How to Protect Your Chickens from Buffalo Gnats

by Lauren R

Published June 5, 2024

As temperatures rise in the spring and early summer the threat of buffalo gnats, also known as black flies or turkey gnats, becomes more pronounced for backyard poultry owners. These small but formidable pests can wreak havoc on your flock, leading to serious health issues and can even prove fatal. Today we are looking at how to protect your chickens and other poultry from these gnats.

Blackflies swarming inside a building corner on a window screen. Meyer Hatchery protecting chickens from gnats

Understanding Buffalo Gnats

Buffalo gnats are small, humpbacked flies that typically swarm during the warmer months, particularly in late spring and early summer. They are attracted to carbon dioxide, sweat, and dark, moving objects, making active birds like chickens prime targets. These gnats can bite to suck blood from humans and animals to complete their reproductive process. These bites can lead to various complications including blood loss, toxic shock, suffocation, and disease transmission.

Risks to Chickens

  1. Bites and Irritation: Buffalo gnats bite chickens causing cuts, scabs, and blood-stained feathers. Repeated bites can lead to severe irritation, stress, and infections.
  2. Suffocation: In large swarms, gnats can obstruct a chicken’s respiratory tract leading to suffocation.
  3. Toxic Shock: The saliva of buffalo gnats contains toxins that may cause an allergic reaction known as toxic shock syndrome.
  4. Disease Transmission: Buffalo gnats can carry diseases which can negatively impact poultry health.
Permectrin II can be applied directly on poultry cattle horses swine and sheep. Can also be used as a premise spray.

Preventive Measures

  1. Brood Indoors: Keep your young flock members safe and brood them inside so they aren’t exposed to the gnats.
  2. Keep Your Flock Cooped: During peak activity times, usually early morning and late afternoon, keep your chickens in their coop. Gnats are less likely to enter enclosed secured spaces.
  3. Use Fine Mesh Screens: Cover windows and vents with fine mesh screens (24 mesh per inch or smaller) to prevent gnats from entering the coop.
  4. Increase Air Movement: Gnats are poor fliers in windy conditions. Installing fans in the coop and run helps create air movement which makes it difficult for gnats to settle.
  5. Apply Insect Repellents: Use repellents containing DEET on clothing or, with discretion, directly on the coop’s exterior. Be cautious with repellents around the birds and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Insecticides: Insecticides with permethrin can temporarily reduce buffalo gnat populations, but since they only kill gnats on contact, it’s necessary to regularly spray animal areas, yards, and barns. Permethrin Spray and Prozap Insectrin Dust are two options. 
  7. Provide Dust Baths: Place tubs of diatomaceous earth in the coop. Chickens can use these for dust baths, which can help deter gnats and other pests.
Additional Tips
  • Avoid Gnat Breeding Areas: Buffalo gnats breed in flowing water. Keep your chickens away from areas near streams or rivers during peak seasons.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: If you’re working around the coop during high gnat activity, wear long-sleeved, bright-colored clothing, and consider using head nets to protect yourself.
  • Natural Repellents: Some poultry owners have found success using products with citronella or vanilla oil. Placing vanilla car fresheners or marigold blossoms in nesting boxes can also help deter gnats.
First Aid Products from Meyer Hatchery to help with wounds

Treating Gnat Bites

If your chickens do get bitten take the following steps to manage their discomfort:

  • Apply Hydrocortisone Cream: Use a 1% hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Use Cool Compresses: Apply cool compresses to the affected areas to reduce swelling and provide relief.
  • Administer Antihistamines: In severe cases you might need to administer antihistamines, like Benadryl, but always consult a vet before giving any medication to your chickens.
  • Keep the Area Clean: Ensure the coop is clean and dry to prevent infections from bites.

Buffalo gnats can pose a serious threat to backyard poultry, but with proper preventive measures, you can protect your flocks. By keeping your chickens cooped during peak activity times, using fine mesh screens, increasing air movement, and employing natural and chemical repellents you can significantly reduce the risk of gnat infestations. Stay proactive and your chickens will remain healthy and happy throughout the gnat season.

Have you run into any gnat problems where you live? Let us know in the comments!

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