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.