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.
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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