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You Might Have Mites on Your Backyard Chickens

The last few times when I have cleaned out the girls' coop each week, I have discovered a couple of mites in the litter.  I instantly got the heebee jeebees and thought that they were crawling all over me.  Then I thought of the poor girls.  How did they feel?  In the little research that I had done, I knew that most mites like to feed off the chickens at night when the girls are fast asleep.  A bad mite infestation can kill chickens due to anemia.  So, I decided to do some research and share with you what I learned.  I have blogged about mites in the past but never this quite extensive.  I hope you find this information useful.  Mind you, I have never seen a mite on my girls but that doesn't mean that they don't have them from time to time.

Two types of mites are the most prevalent in North America, the Northern Fowl Mite and the Chicken Mite.  The Northern Fowl Mite is often mistaken for the red mite.  For a few hours after feeding, it will appear red in color.  Otherwise, it is black.  This mite can be found on your chickens anytime of the day, where as the Chicken Mite is nocturnal.  The life cycle of the Northern Fowl Mite is 7 days.  Once eggs are laid, they hatch within 24 hours and the mites are fully grown at 4 days of age.  This is a very rapid cycle that can lead to an infestation of mites with a matter of weeks.  A bad enough mite infestation can lead to pale combs and even feathers can be soiled with mite excrement especially around their vents.

Chicken Mites are also known as red mites, gray mites and roost mites.  They can live in the human home.  These mites can also lead to anemia, causing pale wattle and combs.  Sometimes chickens will refuse to lay in nesting boxes infested with mites.  These mites easily kill young chickens and broody hens.  As these mites are nocturnal, you will not find them on your chickens during the day.  Instead, during daylight hours, they hide in the nooks and crannies of your coop.  Chicken mites once laid grow to adulthood by day 10.  These mites can live in a vacant chicken coop for up to 5 months.  They can survive that long without a host.

So what can you do?  First, it is important to assess your flock for mites once a week in the summertime.  Hot weather helps mites proliferate.  I found this handy mite reference below.  This test should be done for each chicken in your flock.  While holding your bird, blow on the feathers to reveal the skin and count how many mites you see.  This will give you an idea of your infestation level. Here is a detailed post on how to check for mites and what they look like.

5 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 100 to 300 mites
6 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 300 to 1,000 mites (considered light infestation)
7 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 1,000 to 3,000 mites - tiny clumps of mites seen on the skin and feathers (considered moderate infestation)
8 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 3,000 to 10,000 mites - very visible mite population seen on skin and feathers (considered moderate to heavy infestation)
9 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 10,000 to 32,000 or greater quantity of mites - many large clumps present on skin and feathers accompanied with scabbing (considered heavy infestation)


Prevention is always key.  Here are some tips to prevent mites from harming your flock:

1.  Keep a clean coop. Do a deep cleaning of your entire coop.

2.  Utilize products such as food grade diatomaceous earth and nesting box blend in the coop and nesting boxes. Plant fresh pest repelling herbs around the coop and run or dry them for your boxes. Learn all about chicken safe and beneficial herbs here and how to dry them.

3.  Treat any affected birds.  Dust your flock with food grade diatomaceous earth. Cover your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the dust products and also avoid the head of your chicken.  Permethrin ( there is an egg with drawl period with its use) is available as well as Manna Pro's Poultry Protector.  I prefer the food grade DE and Poultry Protector as they are safe to use around the flock's food and water. Avoid Sevin Dust. Older labels deemed it safe for pets and now that information has been removed from current labeling due to the fact that it has caused cancer and reproductive health issues in laboratory animals. As there are alternatives, I would try other methods prior to using Sevin dust.

4.  Promote your flock to take dust baths.  You may add food grade diatomaceous earth to their favorite bathing places.

5.  You can also carefully dust your chickens with food grade diatomaceous earth avoiding both their faces and yours.  Take caution to avoid breathing in the dust.

6.  Dust your roosting poles with food grade diatomaceous earth.

Some people use the food grade diatomaceous earth or wood ashes to treat mite infestations.  Poultry Protector is also another easy natural technique to treat the mites.

Avoid applying Frontline products or similar topical pest repellent products used on dogs and cats. Studies have shown that these chemicals are present in the eggs and dairy products when used on livestock. There are other options. I myself would not want to eat those eggs or feed them to my family.

Please visit this past post for photos, detailed tips on cleaning your coop and using diatomaceous earth with your flock.

Now, go check your flock!

Learn more about backyard chicken pests in these other posts by Tilly's Nest: poultry lice, fleas and chickens, ticks, and scaly leg mites.

Information for this post as well as more information on mites can be found here.

8 comments:

  1. You are very welcome Anne! Glad you found it helpful:)

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  2. Thank you so much for this info.! I just got my 5 new babies on Monday, and am stocking up on everything I will need for them as they grow. I just ordered some Poultry Protector and Nesting Box Blend. I already had the DE. I am over the moon excited about my girls, and am so happy to have discovered your lovely blog. :-) **Helena

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  3. You are so welcome Helena and welcome to the wonderful world of backyard chickens. I think you will be amazed at how FAST they grow! Sounds like you are going to be a terrific chicken mom! Please drop in again soon.

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  4. We have used the seven-5 for dusting the hens and the diatomaceous earth for the coop. Would the Diatomaceous work better on the hens? We have done all of these things but we have not seen anything like the pictures you showed on the other post that you refereed us to. And we are getting up close when we do the dusting seems as though we would see something on at least one of them. We have had to shut them in the run since the fox attack and now the hen that had grown all her feathers back is missing some on her back again and a couple that were not missing any before are missing some. Think the vet is wrong that they are not doing it to themselves because of mites that they are just bored? I am so rattled about what to do.

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  5. Hi Brenda. Seven-5 is fine as well as DE. DE is just another option that is made of organic matter. I do not think that the vet is wrong. You most likely had a pretty bad infestation of mites. He is the expert with the training.

    Now that the girls are secured in the run, is it large enough for your flock? They say 10 square feet per bird. Take the length and multiply it by the width. So, for example, a 10 foot x 10 foot run give the birds 100 square feet, which can accomodate 10 chickens.

    I believe you are right it could be boredom. That poor girly could also just be lowest on the pecking order too. Try some distractions like hanging a full cabbage from a string in the run.

    I would also do the following just to be sure:

    This weekend I would put all of the girls out in the run and thoroughly clean out the coop with warm water, a bit of Dawn detergent and a little bleach. Scour every nook and crannie. Once it dries, put the Seven-5 dust/or DE into a bag made from a panty hose and dust all the corners and sprinkle it on the floor.

    Then, sprinkle the Seven-5 into their dust bath bowls in the run and then dust each and everyone of your flock members under their wings and on their fluffy bottoms.

    I would be vigilent about giving everyone in your flock a weekly dusting.

    If things do not stablize or seem to get worse over the next week, then I think you may need to take a trip back to the vet.

    I am so sorry that all of this is happening to you. Good luck, I am thinking of all of you!

    Hugs~Melissa

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  6. My flock is just 3 weeks (25 days today) old. How young do you need to start worrying about mites? They've been out of the brooder for a week. We still have a heat lamp for those chilling nights in their new home. It's a 8 x 4 open cage in our garage we've constructed until their coop (and the chicks) are ready. Should I be checking them now for mites? Thanks for any info!

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    1. Hi Gina! I would not worry yourself too much about mites until the flock is outside. Once they are transitioned outside, I would suggest taking a few precautions like using the DE in the bedding and around the coop floor. Once a week I do grab a couple of the girls and do a "spot" check for mites/lice. If I do find any, I spring into action by dusting each girl, putting DE in their dust bathing area and cleaning out the coop. I think the key is in prevention and taking a couple of minutes once a week and checking for them. Thanks for a great question!

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Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I look forward to reading them with each and every post that I write and I also love hearing from you.