Fresh eggs and feathered companionship. Owning chickens certainly has a number of benefits. However, when taking care of any animal, you also have to account for the things that aren’t so good, such as health conditions and diseases. Among the various health issues that can impact your flock, flystrike is one of the worst. If left untreated, flystrike may even bring about the untimely demise of your chickens.
What is flystrike and how do you treat and prevent it? We’re going to discuss that and more in this article.
What is Flystrike?
Flystrike, scientifically known as myiasis, is a distressing condition where flies, particularly blowflies and houseflies, lay eggs on a chicken, and the hatched maggots subsequently feed on the bird’s flesh. This parasitic infestation can lead to severe health complications if not addressed promptly.
Symptoms of Flystrike
In order to treat flystrike, you must first notice the symptoms exhibited by infected chickens. You may detect flystrike early if you happen to catch an infected chicken behaving oddly, such as being more restless than usual, preening excessively, and also showing discomfort. Afflicted chickens may also be lethargic, unable to eat, and also alienated from the rest of the flock. Later, you may notice a foul odor emanating from the chicken.
Determining flystrike will require a visual inspection. During this inspection, you will find soiled feathers around the infected region. Generally, this is around the vent. The presence of visible maggots is a definitive sign of a flystrike infestation.
If you see maggots and rotten, necrotic skin, your chicken is undoubtedly impacted by flystrike.
What Causes Flystrike in Chickens?
As mentioned earlier, flystrike occurs when flies lay eggs on a chicken’s skin. This may happen for a number of reasons, including wounds and injuries on the skin that have become infected. Usually, poor hygiene, as well as damp and dirty living conditions, can increase the probability of chickens developing flystrike. For example, if your chickens are running around covered in feces and develop a skin issue, flies will be attracted to that irritation and may lay their eggs there.
When the eggs hatch, the maggots begin feasting on the flesh, beginning the horrifying condition known as flystrike.
Aside from poor health and hygiene, some environmental issues also increase the chances of flystrike. Warm, humid regions see more occurrences of flystrike than colder ones.
Can Flystrike Be Treated?
If you detect flystrike, it is important to act fast. Flystrike is a devastating condition that progresses rapidly. To put how fast your chickens will be afflicted into perspective: Once flies lay their eggs, it takes about 8-12 hours for them to hatch. Flies usually lay up to 150 eggs. As soon as those maggots are wriggling about, flystrike will progress rapidly, sometimes leading to death if not treated quickly and correctly.
So, how do you treat flystrike? It is highly recommended that you take the chicken (or chickens) to a veterinarian who can remove visible fly larvae, clean, and surgically debride the infected region.
If you can’t take your chicken to the veterinarian right away, here are some steps to follow to give your feathered friend the best chance of recovery:
You will want to separate all infected chickens from the healthy members of the flock and from one another. Sick chickens are often bullied, and there is a heightened risk of cannibalism. Keep your unwell chickens in quarantine until they are completely healed and free of maggots.
Keeping your chickens hydrated is an important component of treating flystrike. Offer your sick chickens some drinking water with added vitamins and electrolytes.
3. Clean the Area
This part is not fun, but it has to be done. Visually inspect the wound. You will need to physically remove the maggots from the infected skin and the surrounding areas. The best way to do this is to put your chicken in a bathtub or wash basin with some warm water. Wash the wound and gently wipe away the larvae at the same time. The maggots will drown in the water.
Since you will have to coat the wound with medicine, you may wish to take this time to cut away some of the feathers that could be in the way.
4. Treat the Wound
After cleansing the wound and removing the larvae, it is time to flush and sterilize the region. Most veterinarian offices will use Vetericyn or Betadine. Another option is saline spray. For deeper wounds, you can first treat it with some hydrogen peroxide. However, you should not continue using peroxide for too long, as it will slow the healing process and even kill living tissue.
After dousing the wound with Vetericyn or Betadine, wait for the medicine to air dry slightly before lightly toweling off your feathered friend. A hair dryer set to low heat will also work — and chickens seem to like it.
5. Continuing with Antibiotics
After drying the feathers and wound, once again spray the infected area with Vetericyn spray. Do not use any gelatinous ointments, as maggots tend to proliferate in oily, moist environments. Lastly, protect the wound with some kind of dressing, such as a liquid bandage, aerosol aluminum, or silver sulfadiazine cream.
If you have taken your chicken to a veterinarian, you may receive an additional antibiotic to help treat any bacterial infections or inflammation.
6. Repeat Steps 3-5
Depending on the severity of the flystrike, you may have to repeat steps 3 through 5 a couple times a day until the infection is completely healed and no more maggots remain. Obviously, this is why it is sometimes best to take your chicken to a vet.
Watch this video on how to remove maggots from under the skin of a chicken:
How to Prevent Flystrike
Prevention is undeniably more manageable than treatment when it comes to flystrike. Establishing a comprehensive approach to coop management is key. Regular cleaning and maintaining a dry environment are fundamental preventive measures.
Feather maintenance is equally critical. Keeping the chickens’ plumage clean and dry, especially during warm and humid conditions, minimizes the appeal to flies. Regular health checks become a preventive tool, enabling chicken keepers to identify and address any wounds, injuries, or signs of illness before they escalate.
Implementing environmental modifications, such as using fly traps or repellents, can further discourage fly activity. Natural deterrents, like aromatic herbs or diatomaceous earth, can be strategically placed in the coop to create an environment less conducive to flies.
The Importance of Digestive Health
Even if your coop is immaculate, if you chickens are running around with soiled feathers on a hot, humid day, they could get flystrike. Chicken droppings, due to their composition, are magnets for flies. This is especially true when your flock has diarrhea from coccidiosis or a worm infestation or even too much of a certain kind of treat.
As such, one of the best ways to prevent flystrike is to keep a careful watch on the quality of your chicken’s poops and to make sure they are eating a nutritious diet.
Final Thoughts on Flystrike in Chickens
Flystrike, a condition caused by flies laying eggs on a chicken, leading to infection and infestation, is a terrible issue often faced by chicken keepers. Humid climates, poor living conditions, and soiled feathers often lead to flystrike, which is why maintaining the coop and keeping your chickens healthy is important. Fortunately, when caught early, flystrike can be treated at home or with the assistance of a veterinarian.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.