Red mites are parasites that live in your chicken coop and feed on birds whilst they sleep at night. These small but deadly mites feed on all parts of the chicken including blood, feathers, skin and scales. Red mite infestations can result in poor health, low egg production, weight loss and, in bad infestations, even death of the bird. When the nest conditions are opportune, the mite larvae hatch 2-3 days after being laid. The time it takes for a mite to go from egg to adult is 7 days. This short cycle can cause Red Mite infestations to grow very rapidly. Even without a food source, the red mite can survive for as long as 8 months making them a very hard to get rid of pest. They can also transmit or cause Rickettsial Pox, Scrub typhus, Mange, Scabies, Dermatitis, Pruritis, Tsutsugamushi disease and other diseases.
An initial sign of infestation is the fact that hens might be hesitant in entering their shed at night, and the best time to check for mites is in the morning, when they can easily be seen by the naked eye, as after they feed with blood during the night, they will be larger in size and will have a distinctive red color. You will often find a grey ash like deposit around perch ends which is where the mites have been staying and if you lift the perch, you will see clumps of mites.
There are several different types of mites which live either on the chickens or in the coop hiding under roosts, in cracks in the walls and even in the bedding material by day and coming out at night to feed. They bite and chew, extracting blood from the host, and can cause your chickens not only discomfort, but also feather loss, anemia or even death in extreme cases, as stated above.
As the affected birds will start to look anaemic and lethargic, you will notice their combs will be pale rather than red, and the chickens will be sitting hunched up in a corner rather than actively scratching around.
Because an infestation with red mites can be a serious affliction for your chickens, effective methods of prevention must be applied. Carefully and regularly examining your chickens and their coop enables you to spot and deal with potential problems before they get out of control. Checking vents and under wings will help you catch external parasites before they are able to multiply. At the first sign of mites, fast treatment can eradicate them before the infestation begins to take place.
As is the case with all other types of infestations, maintaining proper sanitation is the best preemptive measure you can take. In the case of bird houses, be sure to constantly check for signs of infestation, as well as use some form of preventive treatment. Keep them, clean, let fresh air in, and avoid humidity as mites love that.
Normally, the dust baths that chickens take in a dry patch of dirt or sand, will keep them mite-free. It is preferable to enhance the dust with some wood ash and diatomaceous earth, as it will help keep mites away. Dried herbs sprinkled in the dust bath area can also be beneficial and help prevent mites and other parasites. Dried lavender, mint, and rosemary are all good choices as they are natural insecticides. Dried yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and help clear respiratory systems as does thyme and rosemary.
Event after taking these protective steps, it is possible that in extremely hot and humid areas, where mite populations flourishes, or during long periods of wet weather, when the chickens might not have the opportunity to bathe, the mites will get the upper hand and an infestation will take place. Sprinkling food-grade diatomaceous earth onto the floor of the coop and nesting boxes and rubbing it into the roosts is another option that can be used and reapplied as many times as needed. Treating your coop and chickens simultaneously is necessary to completely get rid of the mites. If you do not pay attention to both these elements, the mites will just pass through from one place to the other, and the infestation will never end. Be sure that when you clean the chicken coop, you seal away or even burn the bedding, as mites can find their way back if not killed.
While your chickens are suffering from mites, it is recommended you increase their iron intake to prevent anemia. Good sources of iron include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, spinach, beet greens, dandelion greens, sweet potato, broccoli, collards, kale, strawberries, watermelon, raisins, wheat products, oatmeal, cornmeal, and molasses. Adding these foods to their diet can help them better battle the mites, which in addition to draining the body of iron also affect the immune system of the birds. Adding fresh garlic cloves to their water or garlic powder to their feed is also a good preventative measure, since parasites don’t seem to like the taste of the blood of chickens that have garlic added to their diet. The garlic will also help boost your hens’ immune systems while you are treating them.
If you have already noticed signs of infestation, the first step you need to take is to perform a general cleaning of the coop. Treating and cleaning up the bird coop can be done with the help of products such as Poultry Shield and Diatom.
Reduce the risk of red mite infestation
- Remove all birds from the house;
- Strip the house down as much as possible;
- Clean the house out – be careful where the bedding is going as red mite live for 6 months without a feed and will find a new home if they can. The best solution is to seal the bedding in bin bags or burn;
- Mix up as many watering cans of Poultry Shield mixture as is needed; As per the instructions on the label you will need 1-part solution to 9-parts water;
- Spray all the cracks in the chicken house, concentrating where there are perch ends and concentrations of red mite;
- Leave to soak for 15 minutes;
- Red mites will be coming out. Cover them and the cracks with Poultry Shield again;
- Wait 15 minutes;
- Hose out the house, concentrating on getting the pressure jet into the cracks;
- Leave the house to dry.
Poultry Shield is a highly effective solution because it penetrates into cracks, which powdered treatments cannot do as easily as a liquid solution. It also destroys red mite eggs, breaking thus their lifecycle and helping in reducing their number.
After using the Poultry Shield, and the drying up the bird shelter, use Diatom. It is made of micro skeletons of fossilised remains of diatoms. These were once a kind of algae found in water and they are actually microscopically sharp pieces that pierce the outer keratin coating of several types of insects, which causes them to dry out and die. Diatom should be applied to corners and joints of the bird shelter or in the places where you have noticed a red mite concentration, when cleaning the coop. Strongly rub these areas with Diatom powder. Red mites will avoid diatoms and will move around them trying to get food, so make sure all the area is treated with Diatom powder, so that the mites can come in contact with it.
The procedure is to be repeated in no less than 7 days from the last application or whenever you notice signs of red mites in your poultry coop. This is in order to avoid that the remaining mites will lay new eggs and start repopulating the coop.
Keeping your home safe from red mites
- Keep birds away from the house or remove them from your property altogether. This includes poultry, but also pigeons and other birds that you may have decided you want to keep a bird feeder for in your backyard;
- If you do not want to do either, be sure to at least remove bird nests from the immediate area around your house. Do not do this without looking up rules and regulations first, though, as some of these birds may be protected and you may not be allowed to modify their living environment in any way;
- Eliminate potential hiding places from inside your home, such as unnecessary clutter or unclean rugs, cleaning frequently and thoroughly;
- Invest in a dehumidifier in order to maintain the humidity low.
The best course of action is to check for red mite routinely when you clean your chicken coop and use some preventative treatment before the mites get control of it. As it is very hard to get rid of red mites, it is better to get the numbers down and find a way of keeping them down, rather then constantly trying to battle these pests and have the affect your yard birds.