Use Vanilla to Protect Your Chickens from Gnats, Biting Flies, and Biting Midges

use vanilla to repel biting flies gnats midges no see ums from chicken livestockBiting flies, biting midges and gnats… I think those are all the same thing, or at least similar. Similar in that they are annoying little things that bite and can drive you crazy!

Our chicken coop is at the back of our lush yard, just nestled under the towering cherry and oak trees. Its southern exposure picks up the first rays of the sun, and the canopy above keeps it shady during the mid-day heat. The coop is surrounded by elderberry plants and black raspberries, dogwood trees, beautiful feathery ferns… and biting flies. Lots and lots of biting flies. Blood sucking parasites that aren’t afraid to dive bomb you in the eye or explore your left nostril.

Oh, and they love chicken blood too.

This year the biting flies have been horrendous. I believe they are also called biting midges, biting gnats, biting flies and no-see-ums. Whatever they are, they’re awful.

I’ve read that they can kill a chicken, which is why it’s important to do whatever you can to help protect your flock! I’ve seen multiple reports from other chicken keepers that they are loosing chickens to these flies. If the infestation is bad enough, they can suck enough blood out of a chicken to kill it, which is more likely to happen to elderly or weak chickens. Or it’s reported that they will lodge themselves in their nostrils and suffocate the chicken.

I’ve noticed that although they are having a wonderful time scratching and going about their merry lives, our chickens are twitchy and constantly bringing a foot to their face to itch. They have been bombarded with these darn biting flies.

The flies do land on their bodies, but don’t appear to do much there. It’s the wattles and comb that are like filet mignon to these little blood suckers.

The girls seem to be handling the flies okay- most of them have small combs and are agile, able to easily scratch their faces with their feet. It’s Bolivar, our Buff Orpington rooster that has been hit the hardest. He has hip problems so he can bring his foot up to his face, plus he’s got a huge comb and wattles with lots of crevices and plenty of acreage for flies to bite.

Vanilla Gnat Spray for Chickens

After learning that gnats don’t like the smell of vanilla, I went to the kitchen and armed myself.
vanilla spray
I found a small spray bottle, added some non-alcohol glycerin based vanilla extract to it, then diluted it just a tad with water to thin it out- about 5 parts vanilla to 1 part water.

I marched outside and found my first test subject. I picked her up and gave her a little spray of the vanilla on the top of her head. I put her back down on the ground and observed. It seemed to work. I tried it on another chicken. Then another and another.

I watched as they went around scratching in the dirt under the bushes. It was working. It was working! They weren’t twitching their heads anymore and I didn’t see any gnats landing on their faces. I went around and sprayed any chicken that would let me get near them.

I prefer the glycerin-based vanilla, but you can also use regular alcohol-based vanilla extract as well. You can even use imitation extract, as it’s the vanillin smell that the biting flies don’t like.

In all reality, it doesn’t take that much vanilla to spray the chickens. And you definitely don’t have to buy the expensive stuff. Just make sure there are no weird things or chemicals added.

You will also need a small spray bottle. You won’t need a lot of vanilla, so putting it in a normal size spray bottle is overkill and it won’t spray very well. Also, you are just aiming for the back of their heads, combs, and cheeks, and you have to be extremely careful not to get any in their eyes or up their nostrils. Big spray bottle = big spray area. This little spray bottle casts a nice, even, small spray pattern: perfect for a chicken head.

If you’re in a pinch and you don’t have a small sprat bottle, you can use your finger to dab the vanilla on to the chickens.

I didn’t want to simply aim at their heads without any real control, so, I picked up each chicken, held them under one arm and sprayed. I gave each chicken two or three sprays. I needed to reapply this about every three hours.

Each chicken got a spray on the back of the comb and then one on each side of the middle of the comb. It seemed that the very back of the comb where it attaches to the head was a gnat hot spot, so I made sure to spray there.

Then, I would take my finger and gently pat where I sprayed just to rub it in. Then I would use my wet-with-vanilla finger to rub some on the side of their face or wattles. Last I would tell them what good chickens they were, and send them back off to play.

I think I have chicken perfuming down to a science.

By the way, they didn’t seem to mind it at all. Most don’t love being picked up, so that was the worst part for them. I don’t know if they realized I was helping them, or if it was just that they were getting used to me picking them up, but each day they seemed to get much better about being held for the five seconds that this took.

And don’t hesitate to spray some on yourself too!

I feel like all of this vanilla gnat protection has really catapulted me into the status of crazy chicken lady.

Other Ways to Keep Your Chickens Safe From Biting Flies

Consider keeping them in the coop or run during the height of the biting fly infestation. This has helped our flock a LOT. They hate being cooped up, but it’s for their own good. The biting flies don’t seem to really go inside the coop, or hang out in the run which is dirt and sand- the chickens are safe from the flies in there.

If the flies are bothering your chickens inside their coop, consider putting  fan in there. Flies don’t like wind, and it should keep them off of your flock.


We all have different levels of commitment to our animals. I take caring for a life very seriously. Whether it is a chicken or even a single honey bee, if they are under my watch then I will give them my absolute best.

My chickens: my responsibility to keep them happy and healthy.
Even if it means spraying each of their little heads with vanilla. All 30 of them… 3 times per day.

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20 thoughts on “Use Vanilla to Protect Your Chickens from Gnats, Biting Flies, and Biting Midges

  1. Love this idea! I make my own vanilla extract now. Going to find a small spray bottle and spritz myself! The chickens will come later…and when they do, they too will be wearing vanilla fragrance. :) Thanks for this wonderful idea1

    1. Thanks Sara! I sprayed myself with it all the time too, especially when the gnats were terrible. :)

  2. I’m going to have to try this. Have you sprayed it around in the coop? My biggest issue is the gnats making their home in the coop. I can’t seem to get them out no matter how much I air it out.

    1. I haven’t tried spraying it around the coop… I think it might dissipate too quickly that way and not have an impact. You might consider getting some vanilla car air fresheners to hang around. Not “natural,” but better than having your girls eaten alive! :)

  3. I’ve been worried about my chickens all day as the gnats just will NOT leave them alone no matter what tricks I tried. So, after reading a few posts about vanilla water spray, I whipped some up using 1:4 mixture of pure extract and water and proceeded to spray my kids. Sweet Rose – my small Rhode Island White – was all for it once I got her up in my hand – she had a few bugs of some sort under her feathers that I had to pick off of her and sprayed her directly there and rubbed it in on her – she loved that massage tho! Then I sprayed the vanilla concoction on her from head to tail and underneath as well – not drenched, just fine misted -and after watching almost 30minutes, she wasn’t pecking at anything or scratching. Got the others accept my big Buff girl who decided she liked to run instead. Finally said heck with it and also sprayed around their cage and placed a few Wild Orchid and Vanilla Snuggle laundry softener sheets around their area. That seemed to help as well as they all pretty much quit scratching or pecking shortly after application. I haven’t seen any gnats on them in over an hour now. Awesome tip! Thanks! My kids will be happier no doubt!

  4. Thank you for this valuable information. We recently added some broiler chicks to our brood. They have been housed separately until they were about 3 weeks old and then we tried letting them run with the laying hens. So far so good, until this last week. It appeared that overnight the chicks had sores on their back ends. The next day I had a dead chick, which brought me to my knees (i won’t go into the gory details but it was awful) I spent some time watching the chicks and hens interact and noticed that the hens were picking at the chicks. We immediately dropped everything and re-vamped the chicken run so not only were the chicks sleeping separately but they now have a separate run.
    Now the problem is the flies. They are everywhere! I’ve treated all the chicks with sores with a product like Peck no More and an antiseptic. I’m terribly worried about these chicks getting “Fly Strike”. Do you have any advice? I have the chicks on sawdust because our coop is off the ground and learning that I have to change it very often because they are busy little poopers. I’ll be trying the vanilla tonight, but any wound advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for all your awesome content.

    1. Oh no, sorry to hear about your little chick :( It sounds like you are doing everything right- especially by keeping a watchful eye, which is the best thing you can do. I think the biggest risk for flystrike in chickens is if they get poopy bums- and it is only from the larger “housefly” types, not the small biting flies. It can happen on open flesh too, but unless your little ones have huge gaping wounds, I wouldn’t expect that. If you are really really worried, you could try to put them indoors/in garage/somewhere else away from the flies until they’re wounds heal. I don’t know of anything to put on a wound that keeps flies away from it. Definitely don’t use anything goopy, as that might attract flies because they like moisture.

      Controlling the flies is a great idea, and if they are really bad you might consider hanging something artificial and powerful like vanilla car air fresheners… or/and look into making some fly traps (great info here: Flies don’t like wind, so you could try a gentle fan blowing on the chickens (if it’s warm enough). After our bad-fly-year last year, we cut down all of the low green plants in the woods near the coop and that helped a ton too!

      Hope that helps and best of luck!

  5. Thanks for the great advice. Our beautiful Rhode Island Red, ‘Red’ was attacked by evil gnats. His comb was bloody and he could not stop shaking his head. Seeing him like this was like a horror movie come true.
    We telephoned the only emergency veterinarian in town only to be told that they do not accept poultry. This brought me to tears. We cleaned Red’s comb as much as possible to remove the dried blood and to hopefully take care of any gnat eggs that might have been laid there.
    After cleaning and drying Red, we needed to care Lucille and Opal our Red and Black Star (respectively) hens. They were not nearly as bad off as Red.
    We sprayed all three with the vanilla spray as you directed. They are barely itching at all. And hopefully we will be free from the plagues of gnats.
    Because their home is still full gnats, they will be vacatioing in our house until we find a permanent solution for the gnat problem.
    If anybody has any advice on this, I’d appreciate it.
    Thanks again for sharing your solution.

    1. That’s terrible- glad the vanilla seems to be helping! I’m not sure what the chicken’s home looks like- if it is grassy, cut it as short as possible. You could also try the cheap vanilla air fresheners… even placed in the grass or in the coop. Hope that helps! -Crystal

  6. .you can make a chicken tractor that you can raise biddies in up to egg laying size…..give em new ground to scratch every couple days…keep down the gnats and accumulated poop……get rid of bugs and cut down on the feed bill….
    plans are available several places///Mother Earth News//and any of the How to raise chickens magazines….not expensive …well, not very but can be used for many years with minimal care and will pay for itself in reduced feed bill…

  7. Thank you so much for this one of my newer hens was beaten bloody by our other hens and we had to separate her. Unfortunatly she became convered in gnats so this really helped her so that she can relax and get better

    1. That’s the beauty of a ratio- you can just make however much you need… You can use tablespoons, teaspoons or cups, whatever quantity you think you’ll use. It means “4 parts” vanilla so, 4 tablespoons, teaspoons or cups of vanilla to “1 part” water, so 1 tablespoon, teaspoon, or cup of water.

  8. For years I have been using a spray of vanilla water to keep mosquitos away. And I smell like sugar cookies.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    My girls were shaking their heads so bad and I could see those gnats but it took me a bit of time to find a natural remedy.
    Poor things.

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