Chicken Health – Red Mite

Occasionally I look at my site stats to see which search terms are finding my blog. I tend to see a lot of chicken/poultry related queries and questions, so I thought I would write about one of the biggest problems poultry keepers sometimes face –  the dreaded red mite.

Carried by wild birds, red mite are tiny grey mites (red when fully engorged with blood) that can be a dangerous health problem for chickens. Usually hiding away during the day in small cracks/crevices of the coop, ends of perches or under felt roofs they come out of hiding just after dusk to feed on your hens whilst they sleep. This makes identifying a problem difficult. Depending on the severity of red mite infestation, a flock will eventually become very unwell and death could well occur. Red mite seem to be more of a problem during the warmer temperatures of summer, but can strike any time of the year. They are super tiny and hard to spot, particularly during the day.

Symptoms / signs of red mite infestation:

  • Pale combs and wattles
  • Decreased appetite
  • Egg laying slows down or completely ceases
  • Chickens reluctant to perch (note: ex battery hens don’t always perch due to weak legs / no experience of a perch so this is not always a helpful sign)
  • Chickens reluctant to return to the coop at dusk, preferring to hang close to the coop in the dark.

I highly recommend checking for red mite as part of your regular hygiene routine. This is how I check for red mite:

  • Using a piece of white kitchen paper or cloth, wipe underneath the length of the perch – blood smears indicates red mite are present
  • Check the inside of the coop with a torch just after dark, quietly and carefully shine the torch on the walls, roof space and perches. If you have red mite you might be able to see small dot like creatures (grey or red when fully fed on your hens blood) moving around.
  • If you can, check the hens legs and feathers using the torch for signs of red mite
  • Very early in the morning is probably the best time to see red mite with the naked eye due to them being fully engorged

Prevention is key. Spray your empty coop with Poultry Shield solution and allow to dry before replacing  fresh bedding. Sprinkle Diatom (Diatomaceous Earth Powder), powder along the perches and on the perch ends, in the nest box, and in any small gaps etc. Use a Diatom puffer bottle to puff the powder into the roof space where red mite could hide, ie wood joints. Of course, there are other red mite products available, I have named the ones I use and trust. If you think you have a red mite problem I highly recommend using the products I have named, following the instructions carefully. I also recommend using Diatom and Poultry Shield as a regular preventative from day one of keeping chickens.