The key to mitigating bugs and mites in alternative laying systems is recognizing the problem early on in an infestation, according to Dr. Jim Arends, of JABB of the Carolinas, who spoke March 19 at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Arends, who was part of the Poultry Litter Management Workshop at the convention, said there are concerns with ectoparasites in alternative laying systems. Ectoparasites are parasites that live on the surface of a host, such as fleas and ticks.

"In the last 3 years, with more alternative systems coming online, the list of pests that I have seen in these systems has expanded," Arends said in a report submitted before the convention.

The recent emergence of bugs in poultry systems include northern fowl mites, lice, flies, red mites, pyomotes, darkling or fungus beetles, bed bugs, and fleas and ticks, Arends said.

"Most of the pests on the above list have not been commonly seen in 20 or more years," Arends said in the report. "That lack of these pests being common means that few people know what they look like on the birds or in the facility and also do not know how to look for them, where to look for them, or the time interval to evaluate the birds for a problem."

Ectoparasites can lead to several problems in a layer house, including spread of disease, decreases in egg production, and compromised immune systems.

In order to catch an infestation early and manage it, Arends said there are three keys:

  • Identification of the pest and understanding of its life cycle and habitat
  • Understanding the management options
  • Understanding the control options

Catching a problem early will make management and control much easier and less costly than if the infestation has gone on for a longer period of time.

To monitor a flock for parasites, Arends said at least 10 percent of the birds should be checked at least monthly.

Arends said treating an infestation in alternative layer systems has become more difficult because the birds cannot be contained for a spray application, which is the simplest treatment. The pests' resistance to treatment products also poses a challenge.

Providing birds with access to dust boxes containing diatomaceous earth, kaolin or sulfur has been found to reduce lice and northern fowl mites. Insecticidal soaps - or even household degreasing soaps - can reduce pests, but numerous retreatments are required. Bio-pesticides are also a good option, due to low resistance levels.

Arends stressed that biosecurity in and around poultry houses is extremely important. People, equipment and birds should be closely monitored to prevent a problem from beginning in the first place.