Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mites in the Chicken Coop

I received an email from Jen, asking about a mite infestation in her chicken coop, and if I knew any non-chemical remedies. We've never had a mite problem (knock on wood). I do have some old poultry reference books, so I did some research for her. I thought I'd post my reply:

When I showed your email to my husband, he said your deep straw bedding might be part of the problem. It might give the mites a place to hide out and breed. I don't know about that. We have a coop with a slatted floor, droppings pit underneath, straw only in the nest boxes. Figuring out a way to keep wild birds out of your chicken coop might prevent them from bringing in mites too. But since the mites are already there, here are a few folk remedies you can try:

*give the chickens a dustbath box or pit filled with wood ashes - it's supposed to suffocate mites. We have an open burning period in the fall, when we can burn weeds and small brush piles. Our chickens love to get out in the burn pit to dustbathe.

*try dusting your chickens with diatomaceous earth - hold them upside-down and get it down underneath their feathers to their skin (but not in their eyes); you can also put it in their feed.

*Red mites hide out by day in the cracks and crevices in wooden roosts and nest boxes, coming out at night to feed on the chickens as they sleep. To check for them, pluck one of your chickens from her roost at night and look for the mites beneath her leg feathers. A folk remedy is to chase all the chickens out of the coop in the morning, locking them out for the day. Wet down the roosts, especially underneath, and bottoms of nest boxes with a 50/50 mixture of used motor oil and kerosene, using a paintbrush or dabbing with a rag. Keep the chickens out until as late in the day as possible. You might have to repeat the treatment after 2 weeks.

*If you can see the mite, it wouldn't be scaly leg mites - they're microscopic, causing scales that stick out, and sometimes fall off, on the naked part of their legs. Washing the legs then rubbing in Vaseline, or dipping chickens' legs in salad or baby oil weekly is said to work for that.

*Depluming mites cause the chickens to pull out their feathers to try and stop the itching, leaving your chickens are almost naked. Dunk the bird, wetting it all the way down to the skin, in a mixture of 2 oz sulfur plus 1 oz soap per gallon of water.

*Last Resort - chemicals: Sevin (carbaryl) as a dust or spray, or Co-Ral (coumaphous) dust. This is the only treatment I could find for northern fowl mites, reddish or dark brown ones that spend their whole life-cycle on the bird. Look for them around the tail and vent during the daytime. If the infestation is severe, they could be on the eggs too. Insecticide powders in the feathers of a mother can kill the chicks underneath her, so any treatments have to be done well in advance of hatching.

This is Baldy. No mites here - the photo is from earlier this fall when she was molting. When the days get shorter, most of our flock lose their feathers, stop laying eggs in order to grow new ones, and then are all nice and newly fluffy when the cold weather gets here. Then, when the days start getting longer after New Year's, they start laying eggs once again.

When Baldy was a young chick, on her first day in with the rest of the flock, she found a small hole under the chicken pen fence just large enough to squeeze under, but not all the way through. The rest of the flock, vicious little beasts that they are, pecked her on the head as she lay trapped. I thought they'd killed her, but when I pulled her out she was still alive. I took her inside, sprayed her head with liquid bandage, and after a couple more days in the house she rejoined the rest of the flock. Her head comb never did grow back, though.


~Tonia said...

This is what I have found to work for mites and lice in chickens... Clean coop out completely then soak everything down with Apple cider vinegar with a tablespoon of Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Tea tree oil to a gallon of ACV. Soak roost nest boxes and floor up to 3 feet up the wall. A yard sprayer works well.
A little ACV in the drinking water helps repel. Wood ashes to dust in cheaper than D.E.
If they are bad I make a salve with bees wax(enough to make it thick) Olive oil, tea tree oil,Rosemary oil and Eucalyptus oil. Melt bees wax and stir in all the ingredients. THen I use gloves and slather it on their legs around their vents and anywhere else I see signs of bugs. Do this every couple of days till bugs are gone. If you dont have Bees wax Vaseline will work in a pinch...
My chickens are finishing up molting they looked so pitiful!!

Jen said...

Wow! These are great ideas! Thank you, Sadge, for your very thoughtful and informative reply, and you, too, Tonia! We still haven't exactly determined whether or not we have any mites at all...or if it might have been that a couple of rogue small bugs were crawling around in the egg carton that the eggs that day were placed in, and thus two teeny bugs were on an egg. So far we can't see any on the chickens, but we haven't looked at night. (But I wasn't sure if we'd have seen any on the eggs if they were red mites.) I love the idea of the dust bath box, especially when the snow will have covered the ground completely later this winter...and we have plenty of wood ashes. Definitely some fabulous tips to keep handy in the ole' chicken "book"...because when you do find a problem, it always needs to be treated immediately! :) Again, I appreciate all your help!! Jen.

Nancy M. said...

I tried using DE on my chickens when they had mites, but it didn't seem to help. Maybe I didn't give it long enough? I finally got rid of them with seven dust.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Really good advice that everyone has given. I just wanted to let you all know that when using DE please note that you should not inhale. It acts just like abestos when absorbed into the lungs. DE is a very good organic product but you must be aware that you should not inhale .

My burn pile for fallen limbs from the forest I live in is about 25 feet from the coop and when I am not burning the chicks will scratch in the wood ash. After reading the benefits of wood ash I built burn pit so they would have access to it.

Anonymous said...

Good to know! Ronnie is almost finished with my coop (looks like a small vacation home). I'll post pictures once it is finished. We have a wood slat floor as well though I dont think there is a large enough gap for 'stuff' to fall between.
A suggestion on aborbing cover? sawdust perhaps? shavings?

Sadge said...

Great suggestions, Tonia! Yours sound even better than some of the old stuff I found, if I ever do have any problems.

Annette: Sorry, can't help you. No absorbtion needed in our coop. The floor is 4" boards with 2.5" gaps. We just use the back of a rake to push droppings off the boards every once in a while. Down underneath, they dry out, stay dry, don't smell, and the chickens can't get into them. A few times a year, we pull the facing off the downhill side of the coop bottom and rake everything out to use in our compost pile. More info here: http://firesignfarm.blogspot.com/2009/01/more-on-chicken-coop-construction.html

Annodear said...

Vicious little beasts indeed!