If you ask members of the chicken community what they believe is the biggest threat to their flock of chickens, you’ll probably hear a resounding “Red mites!”. You’re probably here because something drastic has changed in your coop, but you can’t quite figure out what it is.
Unfortunately, not many new chicken owners consider all of the other animals they will have to become familiar with when they decide to start raising their own chickens. Even worse, some have to find out the hard way. If you believe that your chickens have become victims of the notorious and bloodthirsty parasitic red mite, you’re not alone.
What Exactly Is A Red Mite?
Red mites, biologically known as Dermanyssus Gallinae, are little blood-sucking bugs that come out in the dead of night to feast on your unsuspecting chickens while they sleep. They are typically white or gray in color, but after they’ve gorged themselves they look an ominous shade of red. Yes, they are as bad as they sound.
If you are looking for the solution to a red mite problem you will be happy to hear that it’s not impossible to get rid of. With the right tools and know-how they aren’t too hard to spot, nor are they terribly difficult to get under control.
If you’re wondering where your mites might have come from there’s no sure way to know. They tend to travel from one host to another and may have hitched a ride on another bird or even a rat.
One problem with red mites, and the main thing that makes completely eliminating them forever near impossible, is that they breed quickly. Without intervention they can go from hardly noticeable to your chicken’s worst nightmare practically overnight.
They spend the daylight hours mating and laying eggs and tend to stay out of sight. They will make their appearance at night when they’re ready to head to their all-they-can-eat chicken blood buffet (Yum!).
Red Mite Life Cycle
For those that are curious, the red mite life cycle includes five stages and usually takes approximately a week to complete.
It starts off as an egg and after two to three days will hatch into a larva. After a day or two it will enter the protonymph phase, followed by the deutonymph phase one to two days after that. Lastly, on day six or seven, it will become a full-fledged bloodsucking adult.
With the proper environment a red mite can live for as long as 10 months. Imagine how many eggs it can lay in that amount of time!
How Do I Know If I Have A Red Mite Problem?
It will be easy to tell if you’re facing a red mite infestation or not. First and foremost you should check your chickens for the tell-tale signs that they’re under attack. You should look for any open wounds or spots of skin that looks scabby or irritated. Generally the best place to check is around and under the leg feathers, the breast, and the vent area.
Having a bad infestation of these pests could lead to drastic consequences for your chickens if not taken care of promptly. They can cause anemia, weight loss, feather pulling, lower egg production in your hens, and even death (especially for the young ones that are the most susceptible). If you’ve been noticing a drop in your egg count or any radical changes among your flock, it could be due to a red mite invasion.
Due to their nature red mites have also been known to pass on diseases. This is yet another reason these pesky critters are so damaging and dangerous. These diseases may include salmonellosis and erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, both of which can ultimately lead to death in affected chickens if left untreated. They can even make humans sick!
Needless to say red mites need to go as soon as possible, before they can start wreaking havoc on your helpless flock, and possibly even your household.
What’s The Best Way To Rid My Chicken House Of Red Mites?
Some may say to just burn it down and start over, but we definitely see no need for that (and do not recommend it!). Although cleaning out your coop and safely burning any bedding or floor debris is a good idea and possibly a good place to start if your situation is severe and calls for it. Burning the bedding will help to kill any larva and eggs that would keep the lifecycle of the mites going.
There are other safer and more conventional ways to get those mites out of dodge. Many in the chicken community will agree that nothing works better for eliminating (and preventing) red mites than diatomaceous earth. This is also sometimes called D.E., kieselguhr, or diatomite. D.E. should be your go-to choice if you’re looking for something that’s safe and natural to deal with invading insects. D.E. is a fine white powder made from crushed up sedimentary rocks and mixed with other organic materials such as clay and algae. No blend is ever the same, but any diatomaceous earth you use with your chickens should do the trick of eliminating those pesky parasites.
It’s also worth mentioning that diatomaceous earth doesn’t only help with mites, but really many of the invasive parasitic bugs that might try to take over your coop including ticks, fleas, and lice. The protection it offers makes it an all-in-one solution for protecting your flock from blood-sucking parasites. It’s easy to use, too. All you have to do is sprinkle a liberal amount around your coop and chicken run. When spreading it around the coop, you will want to pay extra close attention to any holes and crevices as this is where red mites will be hiding.
If you have some leftover you can even dust any chickens suffering directly from mite bites. It’s safe for chickens to eat and you can add a little into the chicken feed. The active ingredient will safely make its way into the chicken’s bloodstream and then into the mite where it will promptly dry those suckers out.
If you have a really bad mite infestation and require something a little more…toxic, you have plenty of options. Some say that the top toxic chemical options for eliminating your red mite problem would be permethrin, sevin dust, or even ivermectin.
MAKE SURE TO READ THE WARNING LABEL BEFORE USE
Many of these chemicals can cause animals to become ill or even cause death. This doesn’t only apply to chickens, but other common household pets like cats and dogs, so become familiar with the product you choose before actually applying it.
You have to remember that toxic chemicals are not safe to breathe in by humans or by animals, so using any of those mentioned above will require a lot more care. Make sure to remove your chickens from the area and put them in a safe place away from the coop you will be cleaning out. You will also need to protect yourself, so make sure to wear a face mask and gloves when handling any toxic chemicals.
Prevention Is Key
Once you have cleaned your coop out and done a chemical cleanse you can let out a sigh of relief. Hopefully all of your chickens have been purged of any parasitic insects and you managed to eradicate every egg, larva, and adult mite in your chicken house (we’re crossing our fingers for you).
Now, to ensure that the mites don’t come right back, you should always maintain a clean coop and run and remember to change out the material inside your nesting boxes frequently. It’s crucial that you begin practicing good husbandry skills and come up with a routine that will continually fight against these dangerous pests. Look into biosecurity and become familiar with the processes involved.
Performing frequent health checks on your feathered friends will also give you an advantage as it will allow you to stay ahead of red mites. Being ahead of them will make it so you’re able to nip an infestation in the bud at the first sign of attack. You should also continue to spread the diatomaceous earth all throughout your coop, nests, run, and even on your chickens on a fairly regular basis (once a week ought to do).
Take It A Step Further
If you want to take it a step further you can even invest in some nice-smelling plants that are known to naturally fight against invasive insects. This would include plants like peppermint, lavender, and marigolds. Not only will they look pretty and help your coop smell better, but they may even help to relax your hens (possibly leading to more egg production?).
It’s also been proven that adding certain harmless ingredients to your chickens water can help keep the mites at bay. Such ingredients include garlic and apple cider vinegar, to name a couple. You can also take some time to locate and fill any and all crevices around the coop with paraffin and/or Vaseline. This will help to smother any remaining mites and keep them from coming back into your coop.
As you can see getting red mites is not the end of the world. It is manageable, but only if it’s caught early and preventative measures are taken. If you haven’t had to deal with red mites just yet it would be beneficial to begin educating yourself on the topic so you’re not caught off guard if an infestation does come about.