Backyard Chickens, Though Happier, May Be Overrun with Parasites

By Mike Pomranz |

© Neil Beckerman / Getty Images

Raising your own chickens has become a surprisingly hot trend in recent years. You can even find services that will rent you chickens on a month-to-month basis. But as a recent study from scientists at the University of California, Riverside reminds us, if you’re going to have chickens in your backyard, you have to take care of them – and make sure they aren’t covered in parasites.

A recent paper in the Journal of Medical Entomology compared 100 adult hens in 20 different backyards in southern California to populations of chickens in commercial flocks. What they found was that backyard birds had a far greater diversity of ectoparasites, including lice, fleas and mites.

The results don’t mean that backyard chickens are less healthy than factory farmed hens, but instead are intended to highlight the extra care owners need to take when raising birds in these conditions. “The results of this study suggest 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 Entomological Society of America said in a press release. “Many of the chicken owners that participated in this study were surprised to learn that their chickens had ectoparasites, and almost none of the owners were practicing parasite prevention.”

The press release even ended with a joke: “These birds may be enjoying the good life, but it turns out to be fairly itchy.” Um, I don’t hear any of the chickens laughing. I hear them clucking, but I don’t hear them laughing.

As Modern Farmer points out, taking preventative measures to make sure your chickens aren’t infested is “pretty easy.” If you’re dabbling in the world of backyard chickens, it’s something to think about. Otherwise, the reason the chicken crosses the road might be because it wants to get away from all those ectoparasites.

I don’t hear any chickens laughing at that joke either. I don’t hear anyone laughing at that joke, actually.

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