Managing chicken pests is essential in keeping your flock healthy. If left uncontrolled either the pests will get ahead of the game and some or all of your flock will die, or the general health of your chickens will suffer, they will become susceptible to other viruses and die. If you have done a tonne of research you will probably have been having nightmares. There is a big difference between the issues managed by commercial chicken owners and those faced by the domestic pet owner. This appears to be what the writers of most “Chicken Owners Guides” seem to forget. Fortunately most of the problems you are likely to experience can be managed easily.
Pests are living organisms that have invaded the body or living environment of your chickens. In a domestic environment the most common of these are;
- Red Mites
- Parasitic worms
- Scaly leg
They are all manageable.
These tiny little bugs naturally live in the soil in your garden. They are nasty little blood suckers and will find your chickens a very tasty treat. If left untreated a small invasion will rapidly develop into an epidemic and your chickens will die from blood loss. Red Mites are unavoidable. However there are things you can do to keep them at bay and make the lives of your girls more comfortable.
Red Mites tend to like to live and breed in cosy warm spaces close to their food source. They will soon locate the nesting boxes and perches, which are your chickens preferred resting places, and set up home in the crevices created in the manufacture of the chicken coops. Mites are particularly partial to wooden construction houses with laminated wood or felt roof coverings. Once they have invaded the hen house your mites will reproduce quickly and you will start to see evidence of them. Normally this means you will see bloody specks on your eggs and when you clean out the house you will find them amongst the newspaper coverings, on the perches, especially on the ends, and on any nest box dividers. Once you find them you will know what they are because they are tiny, red and move. Yuck, it makes me itch thinking about it.
When managing red mites, cleanliness is next to godliness. You can buy red mite treatments in powder and liquid form. The powder cuts into the body of the mite and it will die. The liquid covers the mite and it suffocates.
It is best to avoid an invasion in the first place and for routine management we have found the powder works best. Your chickens love to take a dust bath and, unlike a teenage human, this desire does not go away. Make use of this phenomenon as soon as your girls identify a regular bathing spot and liberally sprinkle the powder in. As your girls bathe they will cover themselves with powder, it's personal hygiene at its best. Do this once a month or so, more often in summer. We also sprinkle powder around the nesting boxes and into the crevices where the perches rest when we undertake routine house cleaning, more because I can’t stand the mites than because it is absolutely necessary
If you suffer an invasion you will need to up the anti and get with the liquid. A full house clean and liberal spraying with the liquid each week for a month will deal with the majority of the invasion. Do this on top of liberal dusting in the dust bath and if necessary a liberal direct dusting on each chicken as well. Bear in mind your mites will have laid eggs, so yes a month of intensive treatment will be necessary. After this you will be able to revert to the regular powder treatment.
Please note; you will never get rid of Red Mites completely. Dealing with Red Mites is a weekly or monthly management program, depending upon how much you hate and loathe them! A sprinkle a month, job done – simple!
Parasitic worms exist in the soil and therefore it is highly likely that your chickens will pick them up, after all the girls eat off the ground. You will know there is an infection if you see little white worms in the girls pooh. Not treating for worms will cause your chickens to suffer from the inside. Their immune systems will weaken and they will eventually die, probably from an unrelated virus. Fortunately this is a condition that you can manage on a monthly basis as part of your routine.
Again this is something that you will not eradicate; your chickens have to live with it. Therefore you need to manage worms and it is strongly recommended that treatment be applied on a regular basis. Worming pellets are available from stockists of chicken food. You should give the girls a dose of pellets with their food once a month or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Do this and there will be no worms - simple
Scaly leg is another condition caused by a parasitic mite. We have not had an infection of scaly leg so I have sought out information from others on this one. The parasite burrows under the scales on your birds legs and sometimes gets into their combs. The scales lift off and protrude, they sometime get a white crust on them. In itself I am told scaly leg will not kill however it is an unpleasant experience for the chickens and is transferred by touch, so if one has it the flock are highly likely to get it.
There are off the shelf treatments for the condition which need to be applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You will find the treatments at your food stockists.This is not a condition that needs routine management in the way Red Mites do. It is something that should be watched out for though. So when you are giving your chickens a little extra love and a hug, routinely check their legs for any signs – simple.
Rats are a part of life whether you have chickens or not. Most of us rarely, if ever, come across them but I assure you they are there. The rats, and other rodents for that matter, are not interested in your chickens; they are interested in your chicken’s food. After all you put the food out in an easy to access container, available to anyone that wants it, and your rat will go for the easy option if possible.
The other issue with rats is that they will chew through the wire or dig underneath it to get to what they want. Having a hole in the fence protecting your girls will give access to the crafty fox and your fox is interested in your chickens rather than their food. Therefore managing the ease of access to food and monitoring for fence damage or access holes are your main concerns here. Please note that your chickens are vicious beasts and will happily kill and eat a mouse or small rat. They will have a go at a medium rat too so your rat will not hang around with your chickens but they will not be happy and that will effect egg production.
You are only likely to see your rat if it gets caught in the run as they tend to be active at night. Our trapped rat got a spade on its head. Remember that there are rats everywhere, if we are not aware that they are present we choose to ignore them, they are not causing us a problem so live and let live. But as soon as they start to become evident we take no prisoners, we do not do humane traps as we don’t want rats upsetting the chickens. The approach of cold winter weather as winter approaches tends to send your local rat population searching for easy to access food, so that is the time to up the anti when doing your routine checks.
There is no way we can kill all the rats around, so we manage access to food as best we can. Stored food is kept in our garage in a lidded bin. If we have to leave the bin out at all, we put the food in a watertight container with a brick on top for good measure. We check the run wire on a regular basis. If we find any evidence of ratty visitors, it is time to put the poison down and fix any holes. Filling in any runs that go under the wire. This is a good way of monitoring whether the poson has been successful, if the hole reappears keep up the poison treatment. If you are uncertain of your approach visit your local Countrywide store, we have found them extremely helpful in this particular arena. Always follow the manufacturers guidelines and don't put the poison inside the run where your girls can get at it. Job done – Simple.
Your fox loves to get a bit of chicken for supper. Unfortunately foxes won’t just take what they want and come back for more later. If your fox gets to your chickens it will kill them all, take what it wants and leave the rest. This is very distressing and can be traumatic for children.
You are equally likely to experience fox problems if you live in a built up environment as you are in the countryside. After all why go to a lot of effort to get food when it is left out for you in easy to access litter bins. Or kind humans leave it laying around for you to help yourself. Managing foxes is more about security and waste food management than anything else. You will not be popular if you try shooting them and there are no potions, powders or sprays to keep them at bay. The following steps should become part of your regular routine, don’t get lazy.
- Make sure your hens are safe at night and cannot get out to free range in the day if you don’t want them to.
- Do not make a habit of leaving food out for foxes as your hens are food too and they will not distinguish between the two.
- If you have human food waste for your bin make sure it is properly wrapped and disposed of.
- As per the rat issue, holes in security fences will be the easiest route in. The wire of our run goes below the surface as well, so should foxy try to dig under, it will need to go down deep. Check and fix holes as they appear.
To date we have lost one of our flock to the fox and that was because she decided to take a midnight walk! We know the fox comes around to visit as it leaves little pooh parcels as a calling card. Be vigilant – simple.
One last word, which is an old man’s tale and we have not gone there. Get a man to pee in the watering can and spray around the boundaries of your garden. It’s a testosterone smell thing. We won’t tell anyone I promise, but let us know if you try and it works!
If you have any other hints and tips you would like to share with us we are happy to add them. Just let us know.