Free-range chickens carry more parasites, study says

Researchers find 'backyard' chickens enjoy much better life but are vulnerable to wider range of ticks, mites and lice

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The Independent Online

Free-range chickens may be tastier and more ethical than birds reared on battery farms, but they also carry more parasites, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of California found that “backyard” chickens may generally enjoy a much better life than those on commercial poultry farms but are vulnerable to a wider range of ticks, mites and lice.

Scratching around in the dirt exposures them to more parasites such as the northern fowl mite, the scaly leg mite and the chicken red mite, than they would encounter if they lived in a cage, the research has found.

Commercial poultry cages also contain far fewer crevices that might harbour ticks or bed bugs.

“Some of the perks might also increase the birds’ availability to parasites,” according to Amy Murillo the co-author of the report which is published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Most of the time the parasites inflict only a low level of discomfort on the chickens although they can cause more serious problems. But experts say the parasites don’t pose a risk to human health.