Bugging Out! Keep Your Chicken Coop bugs under control!

How to deal with bugs in your chicken coop:

A number of years ago we had a house for sale.  It was a cute little house on a country lane that we had renovated and put back on the market.  It didn’t take very long before we had an actual buyer for the house, or so it seemed.  He was very enthusiastic.  Perfect house for him—single man, important job in the city, needing a tranquil weekend retreat.  The negotiations began.  We breezed through them and finally made the date for our closing.  Then the phone rang.

“There is some water in the basement.  I don’t want water in my basement.  What can you do?”  he asked.

We did what sellers do.  Drains, sump pump, sealant.

“Thank you.  No more water.  See you at the closing.”

Phone rang again.

“I saw a bug in the basement.  I don’t want bugs in the basement.  What can you do? “

“Excuse me?”   I asked in total disbelief.

“Can you do something to guarantee that there will be no bugs? I’d like it in writing in our contract.  ”

This took me a few minutes.

“Please don’t buy my house.  It is a country house and the only thing I can guarantee is that  there will be bugs. If you don’t want bugs don’t buy a house in the country.”

House sold.  End of story.

Bugs happen.  And they are really happening this year.   Ticks, mosquitoes, mites, and various other creep crawlies that I don’t know by name are really abundant this year.  What gives?

The snowy winter here in the northeast was partly to blame, and I am sure that the biblical amounts of rain we had this spring and early summer have contributed to the bug problem as well.  It seems that a constant snow cover protects some bug populations from the killing temperatures above ground.  Lord knows we had constant snow cover here.  Be that as it may, bugs are a part of a farmer’s life and need to be dealt with.

I am not a scientist, so the tactics I am offering come from research and word of mouth, but mostly from experience. They are not guarantees.   In the end it comes down to caring for your birds diligently and intelligently, finding the most practical solution for your own flock, and then sticking with it.  The only guarantee, unfortunately,  is that there will be bugs at some time.

The two bugs you will encounter on your chickens are lice and mites. You don’t need a whole lot of detail about them.  Suffice it to say they are the enemy and when you meet them you will not like them.  You will be grossed out and your skin will crawl, even though they are harmless to you.    They are real parasites however, and have the potential to kill your birds. It is best to assume they will arrive one day and  to be ready for them.   I’ve heard that some mites are actually more interested in your coops than your birds, while others are only interested in your birds. What’s the difference, really, because both must be eradicated.   The Chicken mite lives on your bird and sucks its blood. In fact it turns red.  Poultry lice live on your  birds, but eat dead skin instead of sucking blood, and drive a chicken crazy as they move around and chew on old feathers and dead skin.  With both types of parasite, the chickens suffer and can stop laying and even die.

Examine your birds. Get right in there and root around.  You really should do this anyway—handling them will make them friendlier,  and the more you know your birds the easier it will be for you to know when there is a problem.  Look for  bugs near their vent,  on the skin at the base of their wing feathers and  under the beards of bearded types.  Check the flock’s housing as well.    Mites can overwinter in coops and unless you are looking you might not see them.   They are minute.  Look for them on walls, at the end of perches, in corners. They can be gray or red, depending on when they have fed.  You can check either every bird or do a random flock check. If you see any bugs at all, it is time to act, because in a heartbeat the bugs will spread to everyone. We recommend prevention even if you see no bugs at all.

So, whether it’s treatment or prevention, it’s pretty much the same thing.    You need to take action on both coops and birds to be really effective. We do not use chemicals here,  and find that constant vigilance with some natural solutions works just fine.

Dustbaths should always be available for your birds.   Give them access to dry old dirt, or peat moss, or even diatomaceous earth.  While it is counterintuitive to us, dirt will keep your birds  clean and bug free, and if you are lucky you might not have a problem.  Sometimes bugs happen anyway, either brought in by a new bird, or a wild bird, or from their housing.   Regardless, we recommend the same type of treatment that fruit farmers use when they treat apple trees in the early spring—oil.  Most everyone agrees that some form of oil treatment will kill mites and many other pests by suffocating them.  The farm where my daughter works regularly paints the undersides of  their chicken perches with linseed oil.  I don’t use this because of the flammability factor, but there are other oils that are very effective.   There are a lot of aromatic oils sold online that are recommended as natural bug repellents, and many people use them as part of a natural cleaning regimen as well.  I have used lavender oil and peppermint oil when I clean coop interiors, and this can be quite successful and it smells great.    Peppermint is also supposed to repel rodents—an added bonus for chicken farmers.  It is, however, quite strong and can be an eye irritant if not properly diluted.  This spring we hit the jackpot with a product that has been around forever.  Murphy’s Oil Soap contains citronella, another plant based aromatic oil that is a proven bug repellant.  Is also contains, of course, soap, which is another time worn natural insecticide. To me, this combines the theories behind dormant oil, insecticidal soap, and bug repellant fragrances. When I recently researched it, I came across a number of blogs that tout the citronella in M.O.S. as a bug repelling bonus to the cleaning powers of the soap.  I tried this  recently and am very happy with the results.  I made up a diluted mix of M.O.S. and water in a spray bottle, and sprayed it on the walls, floors, ceiling and perches of our coop, and watched the little critters die.  We are continuing with this on a weekly basis to keep them out, as well as mopping the coop floors with a stronger solution and spraying it on the outside of the coop as well.   I figure we are suffocating and repelling and cleaning.  My fingers are crossed and the coop smells great.

A great repellant for the birds themselves  is  Avon Skin So Soft.  Remember when it came out a few years back that the biggest “off label” use for Skin So Soft bath oil was as a mosquito repellant?  It works like crazy on chickens as well.  Again, an aromatic oil.  We spritz them near their vents, and under their wings, making sure that the oil gets on their skin and not just their feathers.  Won’t hurt the feathers, but the skin is where it needs to go. Existing bugs die, and visitors are discouraged. And it’s so nice to have a flock of chickens that smells like it just got out of the bubble bath.  Don’t go crazy with it, and be sure to check every three days after an infestation to be sure  that you have gotten the recently hatched ones.  Keep at it.  There will be plenty of bug free times, but don’t ever forget that there will be bugs.

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