Scale mites and other parasites can be a serious problem in the colder months. When the weather starts changing parasites start looking for a warm, sheltered environment. What better place than on your chickens, under their feathers and harbored beneath their leg scales.
Unfortunately mites not only use the chickens as hosts for their own food supply, but they can cause infection that can and often will lead to loss of limbs or even loss of life if not detected and treated early.
When there is a need to treat for parasites, the entire flock needs to be treated, even if you only detect infestation on one, all bedding needs to be burned, and the coop needs to be treated, including the roosts, nesting boxes, and cracks in the wood of the coop itself. Full strength apple cider vinegar, or insecticidal soap will need to be used for cleaning and eradication of the insects. Removing the top layer of soil beneath the roosting area may be necessary. No matter what you use, use with extreme caution. Harsh detergents, and other products may cause skin rashes or eye irritations.
By examining your birds or some of them, at least once a month, you will be more apt to detect a problem early enough to treat before infestation has a chance to become detrimental to your flock. Signs and symptoms vary, however some to look for would be scratching, limping, excessive dust bathing, unusual or uncommon behaviors. Some parasites are large enough to see, however mites are tiny and nearly invisible to the naked eye, requiring a magnifying glass to see within the feathers of the birds or under the scales of their legs. One method of detecting is to cut a piece of black construction paper, slip the paper under the wings or around the vent. Mites and lice will show up on the black paper, but you may need a magnifying glass to see if those light colored specks are mites or just dander. If they are parasites they will move. A good time to examine the birds is when they are molting, when you can see the flesh. Carefully handle the birds, since re-feathering can be quite painful and they may not be in their best mood during this time.
Prevention is always the best course, however, parasites can happen no matter how meticulous you keep your coops and nesting areas. This is not necessarily due to unkempt areas. Keeping your coops, roosts, bedding and nesting areas clean and dry is extremely important of course, but that is not always the root cause of an infestation. Weather changes alone can bring about parasite infestations and insects have cycles, where some years they may be worse than other years. This is especially true if there have been mild winters for awhile. Keeping your chickens healthy year round is imperative since parasites tend to attack the weak before all others.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is one line of defense, it is a natural insect deterrent and toted as a good product for dust baths and dusting for parasites. We are not proponents of using DE with good reason. DE is very dusty, excessive dust creates an environment for respiratory issues, which chickens are very vulnerable to. We realize there are many websites that encourage the use of DE for many applications and it is used in many industries, including the poultry industry, and it is used in livestock feed. DE absorbs 10 times its weight in moisture, so there may be applications for it in the deep litter method, but for use in dusting or dust baths, we would discourage it. Make certain you purchase only food quality DE. Wear a dust mask, the dust from DE is very fine and will irritate the lungs, eyes and nasal membranes. If you must use precautions to use it, then it can only be detrimental to the chickens as well.
Plain wood ash from your wood stove, used for dusting and dust bathing is another line of defense if you can set it up in a dry area. If wood ash gets wet, it turns to lye. Lye is useful in soap making, but it can be detrimental to your flock. The ash you use should only be wood ash, not ash from burning trash. Wood ash is beneficial to your garden soil and can be composted.
The use of Agricultural Lime in the bedding waste and in under the bedding in the nest boxes for keeping odors down and less inviting to insects. Hydrated agricultural lime is used in the farm and livestock industry for many applications. You'll notice a white substance in fields after they are plowed; that is AG lime. It's used to sweeten the soil. It is available in your garden center for the same purpose, but it is also sold at your farm and feed stores. We use and recommend hydrated lime to help keep odors down. By keeping the odors down in your deep litter, you are also discouraging pests that are attracted to it such as flies. But that same litter attracts parasites, so the lime deters them from a habitable environment. The litter can be composted and the lime is beneficial to the soil in your garden. . Make sure if you purchase lime that it is specifically for agriculture use. Even if you have a serious infestation of parasites, hydrated agriculture lime will tend to send them seeking other shelter or hosts instead of in your chicken coops.
In my research I've read all kinds of remedies and parasite treatments, from herbs to garlic, to strong chemical solutions and each has some merit, however all require caution when using. We may think of herbs as a holistic and safe solution, however, be cautious when using herbs. Too much of anything can be detrimental to your flock, just as over use of herbs in your own diet would be. We tend to think anything manmade is a chemical, however herbs are most often used for those formulas. A couple of common herbs come to mind that are manufactured and used by organic growers and another in medicine. Digitalis is the common Foxglove, and used in modern medicine to treat heart ailments, but it is deadly if ingested unless you have a serious heart defect. Pyrethrin, more commonly known as Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium, is used as an acceptable insecticide by organic farmers, and approved by the FDA; yet again, deadly if ingested. Some poultry insecticidal dust contains the active ingredient Pyrethrin. If using, protect the eyes of the chickens and use a face mask and eye protection to prevent inhaling or eye irritations.
Many medicines are made from herbs now as they have been for centuries, strong enough to curtail illnesses and diseases, but also if overdosed or overused, can cause serious health issues and even death. Mention of garlic (Allium sativum) comes up and again; use caution. Garlic can and will flavor the eggs, which is fine if you only use the eggs in your omelets or scrambled eggs, and do not have an egg market, but not so fine if you want a lovely cake for a special occasion.
Garlic has many health applications and has been used throughout the centuries, as an antidote for one ailment or another, including worming and parasites. Garlic has been known as Camphor of the Poor, Nectar of the Gods, and Poor Man's Treacle, but it is not the cure all that some believe, and scientific studies have not concluded that garlic is even effective for any treatment, though it is often prescribed by holistic practitioners to treat stomach issues, internal parasites, diseases and skin problems. Overuse of garlic can cause bleeding, improper blood clotting and interfere with prescribed medications for heart disease and arterial diseases. If you are using garlic for the chickens, be aware, that if they are injured or have a bleeding wound that it may be difficult to stop the bleeding. As with any home remedies, use caution and do your research, so you know what side effects there may be and know just what that treatment is professed to do for your flock. Your research should always be from qualified experts, including your local veterinarian, not from blogs, forums or random comments. False information can be detrimental to your flock.
If you resort to strong *chemicals*, make sure they are recommended for fowl, and specifically note what the labels say. Many recommendations specify not to eat the eggs for at least 5 days after treatment. Those eggs, if fertile can be incubated, but not sold or eaten as consumable eggs. You can however scramble them and feed back to the chickens, as a healthy protein source. Heat from the cooking destroys the active ingredients in most all medications.
How to treat specifically for Scale Mites
Aside from prevention, we recommend examining some of your fowl, if you notice any small sores or blood around the leg scales or vent, treat immediately by soaking the birds in a warm water solution of a mild detergent like Dawn dishwashing detergent, or antibacterial soap. A toothbrush or small vegetable brush is useful in scrubbing in and around the leg scales and toes. A second soak of warm vinegar water helps remove any soap residue, but also changes the pH that insects cannot overcome. Dry the birds thoroughly. A thick application of Vick's vapor rub, Bag Balm, or Vaseline or thick herbal salve to the legs and toes for scale mites, smothers the parasites, but the salve also helps to heal the sores created by those mites. If the infestation is serious, apply for a couple of days, work the salve into and around the scales and toes to make sure that the parasites are trapped. An additional application in 10 days will kill off any eggs that may have hatched since the initial treatment. Most parasites have a life cycle from egg, to larvae to adult, it is because of this life cycle that you must treat more than once to fully eradicate those pests.
If using DE (with caution) or wood ash pour in a shaker container (a parmesan cheese container with shaker top works well) to dust the birds, and wipe the comb, wattle, legs and toes down with baby oil, mineral oil, fish oil, or even vegetable oil. Allow the oil to soak in, then wipe away any excess. Treat the legs by rubbing Vick's Vapor Rub®, Vaseline® or Bag Balm® all over the legs and around the toes, also on the wattles, combs and around the vent, to suffocate the parasites. One treatment may not be enough if there is a bad infestation, so be prepared to repeat this treatment again in two or three days. Usually two treatments are enough to eradicate infestations, but because the parasites reproduce rapidly, you may need to treat again in about a week to ten days, to make sure you are killing all the eggs and any newly hatched parasites. If the parasites are allowed to get out of control, be prepared to seek stronger remedies for treating the birds as well as the coops, bedding and nesting areas. Your local feed supply store is the best source for recommendations if you do need to use stronger products.
Prepare a dust bath of DE or wood ash in a dry area for the birds to bathe free-will. Plain old dirt is effect for dust bathing and the birds need to have free access to dust bathing at all times. If weather is inclement, it is easy to provide a dry dusting area inside the coop or covered run, using a kiddy pool, old tire or metal wash tub.
Again, we recommend prevention as your first line of defense, however, as noted above, there are simple home treatments you can use that will not harm your flock, when used in moderation, yet help to gain control of an otherwise unfortunate situation. If you allow an infestation to get out of control, you will have to resort to much stronger and less desirable methods for you and your birds. Here at Just Fowling Around, we use Agriculture lime in the area beneath the roosts to keep odor and parasites under control. We also use the lime under the bedding in the nesting boxes. The parasites do not like the lime which may affect their soft body. The lime helps prevent odors that also attract other insects such as flies.
NOTE: A toothbrush and a magnifying glass are handy to have in your Poultry first aid kit. justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-coop-chatter-blog/category/poultry-first-aid-kit
Thank you to Karen M. for providing the photos of Scale mites on her Bantam Rooster *Romeo*. Karen bathed Romeo in Lice shampoo making sure to soak his feet and legs. She then dried him and applied a coating of Vaseline to his legs and feet. Karen will continue the treatment to remove all mites and will be adding AG lime to her chicken coops. The lice shampoo is an over the counter product used as a common treatment for head lice.
Note: Though the treatment Karen used to eradicate the scale mites worked in her situation, the opinions are her own and may not reflect or be a recommended treatment course from Just Fowling Around.
Disclaimer: All information and recommendations are provided in good faith. We recommend you do your own research through expert sources and use your own common sense when using any herbs or home remedies.
For additional home remedies and prevention refer to the links:
Oregano, known for its healing power and immune building applications
Natural Chicken Keeping Tips:
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