Let’s Talk Lice

Oh dear! You notice that your favourite hen is rather quiet and paying more attention than normal to her feathers. You pick her up and part the feathers and find that she has clusters of what looks like cement stuck around the root and there are live insects running about; she has lice.

Lice are often found on hens that are debilitated or unwell, healthy hens are very good at keeping them at bay by preening and dust bathing and for this reason not every bird in your flock will necessarily have lice if you find them on one. Hens with damaged or overgrown beaks may find it harder to keep their feathers clean. Live adult lice are visible to the naked eye and are golden in colour, approx. three millimetres long, and lay white eggs (nits) on the hen. Lice are easily spotted running on the skin under the wings and around the base of the tail; they survive by eating feather parts, dead skin and blood.

How to spot lice

Lice lay their eggs, also called nits, in clusters on the skin and around the base of feathers. These clusters are very hard to remove without actually plucking out the feather.

two people checking for lice on a hen

Lice have a three-week life cycle so it is important to keep treating the hens by dusting them three to four times a week with louse powder and continue this application for three weeks. It is important to use a product that will target not only the adult lice but also the eggs and nits. Heavy infestations may require specifically targeted products on prescription. Providing a dust bath made up of a dry mix of wood ash, compost and Diatomaceous Earth allows hens to clean their feathers and keep lice at bay and you can also use Diatomaceous Earth or louse powder to dust the coop.

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