What are red mites? How do you spot them and what do they do to Hens??
Red mite can be the scourge or your coop, attacking your hens at night and sucking their blood, leaving them aneamic and unable to lay. They are probably the worst problem you can have in your hen house, they are difficult to get rid of and cause your hens great distress. If you have found one then you have many and you must take action immediately. There is a natural way of preventing an infestation and ridding yourself of a small colony but If you leave it too long then your only option will be chemical warfare against these little blighters.
Red mites hide in the cracks of your hen house, in the dark where they cannot be easily seen. They attack at night when your hens are roosting and can multiply at a rate of knots, their life cycle is only around seven days, but a few can turn into thousands in only a couple of weeks.They appear grey before a feed, red afterwards and their eggs are white. They typically live under perch ends and love a wooden hen house, they can be found in any crevice of your coop and so it is important to always thoroughly clean in every crack. Red mite are masters of disguise and can be very difficult to spot and can like like dirt, in fact you sometimes aren't aware of an infestation until it's too late and your hens have become listless and pale. Lift up perch ends and if you see greyish brown flecks of dirt, rub your finger along them and if you have mites you will end up with a red smear. This is quite disgusting so wear gloves or use kitchen towel.
I first spotted our infestation when The Black One became listless, pale, uninterested in food and wouldn't move out of the laying box. I opened the coop to clean it out and must have taken a couple of mites by surprise as I spotted two bolting for a gap in the laying box divider. I lifted out all of the perch bars and box dividers and found a colony of them just laying in wait. Sadly as the laying box was quite dark and the black one having a tendency to brood she was being attacked day and night and I nearly lost her.
Prevention is better than a cure
I've learnt my lesson. The only way to rid my coop, in the end, of the infestation was by chemicals. Bug bombs, sprays and powders, not at all the way I like to do things, but the Black One was very sick and I had to take drastic action. It is my fault though for not adequately protecting my birds, but as a first time chicken keeper I had a lot to learn. Now that it is under control, and the Black One is restored to full health and laying power, I am back to natural methods and it is working well.
Red Mites lay dormant through the winter months and as the temperatures rise they become active, have a feed and start to multiply. Keeping your coop clean at all times is beneficial to the health and welfare of your hens, but in the winter months it is preferable to do dry cleaning, using water will only cause damp and will make a wooden coop is hard to dry out in low temperatures. If moisture is left in a coop, with freezing temperatures, you run the risk of your hens getting frostbite. Dry cleaning in the winter should be sufficient but when the weather begins to warm up this is when you need to begin your red mite prevention routine.
Here's my guide for a chemical free way to keep Red Mite under control
1. Remove all bedding, loose materials and poop. Remove all loose hen house fixings, perch bars, laying boxes and dividers. Thoroughly sweep out the hen house.
2. With warm water and soap wash down all surfaces, pay particular attention to cracks and crevices. Don't ignore the walls and roof, any cracks can hide red mites. Fill a bucket with detergent and warm water and soak all the loose parts from the hen house.
TIP: For a more natural approach use a detergent such as Ecover which has no harsh chemicals (a plant based detergent) and can cut through greese and dirt. It should also have a similar effect on red mite as Poultry Shield in that it should break down the waxy coating on a mite and thus cause dehydration and death. Natural chemical free and organic detergents are becoming more and more popular and can be easily found in the supermarket.
3. Use a hose to wash out the coop, paying particular attention to cracks and crevices, if you have a pressure setting then use that to blast out any little blighters that are hiding and the detergent didn't get to.
TIP: If, like us, your hose is attached to the bath or kitchen taps then use hot water to blast out the hen house, heat is a great way of removing insects, mites and bacteria.
4. Make sure that the hen house is completely dry, run an extension lead from the house and dry in the cracks of the coop using a hairdryer.
5. Use a sponges to wash down the loose parts of the house that have been soaking in the bucket, rinse and dry.
Now here is the essential step and one product that now chicken keeper can do without,
Diatomaceous Earth powder is a natural product that you can use treat both your hens directly and the coop. Diatom powder (Diatomaceous Earth) is a crystalized algae and so it is natural and non toxic to birds or humans but it does have a destructive effect on mites. When mites walk over Diatom powder it is as though they are walking over shards of glass, it destroys the outer waxy coating by scratching it and they die from dehydration. Because it is a natural product you can apply it directly to your hens and there will be no egg withdrawal.
6. Dust Diatom powder into cracks and crevices of you hen house. Put back perch bars, dividers and bedding, be careful to dust the ends of perch bars and the slots as these are the favorite places for mites to hide. Dust more Diatom powder around the house and bedding. You hens can be allowed back in straight away.
TIP: As well as directly applying Diatom to your hens and dusting the house, also add it to their dust bath so that they can self medicate.
If you have a bad infestation then you should clean out the coop in this way every 5/6 days for at least three weeks. The life cycle of the red mite is 7 days, and so you must break the life cycle by treating the hen house and birds and removing all dead mites and bedding in less time that the life cycle. When it is under control you can then revert to the steps above.
How to dust your hens
I pick up a hen and put her on a table (outside), pressing down gently on her back so that she hunkers down. I then hold her against my torso, using my left upper arm and elbow to keep her still and use my left hand to gently pull out a wing and give a puff of power underneath using my right hand, repeat on the other side and then pull up her tail and give a puff of powder to the rear, give it a rub in and then finally a puff of powder under the breast. This is a much easier job if there are two of you!
There are video tutorials online to show you how to dust your hen that include holding the hen upside down, I do not like to do this as you risk getting Diatom in her eyes which is not very nice for your bird. I found the video below very helpful, it shows how to dust a bird and further explains the benefits of Diatom powder.
A very helpful how to dusting video
If you already have an infestation and your birds are sick then you must take tougher action immediatley.
If the steps above are not working, or your hens are getting sick then you need to break out the big guns.
I would recommend cleaning the house out with Poultry Shield first. Poultry shield is a mild detergent specially designed for use in chicken coops. It cleans away any organic matter and also washes away the waxy coat on red mite causing them to dehydrate. Then use chemical sprays specifically designed for the removal of red mite (always read the instructions and DO NOT spray it directly onto your birds), if things are really bad then set off a bug bomb - making sure your hens are nowhere near at the time. This should do the trick and then you can move to less harmful products to control the mites.
If the mites have got under your roofing felt the only way to get rid of them completely is by replacing the felt.
When you clean out your coop be careful about where the waste goes, either seal it up in a bag and dispose of immediately or burn it, red mite can live up to three months without food and will make a home just about anywhere - as we found out to my great distress. I left a bag at the back of the house near a window ready to put it out with the other weekly waste, the mites crawled out and jumped onto the cat who in turn brought them into the house. They also crawled in through the bedroom window. Two days of fumigation and furious vaccumming later and they were gone, but it was a very unpleasant experience.
Thankfully they have a strict diet of bird blood and so aren't interested in biting humans.
If your hen is unwell after an infestation
Your hens will be pale and very unhappy if there are mites around, and so the first thing you should do is treat the mite problem in the coop. Then move on to your hens. Make sure that they are comfortable and getting the right food and minerals.
The following is my combination of treatments and treats, I like my hens to be happy as well as healthy:
1. I increased the intake of green vegetables such as cabbages, greens, lettuce and cucumber. There's lots of iron in Spinach and Iron is particularly important after blood loss. Give them a treat, some meal worms or fresh sweet corn, we all know how much they love their treats and this should lift their spirits.
2. Close the pop hole during the day so they don't go into the dark to sulk and get attacked by any remaining mites.
3. I mix Liquid Tonic into their water (and I also use it when they are broody, moulting or feeling a little under the weather). The tonic is a seaweed rich vitamin and mineral concentrate, with bioflavonoids. It will work against bacteria preventing moulds, fungi and viruses in your birds, it will maximise egg production and most importantly after a red mite attack, help to reduce stress.
4. Crush some fresh cloves of garlic garlic into their water or garlic granules into their food. Alongside natural health benefits, red mites don't like the smell that comes off the skin or the taste of the blood when they bite and so it is a natural insecticide.
Red mite attacks have been known to cause death to birds and so it is very important that you not only treat the coop, but also the bird on the inside as well as out.
© 2012 mooboomoo
Mary Wickison from Brazil on July 12, 2015:
We too have had them here at our farm in Brazil. Like Maryif said, we have had them come in the house on our clothing.
I too am new to chicken keeping and was told about a powder (chemical).I didn't realize there were natural ways to rid them. I will be trying your methods as I prefer to keep as chemical free as possible.
Vote up and useful.
Maryif on September 01, 2014:
I've got news for you, they DO & WILL bite humans! We've had an infestation going on for a couple months that we've been battling & though we have no sick chickens the mites have begun infesting our house & us! We get bites constantly, even when we're not at home - at work, driving in the car, etc., but mostly at night while we sleep (or try!) Even though we shower morning & night just before bed, I will still find multiple bites & mites in the sheets the next morning. Its maddening. The bites itch insanely for weeks, far worse than any mosquito or flea bite I've ever had. They didn't come in from a trash can of disposed coop litter either, but rather seem to be coming in on us from outside, our clothes, shoes etc., & also the cats & dog. This will be the second coop cleaning in two weeks, meanwhile we vacuum every day the entire house - walls, furniture, carpets, wash all bedding daily, & everything we wear goes straight into the washer every night regardless of if it's dirty or not.
Paul on July 05, 2013:
we have tried everything and spent a fortune on different products and nothing worked until i tried BRUSH CLEANER from TOOLSTATION. Spray this on the mites and the nest and it KILLS them within minutes.Dosent harm the coop or the birds as it evaporates inminutes. JOB WELL DONE and only costs £2.92