When caring for chickens there are many things that can happen that are out of your control. The one I’m going to address today is red mites.
Red mites are tiny bugs that naturally live on your chickens and if they go unchecked, or you chickens are not, or can not, dust bath, the mites will multiply quickly. Their life cycle is only 7 days, meaning that in seven days they lay thousands of eggs and those hatch into a full grown hungry adults in 7 days.
Red mites start out as white/clear eggs that hatch into gray mites and do not turn red until they feed. Mites lay their eggs on the base of chicken feathers close to the skin so that when they hatch food is not too far. They make tiny bites to get blood. Once they are full they go around laying more eggs.
Mites are active in the warm months April through August in most places and stay dormant in the winter months. They live on perches and other dark corners close to their host, AKA your chickens.
What to do if you find Mites?
When checking you chickens to insure they are in good health and you find a mite infestation there are a few steps that I like to do that have really worked well for me in eliminating mites all together. Keep in mind this is what has worked for me, I am not a professional I am just a city gal raising happy healthy natural chickens to best of my ability.
Step 1: determine how bad the infestation is and how many birds have been affected by the mites. Once you have determined the cause and which birds have mites the next step is to give the affected chickens a bath. My first case of red mites occurred because I brought a new chicken into my flock without quarantining her for 3 to 4 week to see if she had any issues. This year my chickens got mites because one chicken was not dust bathing herself due to an injury she obtained while laying her first eggs. She torn part of her insides and had a trail on blood running down her underside that I could not see when doing my quick weekly health checks. Fresh blood needs to be removed as soon as you find it, as it attracts all kinds on bad things, hence why she got mites.
Step 2: how to bath your birds. First off we need to find out how far the infestation has spread. If you only find mites on the underside of the bird, near the vent, and none under the wings or near the head you have very mid case that can be easily taken care of (in both of my cases of mites it was very mild). Next your going to want to bath the chickens one at a time and in a sink where the water can drain in the sewer so you don’t spread the mite to your other birds, some say to bath them in a bin outside but this will allow the mites to spread. Fill your sink with just enough warm, not hot, water to get the underside of the bird wet, if you only have mites on the underside, like I did. Only washing the underside will help to not spread the mites to the rest of the chickens body. Add about 1/4 cup white vinegar and 2 Tbs of dish soap to your water before putting the chicken in. Then fill a pitcher with warm clean water. Place the chicken in the sink and gently scrub the mites off the chicken, you may need to drain and refill the sink to get the majority of the mites and the eggs off. Once you believe you have most of the mites and eggs off thoroughly rinse all the soap and vinegar off the chicken with your clean pitcher of water, you may need to rise the chicken a few times.
Step 3: how to blow dry your chicken. Now that the chicken is mostly clean you will need to blow dry it to re-fluff the feather and to warm them up, use the cool setting, never hot. Not blow drying the chicken can lead to sickness. Chickens need to keep their down feathers dry in order to regulate their body temperature. I use the warm setting on my blow dryer and move the blow dryer back and forth while using my hand to aid in the lifting of the feathers so they dry faster.
Step 4: putting neem oil on them to stop the reproduction of new mites. Once the chicken has been dried off, I apply neem oil (about one drop and then i spread it around) to the skin around the area that was most affected and one drop to the back on the neck to prevent the spreading of the mites. I use neem oil because it has properties that stop reproduction in pests. It does not kill the mites but it does stop them from being able to reproduce. Without the ability to reproduce mites will die.
Step 5: dusting your chickens. You will want to dust your chickens thoroughly all the way down to their down feathers especially in areas that where most effected. I use Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) to do this. I fill a tub with DE and place the chicken in it and then proceed to rub the DE all over them, leaving the head, ears, eyes, and beak untouched. Once they are all dusted I put them back outside.
Step 6: smoking out the coop. Smoking out your coop will kill the mites and their eggs. This step is necessary if you have mites living in your coop. First you need to clean out the coop, by removing all the bedding. It is important to get all the bedding out so the mites do not have extra places to hide. Next make sure you have no chickens in the coop or in your run, I let mine free range while i clean it all out. Now you are ready to begin smoking out your coop. I use a small portable fire pit and left over cedar wood from our fence and a few pieces of news paper. The idea is not to start a fire but to get the wood smoking. This time around we had cedar pieces laying around so we used them, it made the coop smell heavenly. Once the fire is smoking really good let it continue to smoke for at least 30 minutes, an hour if you can. For safety reasons you should have a hose or buckets of water around in case your smoking embers turns into a fire and not just smoke. Your don’t want to burn your whole coop down. Once your done smoking out the coop put out your embers and let the coop air out for several hours.
Step 7: deep cleaning the coop. Now that your coop should be rid of most if not all the mites your ready to deep clean your coop. To do this I make a coop cleaning solution that I will use over the next month every time I clean out the coop.
The Coop Cleaning Mixture Recipe:
Shake the following in a spray bottle for easier use.
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup of white vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice and essential oils (neem oil about 30 drops, rosemary about 15 drops, basil oil about 10 drops, and lemon oil about 20 drops).
Using your mixture scrub the walls, roosting bars, nesting boxes, ceiling, and every tiny crack you can find. Let the mixture air dry on all the surfaces that you cleaned.
Step 8: oiling the coop. Once the coop is cleaned and dry, rub neem oil on the roosting bars, nesting boxes, main floor and any tiny cracks you can find. This will prevent any eggs you missed from being able to reproduce and they hate the smell of it so they will most likely not travel from one chicken to the next during the night when they are most active.
Step 9: dusting the coop. Now that the coop is clean you will want to sprinkle DE all over the coop, any yes I mean sprinkle not DUMP! You don’t want to over to it as it will irritate the Chickens respiratory system if there is to much dust in the air. Now that the coop is clean dusted and as mite free as you can get it you can put new bedding in the coop.
To insure that no new mites have a chance of making it onto your other chickens put your coop cleaning mixture in to a spray bottle add at least 1 freahly pressed garlic clove and some dryed or liqued wormwood and spray your coop 2x a day especially the roosts and every few days rub more neem oil on the roots. You will also want to either spray or apply a drop or 2 of neem oil to the chickens every few days until the remaning mites and eggs are dead.
Seeing as mites hatch every 7 days you will want to check your chickens daily for at least 2 weeks after you see the last mite, I checked them daily for 4 weeks just to be safe and then return to my usual weekly check ups. If you find new mites don’t panic you don’t have to repeat all these steps, all you need to do is a clean your coop out really well with the mixture, oil the roosts and either bath the chickens again or just re-apply the neem oil to the affected area and hand dust bath your chickens. KEEPING up on regular cleanings and checking of your chickens during this waiting period in critical to the elimination of the mites. If the infestation is not taken care of the right way the first time it will come back.
Prevention Of Future Mites
To prevent mites in the future do weekly health checks of each chicken. Thoroughly look at their feathers, feet, wings, eyes, cobs, waddles, vent, under bellies, and tail feathers. Also clean your coop regularly, and keep dried herbs in your coop and nesting boxes to keep away pests. I sell an organic nesting box mix that works wonders Click here to get yours!
Happy Chicken Keeping!