Chicken Lice Can Be A Serious Problem
Chicken lice live for the most part in the feathers of a chicken and to some degree on the skin. One might suspect that these tiny creatures are blood suckers, and a host of them would eventually do a chicken in. The fact is, chicken lice eat mostly dead skin, scales, and feathers. An individual louse or a small number of lice will do little harm to a chicken, but a large infestation can cause the bird a great deal of grief, perhaps to the point where it will die.
No Danger To Humans - We sometimes have a fear of going into hen houses or chicken coops, believing that if we stay for to long a time, we might become infested with chicken lice. Fortunately for us, if we are affected by lice, head lice for instance, the lice involved are a totally different species than will be found on a chicken. Chicken lice can only exist on a chicken, and not on a human. What we have to offer chicken lice is apparently not to their taste, and even if we were to be infested with the little critters, the infestation would not last long. They would very quickly die off.
Itch To Death - If lice do not feast on a chicken's blood, how can they harm a chicken? While they seem to be involved in more or less of a cleaning up activity which you think might be helpful, in the process of eating dead skin and parts of feathers, they can cause irritation to the chicken. Just as an infestation of lice would cause us to itch and scratch, chicken lice cause the chickens to starch and peck at themselves to relieve the irritation. If the infestation gets bad enough, a chicken can become excessively stressed and even die. If an entire flock is infested, the entire flock might die. So chicken lice can become a serious problem if not brought under control.
Several Species Of Chicken Lice - There are a number of different species of chicken lice, the scientific name being Mallophaga. Looking at the list of the 6 or 7 more common species, one might think that the lice work as teams, with individual species taking on individual parts of a chicken. There may be a bit of truth to this, given the names assigned the species, and a chicken can be infested by more than one species at once. For the most part however, chicken lice very often congregate towards the butt end of the chicken. The different species include head lice and body lice, wing lice and shaft lice, large chicken lice and brown chicken lice (the description applies to the lice, not the chicken), and flugg lice. All of these types are small wingless insects, typically no more than a couple of millimeters in length, just large enough to be fairly easily seen by the naked eye. Their eggs are also visible though quite tiny. Lice eggs can often be detected in bunches on the shafts or feather parts close to the skin of the chicken.
Treatment - There are several ways to deal with chicken lice. One of course is prevention, which consists mainly of keeping the area the chickens inhabit as clean as possible. If one has a flock of healthy chickens, new birds added to the flock should be inspected for lice, as lice easily move from bird to bird. If an infestation does occur, Malathion is the treatment of choice, which when applied, will usually kill off the pests quickly. Other insecticides, usually in the form of a dust or powder can also be effective, but some types have to be used with caution, especially if the birds are ready to be used as fryers. One also wants to avoid getting certain pesticides on eggs. Individual birds can be dusted, or dipped in a solution, or the entire area can be dusted, being careful not to get insecticide in the bird's feed or water. Individual lice have a life span of around two weeks, so a second application might be required, especially if the infestation involves a large number of chickens or is especially severe.