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 gnats. Lots and lots of gnats. 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 gnats have been horrendous. Technically I believe they are called biting midges, biting flies and no-see-ums. But we always call them gnats…
We let the chickens out to free range for the first time a few days ago. They’ve had a blast digging up dirt, finding toads to eat, and sampling all the local greenery. The other thing they’ve done? Kicked up all the gnats living in the low, moist plants at the edge of the woods. They’ve awakened a monster.
I’ve noticed that although they are having a wonderful time scratching and going about their merry lives, the chickens are twitchy and constantly bringing a foot to their face to itch. They have been bombarded with these darn gnats.
The gnats 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 biting flies. Some species of gnats have even been known to kill chickens by getting lodged in their nostrils and suffocating them or sucking their blood till they die.
I didn’t like the sound of that…
Especially after I found one of my roosters, Big Red, with half a dozen stuck to the back of his comb, just out of his reach.
Vanilla Gnat Spray for Chickens
After learning that gnats don’t like the smell of vanilla, I went to the kitchen and armed myself.
I found a small spray bottle, added some pure vanilla extract to it, then diluted it just a tad with water. I marched outside and found my first test subject. I picked her up and gave her a little spray of the vanilla water 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.
Karl: “What’s that smell?”
Crystal: “We now have vanilla-scented chickens!”
Karl: “Are you pre-seasoning them? Will you be rubbing them down with chili powder tomorrow?”
I know what you’re thinking. Because it was my first thought too. Doesn’t spraying vanilla on your chickens seem a tad… expensive? (You thought I was going to say crazy, didn’t you?)
It doesn’t have to be expensive if you know the secret to getting affordable vanilla products. By the way, that secret is to buy vanilla beans in bulk. This usually does require more of an up front investment, but pays out in the long run.
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 added, like caramel color or other chemicals. Just vanilla beans and alcohol.
If you need gnat help now, just use what vanilla you have in the cupboard. Then replace it with this, my favorite vanilla.
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, and you have to be extremely careful not to get any in their eyes. Big spray bottle = big spray area. This little spray bottle casts a nice, even, small spray pattern: perfect for a chicken head.
Vanilla Gnat Spray Recipe
4 parts vanilla
1 part water
Ease of application will depend entirely on your ability to catch chickens. I am guessing that if you are going through the trouble of making vanilla spray for your flock, you probably have friendlier chickens that will let you do this sort of thing.
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.
For a hen (with a small, small comb) I would do two sprays on the back of the head. Each rooster 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 (especially the meat birds, whom I’ve purposefully not handled), 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!
Vanilla Bean Dust Bath
Want to turn your chickens into walking fly-repellent-vanilla-bombs? Try a vanilla dust bath.
I’m not talking about putting expensive vanilla bean seeds in dirt for chickens.
We’re going to be just a little smarter than that.
Just a little.
But aren’t vanilla beans expensive? No- they don’t have to be! Two years ago I bought a 1-lb bag of vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA- and I’m still using them today! They are wonderful for baking, making extract, and now… for chicken health.
Vanilla Beans Chicken Dust Bath:
Cut each vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife and place the seeds into a small jar. Fill the jar with 1 teaspoon of honey for every bean that you use. Seeds from 10 vanilla beans = 10 teaspoons honey.
Stir it around and you’ve made your own vanilla bean paste. Awesome.
Now take the spent vanilla bean pods and get ready to get crazy. First, you’ll need to dry them. A few hours in the dehydrator or very low oven should do the trick. Next, put them into a food processor or blend in order to make them into a sort-of powder (they should be cool before you do this).
Now make a dust bath for your flock. My chickens really love the shallow cardboard dust box I made for them. I took a cardboard box (about 24″X18”) and cut most of the top off until it was about 4” tall. To make the biting-fly-repellent-vanilla-scented dust bath, fill the box ¾ full with nice dust bath dirt (I just dug some sandier stuff from our property) and mix in your pulverized vanilla bean pods. Keep it in the coop or somewhere where it won’t get wet.
They will bathe in it, they will smell like sweet vanilla, and the flies will stay far, far away.
You can also buy already ground vanilla bean here if you don’t want to make it yourself.
I feel like all of this vanilla gnat protection has really catapulted me into the status of crazy chicken lady.
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.
Want more from the homestead?
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through them and end up purchasing an item (any item, not necessarily the one I recommended even!) I may receive monetary or other compensation. The price you pay is unaffected by using this link, and buying stuff you were going to get anyways through an affiliate link is a great way to support your favorite blogger and fellow homesteader! Thanks!