What are red mites?
Red Mite (not to be confused with Red Spider Mite, a harmless garden bug) is a parasite that lives in your chicken house and feeds on birds whilst they sleep at night.
These small but deadly mites feed on all parts of the chicken including blood, feathers, skin and scales. Red Mite infestations can result in poor health, low egg production, weight loss and, in bad infestations, even death of the bird.
As our climate has changed, and our method of keeping poultry, so the instances of Red Mite have rocketed over the last few years. However, with vigilance, proper husbandry and the right products this need not be the nightmare it at first appears.
Life Cycle of Red Mite
Red mites feed on the bird between one and two hours each night. They tend to live in cracks and crevices in the hen houses as this is where they deposit the eggs.
When the nest conditions are correct the mite larvae hatch 2-3 days after being laid. The time it takes for a mite to go from egg to adult is 7 days. This short cycle can cause Red Mite infestations to grow very rapidly. Even without a food source Red Mite can survive for as long as 8 months making them a very hardy pest.
Constant vigilance is needed during warm weather but you should continue with a cleaning product like Flyte Mite Spray and a liberal sprinkling of Diatomaceous Earth Powder throughout the winter as well.
Spotting the Red Mite signs
An initial telltale sign of infestation may be the reluctance of the hens to go into the house at night. Your birds may start to look anaemic and lethargic i.e. pale combs rather than red, and they may sit hunched up in a corner rather than actively scratching around.
The best time to check for Red Mites is early morning when they can be seen easily by the naked eye or with a torch. After feeding on the blood of the birds overnight the mites get their distinctive red colouring.
Another telltale sign is a build-up of a grey dust in the coop, this is the detritus from the mite. Look particularly under perches and in perch sockets for live mites. The mites can also be found hiding in the grey dust on the floor and in the timber joints.
Red Mite eradication
If you are already suffering from a Red Mite infestation these are some ideal 100% natural, non-toxic products.
Poultry Shield is a liquid cleaner and sanitising product by Biolink that is best applied to your hen houses with a pressure sprayer. It works by breaking down organic matter and eradicating the mites' habitat.
After applying thoroughly to the coop, and letting it dry, the chickens can re-enter. Safe for use on all animal housing, and also for cleaning feeding equipment.
We recommend, as part of a two-prong operation, that you follow the cleaning with Flyte so Fancy Diatomaceous Powder when dry. Diatoms are fossilised algae with a crystalline structure that are highly abrasive to the mites’ waxy shell. Sprinkle throughout the house wherever the mite may hide e.g. perches and perch sockets.
Diatom Powder can also be used in a similar manner to a louse powder and can be applied directly onto the bird. In the henhouse pay particular attention to perches and nest boxes to kill any other remaining mites.
There are many other products on the market to fight the Red Mite battle. MITEPRO Red Mite Powder or Net-Tex Total Mite Kill Liquid is a particular favourite of many chicken keepers. We have Smoke Bomb Fumers, as well as cypermethrin based answers like Ardap Insecticide Aerosol. Please take a look in our Red Mite Eradication Section to find your answer or call us if you need further advice.
Red Mite Prevention
Apart from Poultry Shield and Diatom mentioned above, as a preventative measure, you could also use Barrier Red Mite Powder.
Barrier Red Mite Powder is an insect repellent for amateur use against red mite. Apply directly to poultry and sprinkle liberally in the housing paying particular attention to the perch ends, corners and crevices.
Follow any Red Mite Treatment with Stalosan F, a powder disinfectant that destroys worm eggs, coccidial oocysts & larvae (note: does not kill red mite directly). With anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral action, it is highly absorbent and will help to reduce the ammonia smell created by the chicken's droppings as well as make the henhouse an inhospitable place for mites.
If your birds are showing signs of anaemia or are looking unwell then give them a vitamin and iron boost with Agrivite Red Mite Rescue Remedy to rebuild their iron balance.
Using a chopped Hemp Bedding in the henhouse can also help because, unlike straw, it does not provide hidey holes for the mite. Straw, being tubular in nature, will allow the mite to hide and avoid being seen. Always burn any old bedding that you think might be infested. We have found our Chopped Hemp Bedding with Eucalyptus very popular, which anecdotally keeps red mite away. Hemp Bedding is far easier to keep clean so will avoid the build-up of matter where the mite can thrive. Eucalyptus is also antibacterial and red mite find it 'most unpleasant'.
You may see many promotions stating that plastic henhouses prevent red mite, or cannot be infested, but we would have to say that in our experience this is not the case.
Plastic hen houses are just as likely to get red mite infestations as timber houses albeit they are easier to spot and have less hidey-holes. Plus, as plastic henhouses are prone to condensation, and some have poor ventilation, this creates a humid environment which red mite love. It's all a matter of how many places there are for the mite to hide but, most of all, it is about spotting the signs early and treating any problems straight away.
Red Mite facts ...
- Red Mite do not live on humans but can produce a form of dermatitis if not washed off as soon as possible.
- Red Mites hate daylight.
- Mites transmit or can cause Rickettsial Pox, Scrub typhus, Mange, Scabies, Dermatitis, Pruritis, Tsutsugamushi disease and other diseases.
- Poultry Red Mite only attacks domestic poultry and pigeons/wild birds.
- Poultry Red Mite can survive for up to 8 months between blood feeds.
- A Red Mite is about 0.7mm long with an oval body and is normally yellowish-brown in colour (before feasting).
- Red Mite can live in plastic chicken houses just as readily as in timber houses, it's just there are less places to hide.
Are you ready for them?
I hope this information helps when treating what is a relatively common problem for poultry. With vigilance, the right treatment and some preventative actions your chicken coop can be red mite free and your chickens will happy.
If you have any further queries please do contact us by email or our helpline 01300 345229.
- - - -
Red Mite in Chicken Houses ©Flyte so Fancy 2010. Updated 2020. Author: Anne Weymouth (Director, Flyte so Fancy Ltd). Reproduction of part or all of this text is only possible with the express permission of Flyte so Fancy Ltd.