In my second year of keeping chickens, I noticed dark “spots” on their combs and wattles. At first, I assumed it was mud. It was a rainy season, and I let the chickens roam around once in a while. It must be mud, I tried to convince myself.
After a few days, the spots increased in number. After carrying out a close examination, I noticed that the spots were insects that had burrowed into the combs. After asking around, my neighbor told me that I had a flea infestation. Stick-tight fleas it was and not mud.
I then embarked on a journey of learning more about chicken fleas, the damages they cause, prevention, and getting rid of them.
What are fleas?
The flea is a parasite found in chickens. It is a flightless wingless insect that lives and breeds on the skin and feathers of chickens.
Fleas lay eggs on the body of chickens. The most common location where fleas lay eggs is near the featherless part around the vent. The eggs then hatch out to be a larva that jumps to the nearest host.
Fleas reproduce on the host chicken. A single flea can give rise to a large population of fleas very rapidly. They complete their entire life cycle in under a month!
A flea can produce as many as 40 eggs in its lifetime and it can jump to a new host within three seconds. Fleas can spend their entire life on a single host, which is usually a warm-blooded animal.
Fleas, though not a major problem as other pets can affect your chickens in summer.
Types of fleas that affect chickens
There are many types of fleas. Some are animal-specific, meaning some fleas will like dogs while others will like cats. There are three types of fleas that affect chickens:-
- European chicken flea
- Stick tight flea
- Black hen flea.
The European chicken flea
The European chicken flea feeds by sucking the blood from your chickens. It is the second type of flea, after the stick-tight flea in chickens.
The European chicken flea only visit chickens during meal times, where they bite into their skin to suck blood. Once full, they drop to the ground and hide in the litter, until the next feeding time.
Black hen fleas
Black hen fleas, also known as the western chicken fleas feed mostly on chicken droppings and will rarely be found on the chickens.
Sticktight fleas are the most common chicken flea and are found in chickens. They attach themselves to the flesh open areas of the chicken’s body, including their combs, wattles, and vent area.
The stick-tight flea, together with the European chicken flea is found in all kinds of climates including the tropics, subtropics, and temperate areas.
In their mature stage, stick-tight fleas are reddish-brown or black in color. They do not have wings.
The Stick-tight flea derives its name from its manner of feeding on chickens. It will stick their heads into the chicken’s skin. With their heads firmly and deeply embedded in the skin, the stick-tight flea will be sucking blood from the chicken. It can stay stuck tightly in the chicken’s skin for up to 3 weeks.
The common areas where stick-tight fleas love to stick their heads in areas where there are no feathers. This includes the face, around eyes, wattles, and combs.
The traditional victim of sticktight fleas has been the chicken and other poultry. However, there are increased cases of stick-tight fleas being found in cats and dogs, where they stick in between toes and around ears.
Stick-tight fleas can also be found on other domestic animals such as pigs, horses, and rabbits. They will also stick on any other host they can find, including people.
The damage caused by fleas on chickens.
Stick-tight fleas will affect chickens negatively. The effects of a stick tight flea infestation include
Discomfort for the painful bites, wounds, injuries, swelling, loss of weight, anemia, decreased production of eggs, and loss of life, especially in younger birds.
Discomfort from bites.
Fleas will bite chickens when they are sucking blood, In the case of sticktight fleas, they will bite chickens’ skin as they are sticking their heads in the skin.
This causes a lot of discomfort to the chickens. They are not able to focus on their daily tasks of feeding, drinking, and laying eggs. You will notice them scratching their skins.
Wounds Lesions and Swelling
Chickens infected with fleas will have tiny wounds on their skins. The skin will be damaged and leave scars thereafter. In cases where there are many stick-tight fleas in the same location, the area will be swollen.
Loss of weight.
Flea-infested chickens will be losing a lot of blood to the parasites. Due to the discomfort caused by the fleas, chickens will not feed as normal. This will lead to loss of weight since they are not taking in enough nutrients and the fleas are taking the much-needed nutrients from their bodies.
Red blood cells are responsible for taking oxygen to muscles and body organs. Loss of blood in chickens, due to fleas can lead to anemia. This is a condition where the blood will not deliver enough oxygen to muscles and body organs. This makes their bodies not function normally.
Decreased production of eggs.
Production of eggs in chickens infested by fleas decreases. This is because their bodies are not functioning at optimal levels. The body focuses on getting the reduced nutrients and oxygen to critical functions.
Fleas can lead to death, especially in young chickens. This occurs when the body cannot replace the blood lost, leading to organ failure and eventually to death.
Prevention of Fleas in Chickens.
The best way to deal with flea infestation is prevention. It will take time, effort, and money to get rid of fleas once they establish an aboard in your home. This is because they multiply fast and lay a lot of eggs. Fleas will go through the whole life cycle before you even notice. By the time you notice, they will have been there for a while and in their tens of thousands.
Prevention of chicken fleas involves a combination of simple activities. These include providing the chickens with a dust bath and putting diatomaceous earth in their coop.
The dust bath helps chickens get rid of any flea in their bodies. The dust will suffocate any flea that tries to cling to the chicken’s body. If the fleas are not able to cling to the chickens, their source of food and sustenance, they starve and die.
Placing diatomaceous earth in the litter will prevent any fleas from living there. Diatomaceous earth absorbs all the fats in tiny parasites like fleas, drying them out. When observed under a microscope, diatomaceous earth has particles with sharp edges. This sharp particle cut fleas, eventually killing them. Food-grade diatomaceous earth also suffocates the fleas. Having it in your litter means that if any flea egg ever hatches, the flea is killed almost immediately.
Getting rid of fleas in chickens
Getting rid of chicken fleas is a combination of efforts. In your coop chickens are overrun by fleas, think of it as a war, not a battle. It will take a series of actions to get rid of the flees and make sure they never come back.
Getting rid of fleas in chickens include dust baths, hygiene, diatomaceous earth, lime powders, woodfire ash, vaseline vinegar water spray, and garlic. Do not worry. You do not have to use all those methods. One of a combination of a few of the methods will free your chickens and coop from fleas.
Chickens do not take showers in order to stay clean. They take dust baths. Chickens will dig in their bodies in a pile or hole of dust and start shaking their bodies and feathers. The dust particles will rub their bodies and pass through their feathers.
In case there are any fleas on their chickens’ bodies or feathers, the mites will be suffocated and torn into pieces by the fine sand particles in the dust bath.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE).
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring rock that is mined and crushed into powder for use in several industries. Food grade diatomaceous earth is used in chickens to deal with fleas and other parasites.
The microscopic particles of diatomaceous earth have sharp edges which tear into the skin of the fleas, leading to their death. It will also suffocate the fleas.
To control fleas in chickens apply diatomaceous earth in their litter and dust bath.
Agricultural lime powder sold under many brand names like First Saturday Lime can be used to kill fleas in chicken coops and on chickens.
Mix 1 cup of agricultural lime with 1 cup of sand and 1 cup of wood ash and mix the mixture into your dust baths. This will kill all fleas. It also kills all flea larvae. This breaks the flea life cycle because if flea eggs hatch, they will not get a chance to grow into adult fleas.
Regular cleaning of the chicken coop can keep fleas at bay. If your coop is infested with fleas, you will definitely need to clean out the coop by removing all litter.
After cleaning, bring in fresh litter and apply food grade diatomaceous earth or agricultural lime. This will kill any flea larvae that hatch from any eggs that might have been left behind.
After burning wood or charcoal, you do not have to through away the wood ash. Wood ash can be added to litter in the coop and dust baths to get rid of fleas. The ash will suffocate fleas and any flea larvae that might hatch in the future.
Vaseline is used to deal with stick-tight fleas in chickens. It requires manual application, hence ideal for small flocks in backyards and homesteads.
To get rid of stick-tight fleas using vaseline, you will need to catch the chicken at an ideal time when it is relaxed. The best time is to do it in the evening when the chickens are roosting and have nowhere to run to.
Apply a generous amount of vaseline on the affected areas, avoiding the eyes. The vaseline will smother the fleas and in no time they will fall off the chickens.
Vinegar and Wate Spray
It is an open secret that fleas hate the smell of vinegar. Armed with this information, you can make a DIY flea repellant spay by just mixing water and vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray around the coop. And chickens. Avoid spraying into the eyes of the chicken. Either apple cider vinegar (ACV) or white vinegar will work. The mixing ratio should be the third vinegar to two-thirds water.
Fleas do not like the blood that has garlic. Putting some garlic in the chicken’s water will ensure that there is some garlic flowing in their blood. Once the flea bites and tastes garlic, it will not come back. The garlic should be crashed. The ratio should be one clove of garlic to four gallons of water.