External parasites (ectoparasites) can be a big problem in animal breeding. These are fleas, lice, ticks, mites and parasitic flies. Control these pests according to a veterinarian’s instructions – this usually involves treating your birds as well as their environment.
Here we’ll concentrate on Lice and Mites.
These insects live their entire lives on the host, feeding on skin, scales, and feather debris. Poultry and game lice are becoming an increasing problem in farming. Note that bird lice can reduce laying by up to 50%, growth by up to 20%, and are carriers of some infectious diseases.
Lice spend daylight hours hiding in cracks in walls, corners, holes in ceilings, and nests. They come out in the evening and attack poultry. Bloody red spots on parts of the skin not covered in feathers are seen, eg in the area beneath the wings. Stock can become quite agitated as a result of an infestation. Treat all birds in a flock with a safe pesticide when any lice are found on one bird.
These bugs are more resistant to pesticides than lice. If you find mites, you must treat your birds every 10 days for 4 to 5 weeks. Following that, a vet will usually recommend treating your flock monthly until you are sure the mites have been eradicated.
Chiggers (AKA Red Bugs, Harvest Mites and Berry Bugs)
Chiggers are particularly common. They feed on thighs, breasts, wings and vent, resulting in red scabby patches on birds. Treatment must include the entire pen/area inhabited by the birds.
Diatomaceous Earth is a pesticide/insecticide licensed for the extermination and prevention of pests. It is a non-toxic powder, so fine that it disrupts the mechanical anatomy of pests eg fleas.
After cleaning out a pen, I lightly dust the new bedding with Diatomaceous Earth before I bring the birds back in. On new bedding, the birds will all start dust bathing. I like to think this powder will give them some preventative protection.
The powder can also be added to dry animal feed in case of contamination. It is a nutritional food supplement.