TL;DR : We’ve had quite a few hardships trying to fight off red mites and other parasites. It took us a long time to get the situation under control. Once red mites or other parasites have set up shop in your chicken coop it’s pretty hard to get rid of them. So watch out prevention is better than cure.
As I said earlier in our first posts on starting to raise backyard chickens, building their coop, fighting off typical hen diseases, this is what has caused us the most problems.We’ve encountered some issues with mosquitoes which may (or may not) have given one of our hens a mild case of fowlpox. But this was far from our biggest problem. We haven’t had many issues with fleas, ticks or other parasites, but when got the chance to meet red mites.
Chickens are pretty good at getting rid of parasites ailing them. Have you ever seen a chicken roll around in a hole it has previously made in the earth? This is pretty entertaining to watch. Even the cat loves watching them do it, yet this is probably nothing compared to the fun they seem to be having.
Dust bathing not only helps your chickens have fun and smell fresh, it also minimizes the chances of them carrying lice, fleas, ticks and mites. Chickens will roll around in dry soil, sand or what they have on hand and do their best to get as much dirt rubbed into the base of their feathers. This actually cleans the chicken (seems kinda of counterintuitive to some of us but it’s true) and will in turn asphyxiate pests and parasites that are trying to feed on your chickens.
So make sure the always have access to a dust bath. Even better make sure it is in a dry place so they can still use it even when the weather is not so great. If you don’t make them a dust bath they will definitely make their own and you might not like where they make it (it may be in you flower bed!).
You can also make a dust bath directly in their coop if you have enough room. Just get a wooden box (not too high but large enough, sometimes they like rolling in it at least in pairs) and add some soil, sand, wood ash and if you have some, some food grade Diatomaceous Earth. Just mix it all up and let them have fun. You’ll see they’ll love it.
You may have to add some more regularly as they will throw some around and carry some out.
We moved into a new garden and unknowingly, we also moved a part of our population of red mites (which we didn’t know we had).
Maybe you know about red mites. They are some of the worst (and most annoying pests) for people who raise chickens. Red Mites live in the cracks of chicken houses (typically under perch ends) coming out at night, crawling onto your birds for a feed. Basically they are little vampire bugs that only feed on fowl (they aren’t usually interested with yucky, hairless humans).
Living the life
They start off as very small greyish-white mites that swell up into red coloured mites after a feed. Even at their biggest they are only around 0.7 mm. Because of their small size these bugs can be hard to spot unless you know what to look for.
You will often find a grey ash-like deposit around perch ends which is where the mites have been living and if you lift the perch, you will see clumps of mites protecting themselves from the light.
Unfortunately when exposed to light they do not catch fire.
Red mites that have settled in your coop are only active during the warmer months (we moved in February and didn’t notice them), usually from May to October and will sleep through the winter. They can remain dormant for months on end if left without food (they can also feed on animal waste if there is nothing juicier available). This makes them very complicated to get rid of.
They’ll hide in pretty much everything as long as they are not exposed to light (they hate light). They can hide in trees nearby, in compost, in chicken droppings, in wall cracks, well, you get it. We found them everywhere, even in our car (probably from when we moved). Since they can feed on other things or stay dormant, even if you decide to move your chicken’s pen temporarily they are definitely hard to exterminate by starvation. They’ll just be waiting.
Reproducing as fast a lightning
Another thing that adds to their horrible, horrible monstrousness is that they multiply at an horrifying rate: their life cycle is just 7 days. In other words, hatching from an egg to being an adult laying hundreds of eggs takes just 7 days if conditions are right, and trust us, the conditions are always right.
Tiring the chickens out
Since we didn’t know much about parasites that are dangerous for chickens, we didn’t really notice them until it was too late. During the summer one of our chickens started brooding so we gave her fertilized eggs in order to get chicks. She stayed on them for several days (about 2 weeks), until she came stumbling out extremely weakened. The mites had been feeding on her during all that time. She was left pretty much bloodless (severe anemia) it was too late to do anything. These red mites usually don’t kill chicken, they only weaken them, and thereby lowering egg production, or making them more vulnerable to other illnesses for example. Unfortunately our hen was very tired from brooding and they were just too much.
Getting rid of them
We buried her, dried our tears and did our best to get rid of these horrible pests. While we have managed to bring the population down and keep it in check, we have yet to find a perfect solution that will get rid of all of them without chemically poisoning the soil all around our chicken pen.
We’ve tried burning, washing everything, treating our new coop with organic pesticide, we’re trying natural oil and repellants but some still appear under their perch every once in a while. So for now we are just controlling the population and waiting until we move to get rid of everything that they might be attached to.
I’ve been reading about Diatomaceous Earth but we haven’t yet had the chance to test this product.
Have you had a chance to try it? Or other solutions to recommend?
This will definitely be worth a try in the further and we’ll keep you informed on our experiments. In the meantime you can read all about Diatomaceous Earth here.