When we speak of chicken predators most people assume that we mean mammals such as fox or raccoon or we may think of flying predators such as hawks or owls. However, some of the deadliest predators for chickens are of the insect variety. Buffalo gnats, flies, mosquitoes, mites and lice can all be major contributors to the detrimental health of poultry.
Buffalo gnats are from the black fly family. They are small dark flies that have a hump on their backs that make them look a little bit like buffaloes. They typically appear in late spring and early summer.
Black flies are aquatic insects that lay their eggs in water areas. They prefer clean, fast moving water such as a river. If you live within ten miles of a river or stream you may be bothered by them. Cool, wet springs with lots of flowing water will increase their numbers. Once temperatures outdoors reach 80 degrees F, their activity decreases. There is usually around a three week period in the spring where where the gnats do their most damage.
Gnats arrive in swarms and will dive bomb their victims from above. Bites on chickens occur on any exposed skin surface. That would include the comb, wattles and face on the chickens. Feathers protect most of their body from bites but exposed vents could also pose a problem.
When a buffalo gnat bites, it creates a small cut in the skin. The cut begins to bleed and the gnat feeds on that blood. Then gnat’s saliva mixes with the blood. The saliva contains toxins that chickens can experience allergic reactions from. It is possible for the bird to go into anaphylactic shock and die. They can also develop Leucorytozoonosis from the Buffalo gnat’s saliva. This malaria-like disease includes symptoms of diarrhea, dehydration, emaciation and convulsions.
When the gnat bites, it releases a strong anticoagulant which prevents the blood from clotting. After the bite, the blood continues to flow so the gnat can continue to feed. If large numbers of gnats are biting hemorrhaging can be a threat to the chicken as well.
Buffalo gnats are attracted to carbon dioxide. They can swarm around the face and block a chicken’s nostrils leading to asphyxiation. Chickens in a coop can also become agitated with swarms of gnats and end up smothering each in an effort to get away.
The best thing that you can do to control gnats is to spray your coop and surrounding area with permethrin at 13.3%. For structures use 1 oz per gallon of water. Make sure that you check the percentage of permethrin. They sell it at different percentages. Use a yard sprayer to distribute it. Turn out the birds to free range and then spray the walls and floor of the coop. Close the door until dry. There will be a residue left on the surface of where you spray for about 4-6 weeks. At night you can spray the run and surrounding area. Permethrin comes from the chrysanthemum flower and is also good for controlling mites. If you want to use it directly on birds, use a lower percentage of permethrin.
Another good idea is to add fans to your coop. Gnats do not like moving air. Keep your coop dark. Gnats prefer the sunlight. When your birds are free ranging provide them with shade. If you do not have shade, create shade using tarps.
Birds that are exposed to gnat bites show evidence of minor swelling on wattles and comb. If they are showing discomfort such as constant scratching at the head or face you may want to use insect wipes or lotion on those exposed areas. Permethrin clothing such as a bandana can be hung to keep gnats away.
If you want a more natural deterrent many people swear by vanilla fragrance to keep insects away. Hang the vanilla pine tree air fresheners in the coop. You can take vanilla extract and dilute it with water to spray directly on the bird.
Make sure that you birds have access to a dust bath area. Add some poultry dust to the box so that the birds can work it next to their skin. You can use a little hand held duster to lightly dust the body of the bird.
This has been a bad spring in Minnesota for Buffalo gnats. Many people report losing half of their flock from biting gnats. Keep your chickens safe from all insect predators.
For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com . VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.
Victoria J. Peterson