Mites and lice are a real problem that you will have with your backyard flock, and it’s something you’ll need to deal with right away. Here’s the best ways
They only come out at night. They hide in the deep cracks and crannies of your chicken coop. They are little vampires that sneak around and feed on your chickens’ blood. They are…chicken mites.
While they may seem small and insignificant, chicken mites can cause a variety of health problems for your flock. If left untreated, your chickens will suffer and you may end up with a horror story like a backyard chicken raiser from Indiana whom we will call “Indiana”.
A Real Life Example Of The Damage Chicken Mites Can Cause
George was Indiana’s favorite bantam rooster. One day, Indiana noticed George was acting sad, tired, and losing weight. He had not crowed in months. It was cold outside, so Indiana brought George into the garage and put him under a heat lamp.
Indiana let George warm up for a couple of days. He finally picked him up and that’s when he noticed the scabs on his comb and a nasty eye infection. Tiny red mites were crawling all over the scabs and infected eye and around his neck and ears. Indiana was horrified.
George was also covered in mite eggs. Indiana immediately bathed him in a dog flea and tick shampoo then dusted him with diatomaceous earth. He dusted George for two weeks and finally, Indiana found no traces of mites or eggs.
George began to perk up. Unfortunately, only two days after the progress, George stopped eating and drinking and laid down to die. Indiana immediately made a vet appointment. He also happened to notice George was having severe diarrhea. When he inspected his vent, he discovered the mites had not gone away, they had relocated and were now congregated around his vent.
Sadly, George passed away on the vet table and Indiana was heartbroken. George passes along a valuable lesson to all chicken raisers that mites should not be taken for granted and need to be treated immediately.
The good news is that if your chickens are unfortunate enough to suffer from a mite infestation, you will learn multiple ways of clearing up the problem. Not only can you rid your flock of these unwanted predators, but you can also take preventative measures to keep them from coming back.
Most Common Types of Chicken Mites
There are five common members of the mite family which range in color from dark brown and red to whitish-grey. They are very tiny, about 1/26th of an inch and are barely visible to the naked eye.
- Red Roost (found in the US and Europe)
- Northern Fowl (most common in the U.S.)
- Scaly Leg (causes extreme irritation to the legs)
- Depluming (causes feather pulling, bald spots and sores)
- Tropical Fowl (Southern US, South America, Australia)
How Chickens Contract Mites
You might be wondering how chickens contract mites. There are different avenues for various varieties. They can be transmitted by an infected animal or wild birds. They can cling to your boots or clothing and you could carry them to your flock. If you exhibit your birds, you can pick up mites at local shows and fairs. They can often be hiding in wood cages or bedding.
How To Get Rid of Mites on Chickens
Chemical or Medicinal Methods Of Mite Treatment
One of the most common ways to get rid of chicken mites for many farmers and chicken owners is the use of various medications and chemicals. Below you’ll find a list of some of the most common medications used to get rid of mites on chickens.
The most common chemical used in ridding most farm animals of parasites is the chemical Ivermectin. It is used by many chicken owners but please be warned that use on chickens has not been officially approved. It has not been tested on birds used for meat or laying eggs.
Ivermectin can be recommended by a veterinarian, but it may be only used in specific cases. Eggs need to be withheld for 14 days after using this product. It is fed to the chickens orally.
Another common product for fighting the insect war is Sevin. It’s been used for many years in yards and gardens for treating insect problems. Sevin does contain carbaryl which is an organophosphate poison. It can be toxic to small animals and children.
Poultry dust that contains permethrin is another very popular product used by chicken owner to treat chicken mites. In addition to getting rid of mites, it’s also known for getting rid of other pest like ants, aphids, beetles, caterpillars, and plant bugs on a variety of vegetable and ornamental plants.
There are several products for treating mites in the organophosphate category that are mostly used in industrial chicken raising. Absorbacide and Pestene are two chicken insecticide products.
When using any chemical to treat your chickens, follow all directions and use a face mask and gloves.
Many backyard chicken raisers are fans of going organic and using the most natural means for raising their chickens. If you choose to go natural, herbs and essential oils have gathered popularity for natural chicken keepers. Some of the most common stronger smelling herbs used to keep invaders out of the coop are lavender, mint, wormwood, and lemon balm. Insects hate the smell of herbs but humans love them.
1. Garlic Spray
To rid a chicken of a mite infestation naturally, you can try combining the following:
- ¼ cup garlic juice
- 2 ½ cups water
- Optional ingredients – 1 tsp of any of these oils: cinnamon, bay, clove, coriander, lavender, thyme, spearmint
This makes a 10% natural garlic spray that can be applied directly to a mite infected chicken every other day for 3 weeks. Spray the vent area as well as under the wings. Use as needed to maintain mite control.
Garlic can also be used as a preventative. Add crushed garlic to your flock’s water or offer fresh garlic treats. Garlic will seep into the skin from the inside. Mites don’t like the smell of garlic and will stay away from your hens.
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If making your own garlic spray doesn’t sound like a task you want to take on, you can purchase pre-made garlic spray, like this Garlic Barrier Liquid Concentrate.
2. Diatomaceous Earth
Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is another product that can be sprayed under the wings and on the vent. It can be used alone or with the garlic spray.
Since warmth and moisture create a breeding ground for mites, if you have an infestation, thoroughly clean out the coop. Spray the coop with a diluted dish soap solution. You can use a 12 oz spray bottle filled with water and a tablespoon of dish soap.
Be sure to spray the perch where it meets the wall as often mites will hide in the crevices. Also, clean out the nesting boxes if they are wooden and spray the surrounding wood areas. Mites will hide in the walls and joint areas.
After you have thoroughly sprayed the coop, dust the floor and other areas you have sprayed with DE. Replace your bedding often and repeat the process until you have eliminated the mite infestation.
If you have a scaly leg mite infestation, you can apply Vaseline to your chickens’ legs. A coating of this product will block the air supply and kill the mites. Be sure to rub it deep into the scales. It will also act as a soothing balm to the painful and irritated skin on the legs.
4. Dust Bath
Another natural way to remove mites is to build a dust bath. Hens will naturally find sandy and dusty areas to bath themselves to stay mite free.
If your hens are in a coop, they may not be able to find a suitable dust bath area. You can build one for them.
- Find a suitable corner of the coop, preferably an area with lots of sun. Chickens love to take a bath in direct sunlight.
- Dig out an area approximately 2ft. by 2 ft. Make it a few inches deep as you will be filling it with bathing material.
- Fill the hole with materials that will pull away oils and coat the feathers with a protective layer such as play sand, peat moss, or wood ash.
- If the chickens are already infested, add DE to the dust bath.
How to Tell If Your Chickens Have Mites (What do chicken mites look like?)
Red mites feed on blood. They are light green until they feed. When they are full of blood, they will turn red. Red mites feed at night when your flock is roosting so the feet, legs, breast, and vent are most vulnerable.
So how do you know your chickens are suffering from an infestation? Depending on the type of mite, the symptoms will vary. Scaly leg and depluming mites will produce different symptoms than the red mites or Northern fowl mites. In general, if you see any of these symptoms in your flock, check for mites.
- Excessive preening, itching, and loss of feathers
- Scabs on the feet and legs
- Pale wattles and combs
- Lack of egg production
- Reluctance to perch on the roost or enter the coop
- Red smears on the eggs
Since the mites come out at night, you will have to enter your coop at night with a flashlight to catch them in action. Look along the perches and if there are enough of them, you will see them crawling along the perch. You can also take a white piece of paper and rub it along the perch. If it has read smears, you have confirmed a mite problem.
You can visually check your chicken for mites. Look carefully around the eyes and comb area. Look under the wings and especially around the vent area. Here is a YouTube video that gives you specific instructions on how to recognize and treat poultry lice.
Can Mites Kill Chickens?
The main concern with chickens who are infested with mites is anemia. While mites will cause feather loss, sores, lack of eggs, and other irritating problems, a seriously bad infestation can kill a chicken.
The chickens who will be most vulnerable to anemia from mites will be the smaller breeds like bantams. Older chickens, who may be struggling to stay healthy will be more susceptible to anemia. Also, chickens who are brooding and remain in the nest are more susceptible because they are sedentary and not eating and drinking as much to keep up their health.
Can Chicken Mites Survive on Humans?
Only certain varieties of mites can be transported by animals or humans. Some mites will spend the duration of their life cycle strictly on birds. Others will hide in wood and nesting material. Humans who have walked through mite infested areas can carry them on shoes and clothing and spread them to a flock.
They will not survive long on a human and if you have carried them, they will die quickly on your clothing if they don’t find a host.
Prevention is the Best Medicine for Mites
The best recommendation for fending off mites is prevention. If you do find an infestation, catching it early is key. Fixing the problem is going to take perseverance and patience.
The best way to prevent mites from attacking your flock is to keep your coop clean, especially all the dark corners and hidden spots. Spray with a dish soap solution whenever you clean your coop.
Quarantine new birds, or any chickens that have traveled to shows or fairs. Check them for mites before introducing them into the flock.
Use essential oils, garlic, and bedding like cedar shavings to fend off mites. Mites hate certain smells and will avoid coops with herby aromas.
Give your chickens a proper area for dust bathing. This is a natural preventative that chickens enjoy! Provide materials that coat the skin and repel mites. If you do see signs of mites, add some diatomaceous earth to repel the unwanted insects.
You can use insecticides like Pestene and Sevin to remove mites if you detect an infestation. Read the directions carefully and use the same precautions for using any hazardous chemical.
Following these tips will help keep the mites away and your chickens happy, healthy, and mite free.
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