hope.   

You cannot reason with these people just like those who are against human vaccinations for diseases and illness there are those who vehemently oppose the use of any unnatural treatment for mites and lice on poultry. No doubt, I’ll get the fanatical “greenie” trolls rubbishing this article and throwing insults but I feel the truth about real ways to treat chickens for these types of parasites needs to be told.       

We all want the best for our animals and no sane animal lover likes using chemicals or medications to treat for disease or illness. We’d all much prefer natural remedies where possible and the truth is there are natural ways that do help to prevent mites and lice from growing in alarming numbers and infecting our chickens (more about them later). However, we also have to be realistic and know when to draw the line between being au natural and pigheaded to the detrimental health of our flock.  

To be brutally blunt, a totally organic and natural product to comprehensively treat mites and lice in chickens and other poultry has not been found or invented yet. I hate to break the news so harshly because I personally really wish it wasn’t so as well! It would be awesome if there were some natural product on the market worldwide that was totally environmentally friendly, absolutely safe, practical to administer, and controls mites and lice but this isn’t so…      

The truth is, there are several leading chemical products  (some of which are loosely touted as organic by some) that actually do work and are used around the world by poultry or pet bird breeders/keepers, which have all been tested and approved by relevant authorities.

Sceptics will say, “Just because the authorities approved a chemical it doesn’t necessarily make it safe or proper to use,” I understand this point of view and feel this mistrust myself about heaps of issues in our society.

However, people must also understand the stringent testing and processes pharmaceutical/chemical companies must go through to gain approval before these products are allowed to be sold, particularly, if they are to be used on plants or animals in the food industry.

We can scoff all we want about governments letting us down over the years and approving products that turned out to be harmful (asbestos, for example) but at least the authorities get it right most of the time, and that is better than blind belief quite frankly. Or, the hocus pocus of some “natural” products that have never truly been tested at all but dodge regulatory approval because they are not classified as a chemical.       

I’ve covered this point before in some of my YouTube videos, sometimes the correct and discriminate use of chemicals on our animals is the only real solution to keeping them and us safe! We use chemicals in humans and domestic pets all the time to help keep us healthy such as vaccinations, worming tablets, tick treatments, etc. So what’s the problem with doing the same for our poultry? As long as withholding periods before consuming eggs or meat are adhered to there’s really only positive outcomes for the birds and us.      

The opposite extreme is not the world we want to go back to when in the days before these treatments were available the average lifespan for humans was half today's and animals were left to suffer pest and disease until they perished.

Recently, a popular reserve in Australia had a severe outbreak of mites, which in turn was affecting a large population of endangered wombats. These mites are so invasive that they cause the wombat to develop such a bad case of mange they eventually die a horribly irritating death! Wildlife officers are researching ways to catch and treat this wonderful Australian marsupial before it’s too late.

There’s nothing natural about it… Mites and lice cause real damage and if left unattended will KILL animals including chickens so it’s very important we chicken keepers ensure these types of parasites are not flourishing in our domestic flocks.

 

Checking chickens for mites and lice

Therefore, how do we properly treat our chickens to protect them against mites and lice? Well, the first thing to do is establish if there’s a real need to treat your hens at all. It just might be the case that your flock doesn’t have a mite or lice problem whatsoever!

Furthermore, mites are the real baddies and need to be taken seriously particularly if they are in large numbers whereas a few feather lice around the flock isn’t something we should panic about, to be honest.

Remember, mites and lice are different animals. A mite is an arthropod and has 8 legs like a spider and lice are insects so they have 6 legs. Also, most mites live away from the hen in and around the coop and only come out at night to crawl onto the bird to feed, although, there are some mites that do burrow under the skin and scales of the chicken but they aren’t usually as common.

Lice don’t generally bite and suck the blood from chickens (like mites do) they live on dead skin and feathers. Therefore, whilst lice may cause irritation and should not be allowed to build up in big numbers on hens, they are not near as bad as mites, which can kill birds if left to grow in large numbers.

Check your hens for signs of mites and lice (a magnifying glass is helpful) and look for things like: egg clusters at the base of feathers or around the vent, tiny moving specks on the chicken’s skin, gatherings of mites around the legs or neck, scabs around the comb or head, plucking own feathers, bare patches of feathers, irritations and abrasions, or a hen looking generally sad and unwell.

Scaly leg mites can cause ugly inflammation and scale build up on the hen's legs due to the mite burrowing under the scales and is a rather easy condition to spot. Mites that live on the bird such as scaly leg mites should be treated ASAP.        

Other places to look for mites and lice are in nesting boxes, on roosts, and around cracks/crevices of coops. These little bugs and arachnids can be quite easy to spot when they move.   

General treatment rules      

If your hens don’t have any signs of mites or lice then perhaps it’s not necessary to treat them but this depends on a few variables in my opinion anyway, such as:

  • The history of mite and lice infestation - If you have had a history of bad infestations then you might consider it prudent to treat your poultry as a preventative measure as many poultry owners do. However, if mites and lice are not a big problem in your area then you could monitor your flock and only treat at the first signs of parasites or just a few times a year (for example bi-yearly or quarterly). Personally, I’m rather hesitant to treat my birds for prevention purposes only, because it seems to be a waste of resources, time, and unnecessary chemicals on my flock.    

  • Your location – Some places are more prone to these awful parasites than others so if your area is renowned for having plenty of mites and lice then it is probably a good idea to have a regular treatment routine. Also, if your pen or free-ranging area is freely and frequently accessed by wildlife such as wild birds then regular treatments may be necessary.     

  • Introducing new birds to your flock – When you get new hens to add to your flock it’s not a bad idea to treat all birds for mites and lice just to ensure no extra “passengers” on the new hens get a chance to breed up and infect the whole flock. As a side note, keeping new birds in quarantine for a few weeks can also protect your existing flock against unexpected introduced diseases.           

Also, parasites don’t just stay on the chickens so you need to treat more than just your hens! Whenever chickens are treated for mites and lice all the mulch/litter in their nesting boxes and around the coop should be removed at the same time and the whole place treated to ensure parasites hiding in the cracks and crevices are eradicated otherwise they’ll just re-infest your poultry.

If you’ve had a really bad breakout of mites or lice it’s best to repeat the treatment about 10 days later (or as directed on the product instructions) to ensure any newly hatched nits or eggs are taken care of also – it’s called breaking the cycle.     

If you choose to mainly treat your flock when external parasites are detected (this is what I do) rather than as a preventative measure, ensure you conduct regular checks. Remember to stay vigilant, just because you have no signs of mites or lice in your flock it doesn’t mean there never will be so keep a look out!  

 

Natural vs chemical control or both

I’m a big believer in using natural ways to help control mites and lice in chickens in conjunction with chemicals. What I mean by that is, providing the hens with a good, clean environment to live and forage whilst at the same time employing chemical methods to control parasites when needed.

Dust bathing area for chickens (image above)

Healthy, well-fed chickens kept in a clean environment away from wild birds and other animals tend to have less stress and fewer parasites. Here are some natural ways to greatly assist our poultry (especially chickens) against mites and lice infestations:

  • Change the coop mulch, nesting boxes, and bedding regularly – new fresh bedding regularly helps to stop a build-up of baddies. 

  • Use steel and metal for housing instead of wood – this makes it harder for mites to hide and survive because unlike wood metal doesn’t have as many places to hide and breed. This especially includes perches and is why modern chicken tractors have alloy runs to roost on instead of wood. Keeping in mind chickens do prefer wood so I suppose it’s a compromise.

  • Feeding chickens garlic and onion – this alone is not a treatment for mites and lice (as some people think) and it may not even be a deterrent but it is possible a good diet and one with garlic or onion added occasionally could help to deter parasites. It can’t hurt anyway…  

  • Keep the flock stress free – Try to ensure the birds feel safe and comfortable in their environment with good housing and protection. Strong birds deal better with parasites and may not be as much of a target (although to be honest health good or not as a way to protect birds could be a complete myth but again it doesn’t hurt to follow this rule).   

  • Dust bathing areas – Chickens don’t just scratch they also dig. My chickens did bigger holes than my dog! Although chickens might scratch to look for food they also love to dig in order to help rid themselves of parasites. A hen will spend a great deal of time most days in a dust hole throwing dirt all over herself – the fine dust helps soothe skin irritations and may even kill mites and lice. Therefore, it’s important to provide a dust bathing area for chickens and this is easy enough but in pens where the ground is too hard or whatever a kiddies sand pit or raised bed with dry dirt or sand/dirt mix will work fine.

  • Water bath and the use of vinegar – Manually bathing a bird is not something commonly done nor is it usually required but if the bird is dirty (like poop around the vent) or requires a wash for any other medical reason, then a warm bath can be necessary. I don’t advocate the use of vinegar baths as a way to help control mites and lice because it can do more harm than good by stripping away the oil from the bird’s feathers. If more than warm water is needed then a mild soap can be used. 

Hen throwing dust over herself (image above)      

The totally organic way

We can all get wrapped around the axels and demand a totally organic way to treat our poultry for everything but unless you have a lot of time on your hands, just a few birds, or are extremely dedicated, going fully organic is unrealistic and quite possibly fruitless.     

I’m not saying it’s totally impossible to rid your chickens of mites and lice through complete organic measures what I am saying is you need to employ several organic methods of external parasite control at the same time and conduct inspections with further treatments more often than chemical methods. This might not be a problem for some people, however, for others these time consuming and regular organic treatments for their hens could lead to less vigilance and a hassle put off for another day at the detriment of the flock.

That’s why, I’m an advocate for the use of easy and quick chemical control of external parasites on chickens and other poultry with the common sense approach to providing a good environment for the flock to live, feed, and play.       

I see videos on YouTube proudly showing their “organic way” to control mites and lice such as spraying chickens with eucalyptus oil and hand washing the coop with soap but there’s little follow-up or evidence these methods work. It’s nice for the camera though…

Let me put it this way, if your child gets head lice do you shave his/her head to the scalp, submerge the head in apple cider vinegar and hope for the best, sit down with a fine comb hovering over the sink and sift the hair whilst squashing lice with the back of your fingernail; or, buy a lice and nit treatment from the chemist apply that and jobs done?

We go for the head lice treatment because it’s clinically proven, quick, easy, and most importantly it WORKS. Unfortunately, head lice treatments for humans are chemicals and we’d prefer not to use them, however, we know the likelihood of long-term damage from using it is very small.

Here’s another example, we live in a paralysis tick zone and we own a dog… Therefore, we have decided to give our pet a regular chemical tick treatment to ensure our dog doesn’t suffer a slow paralysis death by suffocation.

We could choose not to use a preventative chemical but instead check our dog daily for ticks and then remove them manually, but miss one tick and in 2 days our beloved pet could be dead – in fact, losing a dog to paralysis tick has happened to us and it was an awful experience. 

Having said that, we are dealing with chickens and most people keep them for eggs and sometimes meat, therefore, we can’t be using chemicals on our birds which could pollute our own food supply and inadvertently harm us.

That’s why it’s important to follow withholding periods (if applicable) when using chemical treatments for mites and lice on backyard chickens. Also, it’s a given any chemical we do use to treat our birds must be used strictly as directed and if we do follow all the instructions properly the science and testing behind these products tell us they are safe.

Biological control of mites on chickens

There is one other emerging treatment for naturally controlling mites on chickens and that's through the biological use of predator mites. Although relatively new, the control of red poultry mite via the release of predatory mites into the coop shows promise as a natural and organic way to solve this issue.

The red poultry mite (or roost mite) can apparently be controlled through the release of a predatory mite species called Killer Mites Hypoaspis Aculeifer. These killer mites once released into the coop hunt and eat the parasitic red poultry mites and also their eggs.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any conclusive studies or detailed first hand experiences to show how effective the use of predatory mites actually is so again that's disappointing. Hopefully, the use of predatory mites to control red mites on chickens will prove to be a successful treatment in the future. In the meantime, I will certainly post an update if any further news about predatory mites becomes available.            

Some commercial products for mite & lice control 

For the last part of this article, I’m going to detail some commercial products I (or people I know) use on their chickens. Then, I will detail some of the popular treatments I don’t use and why.

 

Ivermectin on chickens

In my opinion, using Ivermectin as a treatment for mites and lice (possibly some internal parasites also) in chickens is the best, easiest to administer, but unfortunately one of the most controversial.  

Ivermectin is a derivative of Avermectin, a naturally occurring substance made from a living organism found only in Japan. Avermectin was discovered in the 1970’s and is considered one of the safest and most beneficial drugs ever developed (almost on par with aspirin and penicillin). It is used extensively for the treatment of parasites (internal and external) for animals and humans with great success and limited side effects. Without Ivermectin millions of people around the world would be suffering insidious parasitic bodily infestations causing horrible disfigurations and poor quality of life even death.   

In animals, for the past 30 plus years, ivermectin has been used to treat livestock such as sheep and cattle protecting them from many awful parasites and increasing farming productivity hugely around the world. 

There are many different brands and derivatives of Ivermectin. Some products are absorbed by ingestion through the animal’s water supply and others are placed on the skin through drenching or spraying animals.

Regardless of the delivery, Ivermectin works by entering the bloodstream and by direct contact to kill both internal and external parasites. Most backyard chicken keepers who use Ivermectin on their birds use it externally via drops on the back of the hen’s neck rather than via the water supply.

However, there are some with larger flocks who prefer to deliver the drug via the hen’s water because it’s easier. Although, it’s important to note dose rates and types of Ivermectin differ depending on how it is administered either by absorption through skin or ingestion.     

The problem or sticking point in regards to using ivermectin on poultry is mainly administrative due to an oversight to not test it on chickens etc when the drug was first developed. The testing concentrated on larger animals and domestic pets with poultry inadvertently overlooked (this is my understanding from talking to people within the poultry industry). To date, this seems like the most plausible explanation as to why ivermectin was not initially tested on poultry although I can’t find a scientific reference for this theory.

Suffice to say, this lack of testing means ivermectin can’t be formally approved for use on fowl because a tested withholding period (if any) has not been established for egg or meat consumption reasons. Therefore, it can’t or probably shouldn’t legally be sold as a treatment for mites and lice on backyard chickens (in Australia that is). I should stress I have no legal advice or qualification to confirm this statement I’m mainly going off hearsay.  

Ironically, avermectin/ivermectin can be sold to treat non-food birds such as parrots, and budgies, etc and is widely used in pet bird industries. This is where the line probably became crossed from pet bird to chicken when people realised how effective the product was on poultry also.

The confusion over the use of Ivermectin, its amazing effectiveness, and the temptation to retail it as a product to use for backyard chicken keepers on their flocks is evident by the fact that it is sold here in Australia and commercially marketed only by a few retailers but its continuation remains dubious.

As far as I know, Ivermectin as a treatment for mites, lice, and intestinal worms specifically for chickens was withdrawn from sale in Australia around 2013. At the time, there was no explanation from retailers (I know of) as to why the product was discontinued. However, it seems at least one retailer here in Australia has resumed selling Ivermectin targeted at chicken keepers again in 2015.

The retailer I’m talking about is City Chicks until they stopped selling the product (briefly), I purchased my Ivermectin online from City Chicks (one of two well-known online chicken retailers I knew of who sold the product here in Australia) and it was/is retailed in 100mil bottles. The product was initially marketed as an all-in-one internal and external parasite controller, meaning when used on poultry it effectively killed worms, mites, lice, and ticks.

However, Ivermectin sold by City Chicks is now only marketed for external parasite control and they have since changed their product statement to read, “Ivermectin is not considered reliable for internal parasite treatment which is why we are recommending its use in conjunction with Avitrol Plus worming tablets or syrup”.

For this particular product, the recommended dose for a standard sized chicken is 1 mil placed on the back of the hen’s neck on the skin every 3 months or when parasites were apparent (I used half the dose for quail or bantams). My testing and use of Ivermectin on my poultry (chickens, ducks, and quail) proved very effective against both external parasites like mites/lice and internal parasites such as roundworms. 

The recommended withholding period for the Ivermectin product sold by City Chicks is 5 days for chickens or other poultry. In other words, it is recommended eggs or meat from birds treated with Ivermectin should not be consumed by humans until 5 days after treatment – after 5 days, the levels of the drug in the bird's system is considered negligible and the consumption of eggs or meat from the poultry can resume.  

Of course, the obvious questions are: who came up with the withholding period? Why was ivermectin “for chickens” withdrawn from sale or why do so few retailers sell it? And, what was exactly in the ivermectin product? I don’t know the definitive answer to any of these questions but I suspect a vet came up with the withholding period taking into consideration the known legal withholding periods for other animals.

And, the reason why few retailers here in Australia actually sell Ivermectin for chickens and those who did stop selling ivermectin (albeit briefly) was due to Australian law prohibiting a product to be sold for any other purpose other than what it was originally intended. Since ivermectin is not officially approved for the use on poultry then technically it’s against the law to sell it for this purpose – or, is it? That’s my understanding from talking to others within the poultry industry anyway...

Finally, what was the exact Ivermectin based product I purchased? Well, since the bottle is relabelled it only contains directions for use and the word Ivermectin, which wasn’t overly helpful since there are many derivatives of this chemical.

I can make an educated guess and say the Ivermectin product I was buying online is most likely Moxidectin, which is readily sold under several brand names. City Chicks probably purchased the Moxidectin in bulk and then rebottled it into 100mil bottles for resale. There’s more about using and purchasing Moxidectin at the end of this segment… Edit: Since the publishing of this article it seems City Chicks has again withdrawn its ivermectin-based product as I can't seem to find it for sale on their Website anymore - lucky I stocked up...        

So why doesn’t someone just test it and get ivermectin approved then?! Well, unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as that – I wish it were… Firstly, testing a drug and running trials to convince a regulatory authority that it’s safe to use costs money – possibly millions of dollars.

Secondly, there has to be a push/ground swell and NEED for a product to be developed and currently there are other ways to control mites and lice in poultry that also work.

These other products (some we’ll discuss later in this article) are not as effective or as easy to administer as ivermectin; however, they still work nevertheless so the appetite to re-trial ivermectin just to prove it’s safe to use on backyard chickens is virtually nil.           

Still, the lack of formal approval has not stopped ivermectin being used on chickens and other poultry. Industry professionals like veterinarians often prescribe ivermectin for chickens to eradicate mites and lice. 

A celebrity vet here in Australia called Dr Harry once presented a TV segment on the popular show Better Homes and Gardens where he recommended using ivermectin to treat scaly leg mites on a backyard chicken. So, obviously, vets can prescribe ivermectin as a treatment for external parasites it’s just that the public can’t easily buy it for this purpose. Weird hey… 

I know of people who have a good relationship with their vet and buy ivermectin in bulk from them to use on their chickens. Another of the online poultry supplies shops I visit still has small print on their website encouraging customers to contact them privately if they wish to by ivermectin to use specifically on chickens but they don’t list the product formally in their online store.

Last year (2014), I visited our annual show in Brisbane (EKKA) which has a large poultry pavilion and a guy at one of the stands inside was selling small bottles of their very own “miracle cure” for mites and lice on chickens. I asked the gentleman running the stand what was in their concoction and when pressed he admitted (quietly) it was ivermectin based.

Clearly, the use of ivermectin on poultry is currently in a confusing mess even though it is widely used amongst the poultry industry worldwide. It’s a shame people who want to use this product (like me) have to go underground to purchase it or search high and low for a retailer who stocks it.  

Having said all that, whew… Another very important consideration for people who do decide to source Ivermectin independently for use on their poultry (because it is readily available) is the dose and particularly the type of Ivermectin because not all Ivermectin based products are the same.

Some Ivermectin based products used for other animals may actually contain other substances that could harm chickens so please don’t just buy any Ivermectin based product off the shelf and guess it should work as this would be stupid. If in doubt seek vet advice.

From my research, Ivermectin based products called Moxidectin (with 5g/L), or commonly sheep dip, or brand named Cydectin Sheep Drench, are "supposedly" considered safe to use on poultry. Edit: However, since writing this article there have been several readers commenting to the contrary for example:

Ivomectin and moxidectin are NOT the same, do not confuse them! Moxidectin is a 2nd generation macrolitic compound with dosages for sheep cattle horse. It is dangerous to overdose and would be easily done in chickens. There is no conspiracy re ivomectin, it is easily purchased online or in ag/stockfeed stores in many generic or brand names (ivomec). You only need a tiny drop (o.1ml for adult standard chicken 0.05ml for bantam) on the back of the neck. To be safe allow a 21 day witholding period for meat, not sure for eggs. Moxidectin is 4 times the price as it is a recent development and there is less resistance BUT it hasn't been researcged enough in birds off label or not so don't risk it, research scientific papers or ask vets about off label use of ivomec if uncertain on dosage for the bottle you buy. Legally your poultry supplier can't sell in smaller batches off label that is why they come and go from sale as they are probably getting audited. That would be like me selling you single panadol tablets, labelled 'miracle head ache cures' There are laws to protect the consumer not just to ruin our fun!

If anything the above quote from our comments section (and there are several others) demonstrates perfectly what I mean by ivermectin being such a confusing and controversial product, particularly when associated with poultry!    

Ivermectin (Ivomec) can be purchased here on eBay (Australia) for very reasonable prices but as I keep stating your purchase and use of this product or derivatives is to be used with caution and at your own risk! In the USA this product is sold on eBay and also Amazon with people claiming to use it on their chickens - contact the seller for more information about dosages and use. 

The dose for chickens when using ivermectin is apparently 0.5mil per kg or about 1mil for a standard sized hen usually administered by placing the dose on the back of the neck via an eyedropper or syringe (without a needle). Again, I must stress this information has been gathered from unauthorised sources and you should check with your vet before using anything on your hens contrary to the label!             

If you’d like to read more about the origins and benefits of Ivermectin have a read of this article published on The National Center for Biotechnology Information (USA)– it’s quite in-depth but very well written!    

I really do wish I could be more definitive with regards to the type of ivermectin treatment, exact product recommendations, and dosage but unfortunately, I can't... This is a great pity and a good (some would say typical) demonstration of how poor management by regulatory authorities regarding a product can cause mass confusion.     

Maldison 50

Maldison 50 or Malathion (as it’s called in the USA) is a pesticide commonly used to treat mites and lice in chickens. Maldison is considered by authorities around the world to be a low toxic pesticide with no real evidence it can harm humans if used as directed. However, anecdotally Maldison 50 or Malathion may not be as “safe” as the authorities claim.

I have heard and read accounts from veterinarians and chicken keepers noting cases of poisoning in chickens after being treated with Maldison and this is concerning not just for the health of poultry but also for humans.   

In fact, Malathion is the main ingredient in many head lice treatments for humans; although, in some countries, there have been reports of lice possibly becoming resistant to this treatment although the evidence is not conclusive. 

Maldison 50 is one of the most common and legally sold targeted treatments for mites and lice on chickens and other poultry in Australia. It’s also used as an effective spray in and around chicken coops/poultry housing.

When used on chickens Maldison 50 is diluted at different rates than when used to treat poultry houses or equipment. Essentially, Maldison 50 is diluted more when used on chickens directly than if used to spray chicken coops.

Annoyingly, the directions for use on the Maldison 50 container sold in Australia is in bulk only (obviously catering for large poultry breeders) and doesn’t have a breakdown into smaller quantities typically used by a backyard chicken keeper with a small flock. Again this demonstrates how overlooked the domestic hobby chicken market really is…

Therefore, I have calculated the dilution rates (or doses) below showing how I mix Maldison 50 when I use this product on my poultry – I stress, this is my calculations in conjunction with the manufacturer’s directions on the product I use and I strongly recommend you read and follow the directions specific to the brand and product on the label you have purchased as my treatment may be different to yours.    

Maldison 50 to treat chickens directly

Mix – dilute 5 mils of Maldison 50 in 1 litre (1000 mils) of water.

1 x litre of mixed Maldison 50 with water should treat up to 20 birds.  

Directions – Spray the diluted Maldison 50 onto the birds generously concentrating where lice and mites are usually found under wings and around vent. Alternatively, you could dip the birds in a container filled with the mix – this could be a more effective way to treat birds with major infestations. However, as I suggested in the beginning many people have reservations about using Maldison so dipping with this chemical is not something I would advocate doing.  

Maldison 50 to treat coops/poultry houses

To spray coop/poultry house dilute 500 mils in 8 litres of water – broken down this equals about 65 mils per 1 litre (1000 mils) water.

Directions – Using a pressure sprayer, thoroughly spray the walls, roosts, and nesting boxes of the chicken coop or poultry house ensuring all crack and crevices where mites, lice, and even ticks may be hiding.

# Process should be repeated in about 10 days to ensure subsequent hatching eggs for mites and lice are killed and the life cycle of the parasites is broken.     

# Remember to use breathing masks and gloves for personal protection when treating your flock.    

Pestrol (Rotenone) or Derris dust

Again this is a very common treatment for mites and lice on chickens in the form of a powder, which is applied (dusted) on the chicken paying close attention to when mites and lice gather such as under the wings and around the vent.

The main ingredient in Pestrol is Rotenone, which is a naturally occurring substance made from plants and actually is another product developed/founded initially by the Japanese. Rotenone is an effective treatment for mites and lice on poultry (and other pets) and is used in some products to treat head lice and scabies for humans.   

Although naturally occurring and considered relatively safe (even organic) I am personally suspicious about how safe Pestrol (Rotenone) really is and I would use it with caution because this product is known to be extremely effective at killing insects and fish.

Plus, I’m adverse to using dusts to treat animals because dust can be inhaled by the animal for several days after application or by us as we interact with them. Worryingly, there have been several medical studies since 2000 and as recent as 2011 showing links between Rotenone and Parkinson's disease and although not conclusive it still gives me a reason to be concerned about the use of any chemical dusts around chickens and humans.   

Permethrin-based products

Permethrin is a man-made (synthetic insecticide) from the pyrethrins family which originally is derived from plants/flowers. The natural substance (such as pyrethrum for pest control on vegetables in the home garden) has a short life once applied (usually under 24 hours) and is considered pretty safe overall – even organic. However, permethrin the synthetic substance may have a longer life and be more toxic particularly if it is mixed with other chemicals.

Products made from the pyrethrin family are pretty effective against insects including mites and lice killing on contact but apparently are not absorbed very easily through the skin of humans or animals (except cats, which for some reason it can kill). But by enlarge, this group of pesticides is seen to be low toxic and is a prime ingredient in things like insect sprays around the home or even mosquito repellent.

Still, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat all pyrethrins with caution and it should definitely be used as directed on poultry as I have read overdosing can be fatal to birds. Personally, I would be inclined to look for a pyrethrum (the natural one) based product for chickens rather than a permethrin (synthetic) based product if there was a choice.       

 

Popular mite and lice treatments I wouldn’t use on my chickens

Carbaryl (Sevin)

Carbaryl or commonly called Sevin is used to control mites and lice on chickens but it is a popular insecticide with many other uses including pest control on food crops.

There are some pretty strong reasons why I wouldn’t use Carbaryl or Sevin on chickens/poultry. Firstly, Carbaryl is known to be toxic to humans so it’s obviously a strong chemical which needs to be handled with caution; and secondly, Carbaryl is banned in many countries around the world so there must be reasons for nations to take this action.

One of the reasons Carbaryl is banned in many countries is due to it being a known carcinogen (can trigger cancer in humans) therefore this alone is enough to convince me to stay away from this chemical because if it is so toxic to humans, then why anyone would put it near their chickens is beyond me. 

Diatomaceous Earth

The use of Diatomaceous Earth (DE) to control mites, lice, and all external (and even internal) parasites on chickens and other poultry, in my opinion, has been the biggest scam this century in regards to keeping poultry. I would go even further and say the popularity of DE amongst some naturalists and organic preachers is a classic case of people whipping up a storm about a product and believing their own BS simply because they have a burning desire to believe they’ve found a silver bullet to control parasites in chickens that is completely natural. 

Diatomaceous Earth is a naturally occurring substance formed from the fossilised remains of tiny dead aquatic creatures or plants (like algae) to produce a fine sandy sediment rock that can be crushed into a powder.

Under a microscope, DE particles are sharp like glass shards and apparently it’s this characteristic mixed with its moisture absorbing qualities, which kills soft-bodied parasites through abrasion and dehydration. So the theory is you add DE to chicken feed, sprinkle it around nesting boxes and areas where the birds dust bath and it will control parasites both inside and out!

Too good to be true? Yep, it most certainly is… And, the reason I’m confident about DE for parasite control on poultry being a con is that there are no clinically recognised reputable studies proving Diatomaceous Earth actually works. In fact, there have been some small studies in cattle to see if DE could control internal parasites and it found it didn’t.

The worrying part about DE is how it is marketed as a completely harmless and organic product when it could actually be very harmful to the health of humans and chickens. It’s hard to prove either way because DE is basically fine sand and therefore is not classed as a medication, or restricted substance it escapes regulatory scrutiny.

In other words, not even the government knows much about Diatomaceous Earth apart from it being sand so there are no restrictions on who can sell it or how it is marketed for use. So without any real research or control, people are using an untested product which could potentially be dangerous.

Why could Diatomaceous Earth be dangerous? In its powdered form, DE can become airborne and thus inhaled by humans or poultry. To date, there is no evidence or studies (that I am aware of) showing DE to be harmful if inhaled into the lungs; however, most manufacturers packaging of DE recommends the wearing of a respirator when using DE. So, if DE is indeed harmless then what’s with the warning?

Chickens, unfortunately, can’t wear a respirator (not that I know of) so I worry what DE may do if inhaled by my birds? Yes, hens do dust bath in the dirt or even sand but no one really knows if dust bathing in DE is worse or not… 

Anecdotal evidence by broad-minded people who have tried DE to control external parasites on their own chickens shows convincingly that it doesn’t work as claimed. Many good veterinarians don’t recommend using DE and I have firsthand information from vets, breeders, and poultry suppliers who all believe DE at best is not a very good product to use for controlling parasites in poultry.

At the end of the day, there are two main issues that bother me about using Diatomaceous Earth: it doesn’t really work or it hasn’t been proven to and it could be dangerous – we just don’t know. Furthermore, DE has become rather expensive to buy maybe because it’s so “trendy” at the moment but I wouldn’t waste good money on a product claiming to be a miracle cure without the evidence to back it up.  

Conclusion    

As you can clearly see, I have a bias towards the use of Ivermectin based products for on the bird and Maldison 50 or products from the pyrethrins family for coops or roosts etc. Used in conjunction with natural remedies and practices I’ve found these to be the most effective and safest treatment of mites and lice on chickens or other poultry.

I consider myself an environmentally responsible and “green-leaning” person but I haven’t let my judgement be corrupted by a longing for the perfect safe environmentally friendly organic substance that doesn’t exist to treat my hens. Instead, I researched and tested mite and lice treatments for poultry over many years to come to this conclusion and write this rather long article.

Yes, we would all love a totally safe, organic, and sustainable substance to use as treatment for mites and lice on our loved poultry but until something else is developed that ticks those boxes with the research to back it up I will be using those products as detailed: mainly Ivermectin, Maldison 50, and a mixture of natural remedies plus a common sense approach to good poultry keeping practices.            

The aim of this article wasn’t to attack people who use those other methods nor was it to convince everyone to do what I do but moreover to help give people some clarity and information on ways and products to treat chickens or other poultry for external parasites like mites and lice. I also wanted to explain some background information behind certain treatments, which is otherwise difficult to find. There’s a lot of confusion out there especially on the internet about the best ways to treat poultry so I hope this can clear it up for some. 

We owe it to our birds to ensure they are provided with the best living conditions possible and I don’t believe we should jeopardise their health simply on principle by insisting on being totally organic.

Sure, only treat your birds when necessary – that’s fine, and yes use organic measures to help protect your flock but no one should let birds suffer from external parasites like mites and lice (particularly mites) just so they can claim no chemicals because to do so is morally wrong in my humble opinion.     

Do you have an opinion or your own tips on combating external parasites in regards to chickens? Then, feel free to make a comment or ask a question below. Also, don't forget our forum www.selfsufficientculture.com as you're most welcome to join our online community!

Look, and see the Earth through her eyes...

P.S Extra post notes: 

Christopher gave a great tip in the comments section below about using a steamer to clean the chicken coop. What a top idea and totally organic solution to killing any mites or nasties hiding in the cracks and crevices such as nesting boxes etc. Obviously, you don't do the steam treatment on the hens but for equipment, housing, and bedding areas hot steam is an excellent solution. 

 

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Comments (17)

Rated 5 out of 5 based on 1 voters
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Mark

Thanks for the info. I made the moo mistake of using old straw bedding for mulch and now have red mites in the garden bed. Any hints on how i can rid them?
Catherine

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Catherine,

Could you try live predatory mites? See this article here about using them as an alternative to pesticides. Cheers

Comment was last edited about 1 year ago by Mark Valencia Mark Valencia
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I just got a prescription for a 100 ml bottle of Ivermectin from my vet. You said 1 ml per full size bird. Half that for bantams and pullets. Is there a reapplication period like with dusts? Or should I reapply in 3 months if I see any more...

I just got a prescription for a 100 ml bottle of Ivermectin from my vet. You said 1 ml per full size bird. Half that for bantams and pullets. Is there a reapplication period like with dusts? Or should I reapply in 3 months if I see any more signs of infestation?
My birds free range on pasture and I cannot prevent wild birds from being a part of their environment, so I will be making bi-weekly inspections my new ritual.

Thanks for your post! I would not have used Ivermectin if I hadn't read it.

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If you got it from your vet you really must get the dosage from them also. My statements on dosages in the article were made for information purposes on the product subscribed to me and should not be used for other products.

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Mark.... there is scientific literature out there following research into DE and its use in poultry for control of external parasites and it has been proven to be successful. But as all treatments, it should be used in moderation and combined...

Mark.... there is scientific literature out there following research into DE and its use in poultry for control of external parasites and it has been proven to be successful. But as all treatments, it should be used in moderation and combined with several strategies, particularly in a preventative form to ensure an outbreak doesn't occur.

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I bought into the idea of using Diatomaceous Earth (D.E) almost exclusively, especially since I have a very cheap, and locally produced supply. Earlier this summer I noticed northern foul mites, and hen fleas in my nests. I tried increasing the...

I bought into the idea of using Diatomaceous Earth (D.E) almost exclusively, especially since I have a very cheap, and locally produced supply. Earlier this summer I noticed northern foul mites, and hen fleas in my nests. I tried increasing the amount of D.E in the nests, their dust baths, and dusted each bird with it regularly over the course of 2 weeks to no avail . The buggers were literally crawling around in D.E. like they were thriving in it. After 2 weeks of religious D.E treatment, I gave up and switched to Carbaryl (Sevin Dust) as recommended by a local vet and it worked within days. I don't like the stuff either especially due to its toxicity to bees, but its great to hear that there are other options that potentially less damaging to the surrounding environment. Thanks for the article, its great to hear a more pragmatic view on the subject.

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Hi Patrick, I so much appreciate you giving us your experience on DE - that was a very informative and interesting comment you wrote. I must admit I wished there was something that worked on mites and lice, which was completely natural, organic,...

Hi Patrick, I so much appreciate you giving us your experience on DE - that was a very informative and interesting comment you wrote. I must admit I wished there was something that worked on mites and lice, which was completely natural, organic, and harmless to the environment and initially I investigated using DE because I had hoped this was such a product but it isn't, unfortunately...

At the end of the day, if we use the proven products for chickens such as Carbaryl strictly as directed this is a better option than doing nothing or continuing to use an unproven method and letting the hens suffer.

Thank you very much for your input

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Thank you , seems very fair and balanced, good info!

  1. 5 / 5
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Thank you Erika!

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Tiffany,

my article explains several products that are proven effective on mites and lice but the question is are you willing to use them? You ask if anyone knows of a "good treatment" do you mean one that isn't chemical based because there are...

Tiffany,

my article explains several products that are proven effective on mites and lice but the question is are you willing to use them? You ask if anyone knows of a "good treatment" do you mean one that isn't chemical based because there are many chemicals approved for use on birds in the USA and around the world that will certainly work by killing mites and lice to solve your problem. The issue I have is what chemical is the safest...?

If you're looking for an organic miracle in DE I think you'll be very disappointed quite frankly because I have never heard of any serious chicken breeder use the stuff and all my research weighs heavily towards DE not working.

Comparing DE to ivermectin is a little odd - a treatment either works or it doesn't and I can tell you ivermectin does work to kill all sorts of skin parasites on poultry from first hand experience I've been using it for several years but don't take my word for it many veterinarians recommend it, which can't be said for DE. If ivermectin hasn't worked for you my guess is there was some external factor influencing the treatment such as: incorrect type of ivermectin, bad batch, incorrect dose, etc.

If finding a treatment is concerning you so much I suggest visiting your local vet for advice so that your birds can be promptly treated and free from isolation to join your main flock.

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Comment was last edited about 3 years ago by Mark Valencia Mark Valencia
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Hi David,

A lot of people use Ivermectin and a lot of people recommend it because its pretty safe. However, how effective it is; is another story. I've been using it and have had no luck with it. That's why I am here' looking for another...

Hi David,

A lot of people use Ivermectin and a lot of people recommend it because its pretty safe. However, how effective it is; is another story. I've been using it and have had no luck with it. That's why I am here' looking for another treatment. Everyone says that DE is useless also. This is starting to be a witch hunt! I feel bad for these little chicks. Does anyone have a good treatment? I bought them at what we call, "chicken swap" here in the US. They were just babies and I didn't see any on them when I bought them but I noticed it about 3 weeks ago and have been treating with Ivermectin as suggested in a chicken group. Next time that I buy birds, I will do a SUPER look over and I dont care what the seller thinks! This is just horrible! My little ones cant join the flock until this is gone. But I think that I will go with the DE regardless of what others are saying. Time to try another solution. I have also heard that flea and tick treatment for dogs work well but that scares me a bit. Anyway, I hope that the DE works! Bye

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Hi Sue,

thank you for your comment, this is a controversial subject (it shouldn't be) but it's nice to get some support from people like you who understand the real intentions of the article. I can see the statistics show this article is...

Hi Sue,

thank you for your comment, this is a controversial subject (it shouldn't be) but it's nice to get some support from people like you who understand the real intentions of the article. I can see the statistics show this article is getting quite a lot of interest so I hope it has helped clear up some of the misinformation out there on treatments for poultry for mites, lice, and other parasites. Cheers

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Comment was last edited about 3 years ago by Mark Valencia Mark Valencia
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Excellent and relatively unbiased report. Thank you.You obviously care about your poultry and that can only be a good thing. I too take "organic" controls with a grain of salt -yes- because anecdotal is not evidence.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

David,

yes regarding your point about ivermectin you're absolutely correct.

Please publish which Ivermectin is registered for use with Poultry in Australia.


In my article, I explain at length how the use of ivermection is not ratified for use...

David,

yes regarding your point about ivermectin you're absolutely correct.

Please publish which Ivermectin is registered for use with Poultry in Australia.


In my article, I explain at length how the use of ivermection is not ratified for use on poultry that is my main point and frankly frustration with the system and a motivation for writing this article in the first place! Many people including poultry breeders and vets use ivermection on birds but is it legal? Probably not... but regardless it still is sold commercially by some respected retailers so why is that? And why do people use it then? The line is blurred somewhat and I don't know the full answer to why, except the theory outlined in my article about how testing ivermectin on poultry was inadvertently overlooked. I'll say it again - please read my article properly and in context. I've never stated ivermectin is "legal" to use on poultry but lots of people do including me who has researched the use of ivermection in chickens ad nausium.

In regards to DE, my guess is it works about as good as dust does and chickens have been doing this themselves since creation. I personally am not convinced DE will rid a severe mite infestation or clear up other problems like scaly leg mite on chickens - I've read and heard too many other opinions against the use of DE which has formulated my view but I'll concede I've never actually tried it myself and probably never will.

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