Stick-tight Fleas: What Are They and How to Get Rid of Them
I’m born and raised in Florida. I briefly lived in Tennessee and spent a couple summers in Texas, but I still have to claim myself a Floridian. As a Floridian, I know very well what fleas are. My bet is that there aren’t many people who don’t know what fleas are, but I could be wrong. If you don’t know what a flea is, bless your heart and I’d like to know where to move to in order to avoid these pests. When we moved to Homosassa Springs, FL and got our chickens set up all was just fine and dandy. One day I was outside just clucking around in the coop and noticed some live bugs on the ladies and gents. After an extensive amount of research, I learned that hell on Earth can come in the form of stick-tight fleas.
WHAT IS A STICK-TIGHT FLEA?
In short, a stick-tight flea also referred to as a poultry flea, is a flea that burrows like a tick would. Gross, right? They’re a bit of a pain to remove and, as your stereotypical flea does, they multiply rapidly. These monsters are smaller than your average flea and will attach to any host they can find, including you. Yes, you! And ME! Double gross.
ARE STICK-TIGHT FLEAS DANGEROUS?
In short, yes, they can be detrimental to your flock. Before I really knew what they were, I had a rabbit that was infested by stick-tight fleas and died. The fleas suck blood as a tick does and will wear an animal down, preventing it from hunting or simply moving. Just to be clear, this happened when we were practicing colony raising with our rabbits. This is also one of the reasons we stopped colony raising and why I don’t suggest this method in the southern heat like we have.
HOW DO YOU GET STICK-TIGHT FLEAS?
They’re carried by a host as any flea is. This host can be something like a squirrel or even the neighbor’s dog that wanders into your yard every now and then and isn’t being treated for fleas, so he got them from the squirrel. When we moved onto our homestead, we inherited some hens from the previous owner. What we didn’t inherit is the knowledge of stick-tight fleas and that our hen house had ’em!
HOW DO YOU GET RID OF STICK-TIGHT FLEAS?
This was by far the most aggravating, difficult thing to research! I never found a way to battle them 100% organically and naturally, which made this all a very hard thing to deal with. We try not to use pesticides or chemicals on our land, and this is the first time we even got anywhere close to it. I’m here to tell you what I found through my research and, even better, how I’ve defeated the stick-tight fleas.
To begin, you need to determine if you have an infestation or not.
- Note that if you’re sure you have an infestation, my method will not be enough for your situation.
- If you see fleas on your birds, usually on the head and under the eyes, you need to take action as soon as possible.
- Look at your birds. Are more than two or three of your birds are completely covered in the little bug(gers)? Yes? You might have an infestation.
METHODS I READ ABOUT
The majorities of the methods I found were coming from individuals who didn’t have many birds, maybe 5-10, and they were extremely hands-on. I want to state that I would’ve been completely willing to use these methods had I had an infestation and I recommend for you to use these tools if you believe you have an infestation. The reason I didn’t immediately use the methods I found is that 1. My birds really hate me handling them despite all my efforts to make them love me unconditionally and 2. because I did not have an infestation and felt I could try another method first.
As a quick “How-to” rundown, here we go.
TREATING THE BIRD:
- Catch your bird. This is easiest done in the evenings while they’re roosting. Or if you’re not me and your chickens enjoy your company others times than feeding times, simply pick them up. If they love you, you’re a lucky duck…or chicken. Don’t take it for granted!
- Smear vaseline over the infested areas, being very careful not to get the vaseline in you chooks eyes. This will smother and kill the fleas. Aw, poor fleas said no one ever.
- Dust your bird very carefully with DE, making sure you aren’t creating a large dust storm as it can harm a chickens lungs.
- After you’ve left the chickens for the night, come back and wipe off the vaseline and pull the stick fleas off. REPEAT until your chickens are clear.
TREATING THE LIVING QUARTERS:
Disclaimer, this part is required in all methods and was not enjoyable in any way.
- Shovel out any and all bedding, nesting materials, etc. If you have a dirt floor, like me, this is going to be a big job. You need to shovel out the whole top layer of your floor. If you have a solid floor (wood, concrete, etc.) I envy you as you’ll just need to shovel out whatever is atop that floor material and spray the floor down well.
- BURN THIS BEDDING! Or haul it far away and put it in a HOT compost pile. The heat can kill the fleas, that’s what I did and I’ve had no problem.
- Add all new bedding and nesting material along with a healthy layer of DE.
- Choose a flea spray of your choice and treat the coop, while the chickens are away in the run or such, as often as needed until your flea problem is gone.
OTHER METHODS I READ ABOUT
Most of the methods I read about involved applying actual flea and tick medication to the neck of your birds, as you would do with a cat or dog. This option is one I deemed a last resort for my chooks. If you have an infestation, you may have to do this. I read about some folks having to cull their whole flock because the stick-tight fleas were so bad. If you do choose to go the route of applying medication, be sure to do your research on doses and brands. Also, you’ll need to discard of your eggs for 2-4 weeks or longer. Applying chemical directly to your bird means it’s soaking into their system; that chemical can also make it to those beautiful fresh eggs, unfortunately.
There are also methods where people bathe their chickens in a type of chemical dip. This, too, was not something I was willing to do unless an infestation occurred. My chickens would also hate me forever…it would’ve been a sight to see though, me trying to bathe my chickens! I suggest you go to backyardchickens.com and search their site. I found the most personal experience stories there!
- First, I followed the steps above to thoroughly clean out my coop and dispose properly of the bedding so the little devils didn’t come hopping back. You HAVE to do this. Yes, it’s no fun and the fleas are hopping all over you just mad that you’re disturbing them. Put your work pants on, slide on your rain boots, spray yourself with diluted tea tree oil and get to it! No excuses, Y’all.
- Next, I bought Sevin Yard Spray and Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Yard and Kennel Spray. I want to acknowledge that ‘Sevin’ products were recently said to not be safe for chickens. After thorough research, I determined this would be the safest option for my feathered friends in comparison to some of the other, topical options I found. I would’ve liked to battle these fleas completely naturally, but it just wasn’t an option. Also, the crew was never in direct contact with the spray and it’s diluted as you hook it directly to a hose to apply.
- While your chickens are out of the coop, spray the new bedding/flooring with Sevin Yard Spray. Do this every day for two weeks, changing their nesting bedding often. You can just scrape it to the floor and treat it. DO NOT SPRAY YOUR BOXES WITH SEVIN SPRAY. I feel I would’ve been a bad chicken mama had I sprayed their boxes. Please don’t make your ladies sit and lay in Sevin Spray.
- Every evening as I picked up eggs and the chickens were roosting I sprinkled DE on the floor of the coop. I also lightly, and carefully, sprinkled the hens and roos if they’d let me and I’d sprinkle the nesting boxes while they weren’t being used.
- On your second week of spraying the Sevin Spray on the floor, add the Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Yard and Kennel Spray into your routine. The Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Spray is one of the best products I’ve found and a total blessing to my everyday life. It’s essential oil based (chicken-safe), fights against fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, and it’s even safe to spray in your home! (You’ll want to get the home spray, though) I apply Vet’s Best to my dogs’ beds, my carpet, and my couch! BONUS: It smells wonderful in the house AND coop!
- After following the bedding and spraying steps, and sprinkling DE like it’s your job, you should notice a drastic decline or a total cease in stick-tight flea activity. If your flea activity has decreased, repeat these steps. If you repeat these steps and the activity is still high you might have an infestation and will need to take further measures.
STICK-TIGHT FLEAS NO MORE!
95% of my hens have no stick-fleas on their heads! Stick-tight flea free! The ones that do have stick-tight fleas on them are the broody hens that haven’t dust bathed the dead fleas off. Everything you’ll read will say that you absolutely have to pluck each flea off of the hen. In my experience, this isn’t completely accurate. My chooks have access to a large grazing area and Florida has some really gritty sand. I never picked a single flea of my ladies, although I would if I had to.
As my motto goes, “living simply isn’t always simple, but it’s always worth it.”. I still apply the Sevin Spray once a week as a preventative and I don’t love that it isn’t 100% organic and natural. After being bitten a few times, I’d rather use that spray than watch my chickens suffer in pain and agony. During the “cooler” months the fleas aren’t very active so I will cut the Sevin application to 2x a month if any at all. If this has helped you and if you have any questions for me, comment below! I wish you the best of luck!