Red Mite in the Chicken House

By Tim Daniels of poultrykeeper.com

As the weather warms up in the Spring, Red Mite are one of the most annoying problems many of us have as poultry keepers face in the chicken house. The Red Mite season in the UK usually starts in April and by the warm sunny days of May, the temperature is perfect for Red Mite to multiply by the thousand and keep on doing so until late September when the weather cools down again.

What are Red Mites?

So if you are new to keeping chickens then you're probably asking yourself what Red Mites are right now? Well, I will explain. Red Mites are no more than 0.7mm long and during the daytime, live in the cracks and crevices of your chicken house. They become dormant over the colder winter months but add a little summer warmth and they will soon start to multiply at an incredible rate. When they hatch, they start off as a very small grey coloured mite that is barely visible but as they mature, they will crawl onto your birds at night to feed, turning into dark red coloured mites. The real problem with these little devils is that they are usually quite hard to find until they appear in big numbers and they are notoriously hard to remove completely once you have them.

Looking for Red Mites

Remove perches to find Red Mite

If you have a serious Red Mite infestation in your coop or hen house, you will eventually know about it as the numbers increase. You will spot squashed mites / streaks of blood on eggs and when cleaning out you will start to itch as mites crawl on you. Birds that are being bitten will often stop laying and sometimes won't go to roost at night. Hens become anaemic, have pale combs and start to become ill.

This is often the way most of us find out about Red Mite but as they say “once bitten, twice shy” and after the initial infestation, we are far more observant and know what to look out for. Here are a few tips to help:

• Lift perches out and look underneath for small clusters of mites.

• Look for grey 'ash like' substance around perch ends. As well as the photo shown here, is a macro photograph of Red Mites and their eggs .

And the best tip I can give:

• Take a white tissue and wipe it along the underside of perches at night when birds are roosting. Look for tell tale blood smears.

If you can spot Red Mites early-on, they are far easier to control so it's well worth checking for signs every time you clean out your chicken house.

Treating the Chicken House

If you find Red Mite, before you go rushing off to buy the latest and greatest potion to spray, read on because there are two key things to remember if you want to get rid of these little nasties:

1. They can live for up to 8 months without feeding. In an experiment I have placed adult Red Mite in a Jar with gauze over the top and after 8 months I still found one able to crawl. Moving the hens out of their house for a month will not work.

2. They multiply very quickly. Their life cycle can be as little as 6 days when the temperature and conditions are optimum so a single mite can be laying hundred more eggs in less than a week after hatching herself. This means if you treat for Red Mite, you must repeat your treatments before the mites that survive can multiply again.

3. Liquids will run into the cracks when applied but powders will stay around for a few days on the perch ends and in nest boxes so a combination of products usually works best.

My favourite two products are poultry shield and diatom. They are fairly safe to use but will require a number of repeated treatments. You can see how I use these in my blog post "How to get rid of a serious Red Mite Investation" if you choose to go down this route. There are of course many other products on the market to choose from that will also be able to help.

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