Chicken mites are tiny, crawling, external parasites that can become a problem for your chickens if they are given the opportunity to take up residence on your flock.
You can suspect that you have a mite problem on your birds if your hens begin to lose their feathers, particularly out of their usual moulting period (early autumn), or if you begin to see them biting excessively under their wings or around their vents.
The mites bite and chew on your birds while sucking their blood, to the extent that they can make the birds anaemic, which can become so bad if not treated that the chickens might even die.
Mites are spread by bringing infected birds into your flock, by wild birds, rodents, or by carrying them in on your shoes or clothing.
The mites can also migrate to humans, causing itching, and while they will live on humans they don’t reproduce.
They are more prevalent and active in warm weather and during summer, although some types do live in cold climates as well.
While their life cycle is only five to seven days, each mite can lay more than 100 000 eggs during that time, so treatment must be repeated and ongoing to completely eradicate them.
Chickens can actually combat these pests on their own. When the weather is dry, and they have dust that they can bathe in, it helps them to combat mites. The dusting smothers the bugs.
So when you see your birds out in the yard rolling in the dust and stretched out in the sun, know that they are also taking care of bug issues or preventing them from getting started.
However it sometimes happens that the mites are able to set up an infestation and the solution is quite simple. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, a very fine powder comprising the fossilized remains of tiny millennia-old aquatic creatures which, in South Africa, is found in the Northern Cape, works as an effective remedy when used liberally in the chickens’ housing and as a dusting compound.
It is harmless to poultry, but you should wear a dust-mask when applying it to avoid irritating your lungs.
Pour the DE into a bath or tub and put one chicken at a time into it. It is helpful if there is more than one of you to do it, so that one can hold, while the other is sprinkling the DE on and rubbing it into the skin under the feathers.
While the chickens won’t enjoy the experience, once completed and released they soon shake themselves off and hurry off to join their companions.
You might see them pecking at the diatomaceous earth, but it is not dangerous for them to eat it and might even be helpful in ridding them of internal parasites.
If the chickens are free range, sprinkle DE in the places where they like to congregate or dust themselves.
Also sprinkle it liberally on the ground, in laying compartments and in their coop.
If you have a high-pressure washer, use it to spray the perches, shelves, nesting boxes and the outside of the hen house. If you don’t have such a hose, pour boiling water into the cracks and joints. Once it is dry sprinkle with DE.
Clear out all the bedding, wrap it in newspaper and burn it. The mites will survive and multiply if you put it in the compost.
Continue to monitor your chickens and their housing closely, as the mites undoubtedly laid eggs in the little time they had. Repeat the process as necessary. Check after another seven days, and dust again if needed.
To prevent mites and lice from taking foot again, take these measures:
Do what you can to keep wild birds away from your chicken coop. Secure your chicken feed, remove wild bird nests, or even build that scarecrow you’ve always dreamed of.
Keep layering your chickens’ dust-bathing area with diatomaceous earth and change their bedding regularly.
You can try putting pest repellent dried herbs, such as mint and lavender in their bedding. Some people mix a little apple cider vinegar and garlic into their chickens’ water.
Do a full coop clean every six months.