I checked my chickens over for mites this past weekend. Mites are nasty little things, almost microscopic to the eye, that can take both mental and physical tolls on your chickens. As the weather warms, these tiny little invaders will take every chance they can to steal a meal from your chickens. When I first learned of them, I realized that I did indeed have a few little mite families living in the corners of my coop! How dare they! I never saw them on my chickens but I sprang to action and have continued on a prevention schedule. I have not seen mites since!
Check your flock first. Mites like to hang out on the fluffy bottoms of chickens. You will most likely notice them at the base of the feathers closest to the skin. My chickens do not have mites, but I did find these two pictures on the internet. This is what to look for:
Chickens take dust baths to ward off pests and mites. However, sometimes they need a little help. I have chosen an organic method of prevention and treatment. I use organic food grade diatomaceous earth (DE). Carefully avoiding their eyes, I dust my birds under their wings and on their fluffy bottoms on a biweekly basis. I also dust the nooks and crannies of their coop with DE, and dust their perches and roosts inside too. Sometimes I even add it directly into their dust bath pot holes in the run.
If you find that your flock is already afflicted with mites, I would suggest treating each chicken with the DE and then thoroughly cleaning out the inside of your coop. The mites like to hide in corners and crevices. Mites wait until the chickens are sleeping and then climb up their legs and feed on their blood at night! Yuck! Lock your flock out of the coop after you treated each chicken. In a one gallon bucket create a soapy bleach solution by adding warm water, a couple of capfuls of bleach and a bit of Dawn dish detergent. Scour the inside of the coop and all of the roosts. If you can, remove the roosts and give them a good scrub. Allow the coop to air dry and then apply DE to every nook and crannies that you see. The Pest Pistol works great for this. Be sure to sprinkle some in the nesting boxes too.
Within a few days your chickens should be feeling better. Be sure to continue to inspect your flock on a weekly basis if possible. A little prevention goes a long way.
|A nice clean coop, hopefully mite free|
Well apparently I did! I cleaned out the coop yesterday. While scraping out the nooks and crannies, I saw two areas of red mites, about 20 in each spot. It took me a little while to recognize what they were. They were so tiny and microscopic. I could only tell they were mites because they were crawling. Apparently, mites like to hide out in the dark corners of the coops. At night when the chickens come in to roost, the mites crawl up the chickens’ legs and bite them. Aside from driving the chickens crazy, they made me go nuts.
Studies have shown chickens fed DE have an increase the amount of eggs, decreases the mortality rate, keeps mites away, helps to dry up droppings, helps with flies and decrease worm loads in the GI tract. It also found that hens fed DE in their diets laid eggs with more albumin and yolk . I also love that my hens are getting the valuable trace minerals. In the feed, it keeps insects from spoiling the feed too.
In the newly cleaned coop I sprinkle it into the corners, edges, in the nesting boxes and onto the floor prior to adding a fresh new layer of bedding. We never have had a pest problem inside the coop and we live in a very wooded area! This product as been a terrific addition to my backyard chicken experience. I love that something easy and natural is so beneficial.
As a word of precaution, DE should only be used in well ventilated areas and should be avoided getting it into your eyes, nose and throat. As you research DE, you will surely come across literature that discusses the health risks associated with accidental inhalation. The condition is called Silicosis. Silicosis is a medical condition of the lung that occurs with regular repeated inhalation over a period of many years. Silicosis can also be caused from the use of sand (silica dust) in the coop and run. So please take precautions when using sand or DE.
Update 6/11/2013: Please click here to read an article that I wrote for Community Chickens on DE- chock full of even more information, including precautions that you should take if using DE with your flock.
Poult Sci. 2011 Jul;90(7):1416-26. doi: 10.3382/ps.2010-01256.
Effect of diatomaceous earth on parasite load, egg production, and egg quality of free-range organic laying hens. Bennett DC1, Yee A, Rhee YJ, Cheng KM.
RESULTS OF THE USE OF CODEX FOOD-GRADE DIATOMACEOUS EARTH WITH POULTRY, C.S. Mangen, DVM, San Diego, California