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.