If it’s not molting, it’s…

… ??

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the last week or better.  But here, for you, dear readers, I’ll back track…

It’s summer, it’s hot and yucky and I have been under the assumption that my older chickens began their molt early due to the heat.  Is that a thing?  I don’t know, but they are looking ragged, and several have stopped laying.

Double Dots, who is my easiest to catch loves to be held, had spots on his legs that felt like new feather coming in.  Hard, pokey new feathers.  I looked into the fluff on his legs and saw feather shafts with raised red skin around it.

Being new to chickens, and never having had any molt before, I assumed that the first adult molt made them irritated.

It turns out, as I have read in several sources, molting does NOT cause irritation.

So what do I have going on in my flock?

I have spent the last week and a half searching the internet, skulking in the Backyard Chickens forum, and the best I can come up with is mites or lice.  Or extreme picking and feather pulling.

Dots appears to have the worst of it.  His butt below his vent is awful looking, red, uber-irritated.

I diligently checked all the other chickens, young and old.  There’s a few with minor signs of the same vent irritation.  Pip has minor signs around his vent.  Not anywhere as bad as Dots.

However, given that Dots is the Head Rooster of this flock and he like to mate with his hens frequently, he could spread them?  Also, where is he getting them from?  What about Abby and Claire, my two broody hens?  Broody hens are susceptible to lice and mites because they sit and don’t go outside to dust bathe as often.

For anyone interested, Backyard Chickens has a lovely and informative guide to Mites and Lice.    Their forum is also full of good threads on what to do.  I spent a good amount of time there this week trying to figure this out, and make a plan of attack.

Ordinarily, I would have gone to The Chicken Chick or Fresh Eggs Daily first, but on this, I find myself unsure of the advice.  One of them supports natural/herbal remedies and the other says that herbs will not get rid of mites and lice.

So I’m going with Backyard Chickens on this one.

My plan of attack is a 5 Step program.

  1.  Clean the ENTIRE coop and beds.   Little Dude and I did it this morning, much to the chagrin of my little hennies who just wanted a nice bed of wood shavings and straw to lay their eggs in.
  2. Spray EVERYTHING in mite spray.   I’m using Gordon’s Goat and Sheep spray.    The inside label says you can use it goats, sheep, cattle, horses, and poultry.  It says, in reference to poultry, to spray it on the roosts, beds and walls of the coop (I did the floors, too) and even spray a fine mist of it over your birds.  (I did not do that.)
  3. Put down clean bedding.  I just did wood shavings.  See Step 5 for why.
  4. Powder Chickens.  This step is a bit controversial.  BYC and other sources list Sevin dust as a good method of killing mites and lice and other external parasites on your chickens.  It’s safe for the chickens, and like the mite spray ( step 2), you don’t have to withhold eggs.  However, Sevin dust also kills bees.  A lot of people are opposed to chemicals that kill the honey bees.  If you’re interested in knowing, you’re supposed to put the Sevin dust inside a knee high (panty hose) and tie a knot in it to create a powder puff. Then pick up you chicken, hold them tucked up in under your arm, slightly upside down, and powder their butts near the vent.  It’s best to do this at bed time, so you can just pick your chickens off the roost (as opposed to chasing them around).   Little Dude and I will be doing this tonight at lock up.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4 in 7 days.    Repeating will kill any mites or lice that hatched after the first treatment.  This step is also the reason I only put in wood shavings and not fresh straw in the beds.  We took out 7 wheel barrow loads of bedding while cleaning the coop.  In 7 days, I don’t want to relive that.

I am super concerned about Abby and her Littles, though.  I’m not sure how the Sevin dust will effect them.  However, whatever is bugging the big chickens could kill them, so it needs to be done.

Now, the chickens were only concerned with where their straw beds went, how soon they’d return and OMG! Mommy locked us out of the coop!

And when I finally did let them back into the coop, I have 12 of them trying to lay eggs all at once.  The various renditions of the Egg Song were deafening.  Poor girls!

And then, there was this…

I don’t know what it was about, but Cinderella and Rapunzel seemed very freaked out by the straw-less beds and Pip was pretending to be Prince Charming and checked them out for safety measures.

Chickens are so weird sometimes.


16 thoughts on “If it’s not molting, it’s…

  1. Oh eek. Aren’t pests SO fun to deal with? 😐 Hope you can get on top of the nasties. Full coop cleans are tedious, especially when you have to repeat them! If it’s lice you should be able to see them scurrying away when you part the feathers and maybe egg clusters at the base of the feathers around the vent. In my experience it’s best to treat the chickens with something stronger, but then we have a different environment here where pests really thrive if you don’t keep on top of them. I’ve used Ivermectin to treat mites (all kinds), and lice to some extent, but a dog flea powder with permethrin that a fellow chicken keeper recommended worked better for lice since they don’t suck blood. I know those treatments aren’t everyone’s cup of tea though. I only do them when I have to. Things have been much better here since Sam isn’t around to pick up anything and everything. They get things from wild birds, rodents, people’s shoes or anywhere in the environment, especially in hot weather. Sneaky little critters. Die buggies!

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  2. I believe permethrin is the active ingredient in the Sevin. Not sure about the other. All I know is, those two were the most recommended to get both lice and mites. I haven’t seen lice. I’m leaning towards mites but I can’t see those either. Just the signs of irritation and feather loss. They *are* molting now, too, some of them. The molt spots aren’t irritated. That’s what tipped me off something wasn’t right. Why would some be irritated and some not?

    I’m intending to spray the coop down with the mite spray every time I redo the deep litter and all the beds. Been doing it once every 3 months, so I figure if I incorporate that into our coop cleaning routine, I’ll before likely to avoid future problems.

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    1. Ah, right. We don’t have Sevin here so I was assuming it was like DE or something. Sounds like that would be very useful! I think we’re a bit more limited in the products available for chickens in NZ. Thank goodness I stumbled across my Facebook poultry group, which has some very helpful people. I guess it sounds like some type of mite then. Some of them are supposedly very small and hard to see with the eye, or if it’s red mite they aren’t usually on the bird’s body, but hide in the cracks of the coop, coming out at night. Creepy, creepy little things. Hence my paranoia you’ve probably read about. 😛 It’s pretty tricky to figure out if the chickens are moulting too. Hope the Sevin and coop cleaning does the trick for you. Sounds like a good plan. Regular coop spraying for mites seems to be the way to go. I have to write it on the calendar so I don’t forget!

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      1. He learned from his papa. Dots hears his ladies fussing and comes running, buck-buck-buck-buck, to see what’s making them fuss. I’ve seen Pip do the same thing, although ‘his ladies’ are a smaller group. Cinderella and Rapunzel are his favorites. He spends a lot of time with them.

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      2. I have a good poultry group, too. Not sure where I would be without them, especially back when I had that chick with the dislocated hip this spring. They helped me get him mostly back to normal. It’s nice to have people to bounce ideas and problems off.

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  3. That a boy Pip! He’s such a good guy. I’ve never had mites/lice that I know of. Keep posting updates so I can learn from you if/when we encounter this. Sounds like you are doing the right thing. I’d love to see a video of you two powering their bottoms tonight, hehe 🙂

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  4. Our local farm supply store has a couple of staff who have been very helpful when it comes to our chickens. They recommended that we put down DE each time we clean out the coop, especially if we had littles, as that keeps down mites which can be a problem in our area. It doesn’t hurt any of the chickens and I also use it in the garden to get rid of bugs.

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  5. When I first got my ladies they came with both Lice and Mites. I did not know what either were, not having had any problems in the past. It was some of the most disgusting googling, the images made my skin crawl. As they were only young (15 weeks, no where near egg laying) and I was extremely grossed out I did use some pretty harsh stuff. Since then I haven’t seen any lice (I check regularly) and every Summer we get 1 or 2 infestations of mites, usually when there is a broody chicken. Every time I clean their coop I clean with a mix of lavender oil, tea tree oil and detergent. Then liberally apply DE. I l also put wood ash down for them to dirt bath in. During an infestation I will pin each lady down in the most undignified of ways and rub DE all up in their business. Every nook and cranny. I haven’t had to use anything stronger than DE and diligence since I first got them. I wouldn’t be comfortable eating their eggs with the stuff I used. I HATE creepy crawlies, the mites screw with my mind, I can feel them on me!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh no! How is everything going? Any signs of improvement? Do you use diatomaceous earth in your coop? We sprinkle it liberally around the outside edges underneath the litter. That’s supposed to help keep mites and lice away. And yeah, chickens are definitely weird which makes me love them even more!

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