This article, written by poultry expert Tim Daniels, describes the common parasite of chickens Red Mite. One of the biggest problems of poultry keepers and if left untreated, these infections can spread amongst birds rapidly with potential fatal consequences. Find out how to identify this troublesome parasite and how to eradicate it!
After a stressful day, my chickens quite literally help me to leave my worries behind as I watch them going about their business looking for tasty morsels around the garden. Seeing flashes of colour in between the undergrowth as a cockerel leads his harem of hens on their bug finding mission is a small pleasure that I would never want to miss.
There are sometimes moments though during my daily observations that I notice something is out of the ordinary, and I instinctively know that there is a problem in the flock that needs investigating. Maybe it’s the colour of a comb that isn’t as red as it should be, maybe it’s a drop in egg numbers or even the way hens are quite reluctant to go in to the coop as it gets dark, but somehow over the years through constant observation, I have learnt what is normal behaviour and what is the beginning of something a little more serious.
These signs all say that something isn’t quite right, yet after inspection, it is difficult to find anything wrong with the hens themselves. There is however another possibility that involves turning our attention to the hen house, to look for red mite.
During the warmer months of May to October, red mites are particularly active. If you haven’t heard of these before then I’m sorry to spoil your day but they are particularly troublesome and will live inside your chicken house for up to 8 months without a feed, multiplying very quickly, hopping on and off your birds to feed from their blood during the night.
Whilst there are several different species of mite, red mite is by far the most common. Despite the name, they are actually a grey / white colour but turn red once they have had a feed. Red mite live in the cracks and crevices during and are particularly fond of perch ends and nest boxes where they have easy access to hop on and off your hens for a meal. Once you have them, they are notoriously difficult to get rid of so it is a really good idea to inspect your coops regularly.
How to find red mite.
The best way to find out if you have red mite is to go out to the hen house at night when it is dark, armed with a white tissue. Wipe the underneath of the perch where your hens are roosting and look for smeared blood spots that will indicate their presence.
Controlling red mite.
Red mite can be controlled and there are many products available on the market such as poultry shield diatom, and red mite powder to name a few, although be warned, they are not that easy to eradicate. When you hear of fanciers attacking the cracks and crevices of their coops with a blow torch, you know they must be difficult to remove completely!
Plastic chicken coops can be easier to clean but they don’t stop red mite completely so you still need to be on your guard.
Learning how to control red mite is very important and should be high on the list of priorities when learning how to keep chickens. They are without question a silent killer that many new poultry keepers haven’t heard of until they find they are over-run with them. Birds can die if you get a heavy infestation so regularly inspecting the hen house, especially during the summer months is a top priority for every poultry keeper.
Until next time, enjoy your chickens and keep an eye open for red mite!
About the author
Tim has been interested in poultry and the countryside since an early age. Growing up with Chickens and Ducks, as well as aviary birds like Canaries, Zebra Finches, Java Sparrows, Doves and Quail and having a pigeon loft at the bottom of the garden for Racing Pigeons, Tim takes care of the website design and the running of the 2 servers at poultrykeeper.com, as well as writing the bulk of the articles on the site. Tim currently breeds Marans and Cream Legbar chickens and keeps a few other breeds in small numbers. He keeps Abacot Ranger Ducks and hopes to have some Brecon Buff and American Buff geese soon.
For more information on keeping poultry visit poultrykeeper.com