Backyard chickens have large number of ectoparasites

Backyard chickens may live a sweeter life than chickens on commercial poultry farms, but they are also exposed to a different suite of parasites than those found in most commercial facilities, a new study suggests.

Researchers from University of California, Riverside concluded that some of the perks of being a backyard chicken, such as comfortable coops and access to the outdoors, might also increase the birds' availability to ectoparasites.

The study was published Jan. 11 in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

The researchers surveyed 100 adult hens in 20 different backyards in southern California and found a much greater diversity of ectoparasites on the backyard chickens than has been reported in commercial flocks.

Ectoparasites were found on most of the flocks surveyed (80%), and lice were the most common and abundant. Six different species of louse were found on the chickens, and some individual chickens had hundreds of lice. Sticktight fleas were found in only 20% of flocks, but infestations could be quite severe. The northern fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) was the most common mite, but the scaly leg mite (Knemidocoptes mutans) and the chicken red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) were also found.

According to researcher and graduate student Amy C. Murillo, many of the chicken owners that participated in the study were surprised to learn that their chickens had ectoparasites, and almost none of the owners were practicing parasite prevention.

Photo credit: © iStock/driftlessstudio

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