Chickens Health Issues

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 on chickens like to feed off the chickens at night when the girls are fast asleep.  A bad infestation can kill chickens due to anemia.  So, I decided to do some research and share with you what I learned.  

mites on chickens
Photo Credit You have to look very closely to discover these tiny mites on your chickens.

Types of Mites on Chickens

Mite populations seem to swell during warmer summer months. Two types are the most prevalent in North America, the Northern Fowl Mite (Ornzthonyssus sylviarum) and the Chicken Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae).  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 opaque.  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 within a matter of weeks.  A bad infestation can lead to pale combs and even feathers can be soiled with mite excrement especially around their vents. Of note, the Tropical Fowl Mite ( Ornzthonyssus bursa) is very similar to the Northern Fowl Mite. They are active during the day and night.

How Can I Tell if My Chickens Have Mites?

Chicken Mites are also known as red, gray, and roost mites.  They can live in the human home.  They can also lead to anemia, causing pale wattle and combs.  Sometimes chickens will refuse to lay in nesting boxes infested with mites.  They easily kill young chickens and broody hens.  As they 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.  Once laid, they grow to adulthood by day 10.  They 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 once a week in the summertime.  Hot weather helps mites on chickens 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.

Photo Credit: See how tiny these Northern Fowl Mites are when on a chicken egg.

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 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)

Treating Mites on Chickens

Prevention is always key.

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, coop, and nesting boxes with food grade diatomaceous earth. This will require a few treatments over the course of weeks to completely eradicate the mites. Cover your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the dust products and also avoid the head of your chickens. You can purchase it here.
  • Permethrin Click here for use.( there is an egg/meat with drawl period with its use). One study did show that after application on poultry, Permethrin was still detected in the eggs at 21 days and at 42 days for meat, so do use caution and enforce an egg and meat withdrawal periods for you own safety. UPDATE 10/2014: Hi Yield Garden Pet and Livestock dust’s active ingredient is Permethrin. There is an egg withdrawl period with it’s use.
  • Manna Pro’s Poultry Protectorcan be applied directly to chickens, no egg or meat withdrawal period
  • Carbaryl (Sevin Garden Dust)- Click here for directions. Do not use 10% on poultry. Should not be used in nesting boxes. UPDATE: As of spring 2013 its use on animals has been revoked as it is now considered a carcinogen. 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.
  • Coumaphos- Click here for more information.
  • Malathion-avoid waterers, feed troughs, do not apply to birds. Click here for directions.
  • Rabon- Click here for more information
  • Boric Acid- NOT recommended.  Read why here.

4.  Promote your flock to take dust baths.

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. I’ve dedicated an entire post to this very subject. Read why you shouldn’t use Frontline (fipronil) here

Wondering how to clean your coop? I’ve shared 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 my other posts on poultry lice, fleas and chickens, ticks, and scaly leg mites.

Hello friends, welcome! Follow along on our chicken, beekeeping, gardening, crafting and cooking adventures from Cape Cod.