Treating poultry lice

 It finally happened; our hens have poultry .

The hens have been locked inside the coop for over a month because of the extremely cold temperatures. Typically, we let them out in the winter on warm days. We have been waiting patiently for one of those days so the hens could get outside and dust bathe. They most likely had lice before being cooped up but they got much worse. In hindsight, we should have provided a way for them to take a dust bath in the coop. But who knew the weather would be terrible for this long? Of course, monthly inspections for infestations is even batter. We will need to work a bit harder on keeping up with it, even in this very cold weather.

We discovered the problem as we were doing bumblefoot surgery. I noticed small, elongated, light brown insects crawling around the base of the neck feathers. I recognized them as lice. No problem, I thought; all we need to do is treat it. Right….

As you may know, there are 400 billion websites related to chickens. You may not know though, that 399,999 billion have the wrong information about how you should treat them. Some is just plain wrong, some recommend using nothing but natural stuff like herbs, some are just outdated. One of the biggest issues is the fact that treatments suggested are not truly science based or recommend using products not approved for treating poultry.

One product I see suggested is Carbaryl which is in the product Sevin. Sevin is a garden pesticide that kills dam near every insect it comes in contact with. At one time it was approved for use on poultry. Unfortunately, my understanding while doing research is that Sevin is no longer allowed to be used on poultry by the EPA. In 2004, the EPA revised the label of Sevin to remove the word poultry on it. This means that using Sevin on your poultry (without explicit veterinary guidance) is using the product against its label; a federal offense. Big deal right? Yes, it can be. If you are treating your flock for mites or lice yourself without veterinary guidance, you may want to think again.

Think of a scenario where you sell of even give away your eggs. If someone gets sick because the eggs contain chemicals, who do you think is responsible? You. If the chemical is not specifically labeled for use in poultry your problems just got worse. Using products that do not specifically mention poultry on the label, unless specifically advised by a veterinarian, is just a bad decision.

Every chemical approved for use in poultry has a recommended withdraw time. The label will tell you the exact amount of time to not consume eggs or meat from chickens that have been treated. The withdraw time is the time it takes for the chemical to leave the chickens system. Just for my own curiosity, I tried to find the withdraw time for Sevin; I never found it. MANY chicken keeping website suggest using it but NONE give a withdraw time. Not knowing how long the withdraw time is for a chemical is asking for trouble.

I contacted my State Vet for advice. They suggested using Pyrethrum. Unfortunately, I had a tough time finding what they suggested. Of course, the first place I visited was Dr. Peter Brown’s website. He had Permethrin 10 %  but not Pyrethrum. So I made a call and spoke to Dr. Brown himself.

Dr. Brown recommended the Permethrin 10 % and said it would be perfect for the treatment of the lice. I mentioned that because it was a liquid and we are currently in a deep freeze and have been for over a month, the liquid concerned me. He suggested waiting for a day that was warmer and simply spritzing the hens feathers. He said it was not mandatory to get under the wings if I was not comfortable because of the temperature. He said the directions with the product will explain how to properly use it. He also said the withdraw period is zero. Yes, absolutely no withdraw time! That means you cab just keep on collecting the eggs.

Some University websites recommend using food grade DE (Diatomaceous Earth) to help control (keyword is control, not treat an infestation) parasites like mites and lice. Others bring up the concern about respiratory problems when the chickens inhale the dust. At some point I hope to find real science based information about using DE in the coop.

Information received from Dr. Peter Brown, The Chicken Doctor
First State Vet Supply

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