In general small numbers of fleas, lice or mites seldom cause any issue, but given the right conditions, their populations will explode exponentially.
Then they can be hard to control and their impact on the homestead can be significant. In general animals are fairly resilient, but these parasites can be draining and cause symptoms in even the toughest stock.
A heavy infestation on these blood sucking bugs cause stress, resulting in a decline in condition.
Fleas, lice and mites affect a range of livestock, including sheep, goats, poultry, pigs, rabbits and your dogs and cats.
What are Fleas?
Fleas are small and brown and visible to the naked eye. They live on the animal or bird, and can survive off of animals in long grass for short periods. They hop from host to host. The adult fleas that you see only represents 5% of your flea population. The other 95% exists in egg and larvae form.
What are Mites?
Mites are a distant cousin of spiders, they even have eight legs and a quite tiny.
Red Mites: They live in nooks, cracks and crannies in the chicken coop, particularly the perches and nesting boxes. They come out at night and feed on the chicken’s blood. These mites are very difficult to get rid of once they’ve become established.
Northern Fowl Mite: Small and blackish brown. All stages live on the chicken and are generally found in the vent region.
Scaly Leg Mite: These live in between the scales on the chickens legs. Causing them to look rough and thick, then the chicken may go lame.
Other mites include ear mites in dogs and rabbits, fur mites on pretty much anything, mange mites and sheep mites.
What are Lice?
There are up to 50 species of lice found on chickens alone, not to mention other species they also live on! They are all soft-bodied, pale-colored, flattened-bodied insects.
Lice do not suck blood, but they eat skin flakes and chew hair and feathers.
If there’s a large population of lice living on your animals, they will cause irritation and can be so annoying that they will fail to thrive.
Lice can be found on the breast, back, vent, and under the wings of birds, and around the back of the neck and tail of other animals.
Symptoms of Fleas, Lice and Mites
Generally the symptoms of these blood sucking parasites arise from a combination of itch, irritation, discomfort and blood loss.
Heavily affected animals will display irritability, malaise, restlessness, anaemia and, on occasion, death.
They may rub up against trees, buildings and fence posts to try and relieve the itch. Poultry will display decreased egg production as well.
It’s best to catch an infestation early, so monitor regularly for parasites, both on the animals and in their living quarters.
Once you have identified which ectoparasite you may be dealing with, there are several control options. To inspect your animals, look amongst the hair/fur/feathers against the skin, particularly around the breast, tail and bottom/vent areas.
Scaly leg mite are found on the legs (surprise!) of poultry. They lift the legs scales making the whole leg look rough and scaly. Your bird might have a limp and be favouring one leg.
Treating Fleas, Lice and Mites Naturally on the Homestead
Traditional pesticides are available at farm stores, but be sure to read and follow the label instructions before applying anything to your chickens!
Many of us prefer a more natural treatment approach for ailments on our blocks so I have provided several natural treatment options.
With natural treatments the management of these pests is best achieved using an integrated approach, using several of the options together.
When treating your animals it is often necessary to repeat the process again 10 to 14 days apart. Used long term these treatments can help prevent a re-infestation.
Suped-up Dust Bath for Chickens and Rabbits
Chickens LOVE their dust baths, and surprisingly rabbits naturally roll in dust too!
Why not set up a suped-up dust bath for them to help treat parasites while they are at it? You will need one dust bath for every 10- 15 or so chickens or every 5 adult rabbits, and put it somewhere it won’t get rained on so they can use it all year long.
A box, tire, rubber maid tub, old jam pan or plastic paddling pool.
2 parts dry dirt/dust
1 part wood or paper ash (not coal or from burning rubbish)
1 part sand
1/2 part diatomaceous earth
Gloves and mask
Optional – dried and powdered Sage, Lavender or Rosemary
I use a small bucket as my ‘part’ measure. You may want to wear a dust mask and gloves for this next bit as it does throw a bit up into the air.
Put all ingredients into your container and stir together well with your hands. That is it really, simply leave somewhere out of the rain/snow and let the chooks and bunnies have at it.
You can make a spray up to use 2-3 times per week anywhere that animals are living or sleeping inside or out to help keep fleas, lice and mites away.
Simply mix and spray around sleeping quarters.
Garlic is a potent natural cure-all for many many things, including parasites! To feed animals garlic is so easy!
Simply put a couple of crushed cloves in their drinking water or some garlic powder in their dry feed to keep fleas, mites, lice, ticks and internal worms at bay.
3 Whole bulbs of garlic
Optional – 1 teaspoon (total) any combination of these essential oils – bay, cinnamon, clove, coriander, lavender, spearmint and/or thyme
In a food processor, whiz up the garlic until finely chopped.
Add the water and pour into a large jar or bowl to seep for a day or two.
Strain out the garlic by lining a sieve with a coffee filter, paper towel or double layer or butter muslin/cheese cloth.
Dilute with a further 4 cups of water and add essential oils. Then pour into a pressure sprayer to spray the animal houses with or a misting bottle to spray the individual animals/birds with.
Spray your animals and their houses weekly as a preventative or every other day for three weeks in the case of an infestation.
Concentrate around the vent and under the wings on birds, and under the legs, backs of necks and base of tails in animals. Be sure to get all the and cracks and perches in the houses.
To treat leg mites on poultry spray the legs daily with garlic spray, using an old toothbrush to gently get it up under the scales.
Diatomaceous earth works because the particles in it are incredibly sharp, these sharp edges cut the bodies of parasites causing them to dehydrate.
Using food grade diatomaceous earth in a sports sock with the top tied shut is a great way of powdering it onto your animals without throwing it everywhere. Simply dab the sock on the chosen animal while parting their wool/hair/feathers.
You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the floor of their houses, pens, beds and in the nesting boxes as well.
Apple Cider Vinegar
A couple of tablespoons of ACV/Liter or Quart of drinking water helps keep the animals healthy, and a bath of warm water of the same ratio will help remove parasites.
Try and keep the animal in the bath for 5 or so minutes to drown the bugs and dissolve the egg glue.
If you would like to make your own ACV for practically FREE out of scraps – read our post here!
It has almost become a joke in the natural community how many things coconut oil can cure.
Not surprisingly, coconut oil works with mites too. To use you simply smother coconut oil on mites every day for 10 days, it suffocates them. Ear mites and scaly leg mites are the best types to treat this way, but you can also treat body mites, but you end up with a greasy animal!
Do you have any tried and true remedies? What do you find works best at your place? Let me know in the comments below!
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Dana is a homesteading, homeschooling mama to 3, based in the south of New Zealand.
She is a Certified Ketogenic Living Coach, and natural wellness expert, as well as a Registered Nurse, with post grad training in mothers and babies. She has struggled with infertility and PCOS and conceived all 3 babies naturally.
Dana is passionate about natural health and gentle parenting. With a background in well child / baby nursing she loves sharing what she knows with mamas, mamas-to-be and mama-want-to-be’s.
She enjoys getting out in the garden, or just sitting at the beach in the sun. Dana also blogs about fertility and pregnancy at naturalearthymama.com, coaches people through Simplyketogeniclife.com and creates meal plans for earthlarder.com