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Mites & Lice

 

Red Mites

How do you know you have them?

The red mite Dermanyssus gallinae are blood sucking ectoparasites that can infest and feed on chickens and turkeys. They can invade at any time but especially during the warmer summer months. Warmth gives the red mite the ideal conditions in which to breed so numbers can proliferate extremely quickly.

Red mite can be challenging to spot unless you have a population explosion whereby they are difficult to ignore. Being nocturnal, they hide in crevices and joints of the poultry house during the day then emerge at night to crawl up the bird’s legs, through the feathers and take a feed of blood from your birds.

We suggest a regular check of any areas they can potentially hide so you can take action as soon as possible to prevent them impacting on your bird’s health. Alternatively have a look in the coop with a torch after dark. If you get a sheet of white paper and press any red mites you find onto it, red streaks will appear. You may also see even smaller greyish cream coloured mites, these are ones which have not yet fed. Once they have sucked a feed of blood, they turn bright red and then as they digest it the colour changes again to a reddish-brown.

Health issues

Low numbers of mites mainly cause irritation and annoyance to the chicken and their keeper, making birds restless and the keeper to have itchy skin. However, large numbers of mites can suck enough blood causing anaemia, shown by pale comb and wattles, weakness, dullness and reduced egg production. Death can occur when red mites get out of hand as so much blood is lost by the bird, they can’t survive.

Chicks are very susceptible to a mite infestation as the saliva the mite leaves in and on the chicks skin is toxic.

The red mite lifecycle from egg to adult mite is only between seven and 10 days depending on the environmental temperature, so it is important to keep checking on a weekly basis.

The mites can also crawl up onto human skin and cause irritation, but do not live on humans.

Signs
  • Presence of grey/red mites up to 0.7mm, around vent of birds and in housing, particularly crevices.
  • Birds are often restless due to the irritation.
  • May cause anaemia (pale comb and wattles) and potentially death.
  • Loss of condition.
  • Drop in egg production.
  • Blood spots on eggs.
  • Staff/owner complaints of itching.

Treatment options

There are a number of products available for the birds and also importantly, their environment. Begin using the products early in the spring to try and prevent an infestation outbreak, or use as soon as possible after you discover you have red mites. You may need to use a three-pronged approach to eliminate them:

  • Applying to the Coop – for prevention clean your coop once a month with Chicken Vet Poultry Shield, not only is this a good disinfectant it has also shown to be extremely effective against red mite. Once dry replace bedding and apply a liberal dusting of Chicken Vet mite powder. Alternatively use Dergall, which is a concentrated liquid, you make up fresh by diluting with water and spray onto the coop as you require it. Dergall is a nontoxic product which destroys red mites by immobilising and suffocating them. Using a Dergall spray once every two weeks throughout the summer will keep red mites under control. Dergall has the great advantage of destructing scaly leg mite and northern fowl mite and has bactericidal properties too.
  • Applying to the Bird - we recommend Chicken Vet Mite Powder (Diatomataceous earth) this can be applied to the bird, particularly paying attention to under the wings and the vent, also apply in nest boxes, rub onto the perches and even place in a cat litter tray, so birds can dust bath in it (mix with some dry earth). Ivermectin 1% spot on drops, these can only be used with one week egg withdrawal from the day of application, a repeat application 2 weeks later is recommended.
  • In the water - Chicken Vet Poultry Multivitamins are advised to be used to support the bird during a severe red mite infestation, as this a stressful time and will aid recovery; we recommend you use these for 5 days in the drinking water.
    Continue with this routine throughout the summer to reduce red mites in your hens.

If you find your chickens and house are infested with very high numbers of red mites then you may need to carry out some additional measures and further cleaning. For example using Interkokask disinfectant, which is a multi-purpose product, after cleaning out the poultry house will also kill red mites and red mite eggs.

 

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Northern Fowl Mite

The Northern Fowl Mite Ornithonyssus bursae, is an oval shaped mite about 1mm in size. Like the red mite, it starts off life a pale grey colour and feeds on the chicken by sucking its blood turning the engorged mite a black/brown colour. This feeding irritates the bird leading to it laying fewer eggs and even losing weight. If the number of these mites is large enough then the chicken can suffer from anaemia characterised by a pale comb and wattles. The mites can also result in matted feathers.

The mite lays its eggs at the base of the feathers around the vent, these eggs hatch after a few days and mature into adult mites as quickly as in 12 days, allowing their numbers to build up rapidly under ideal conditions.

The most significant difference between Northern Fowl Mites and Red Mites is that Northern Fowl Mites will spend their entire life on the chicken (they can only survive 10 days off a chicken).

Control is slightly different to Red Mite because you really need to concentrate on treating the chicken as this is where the mite will be found. You will not find them hiding away in cracks and crevices like the Red Mite.

Treatment

Dergall can be used and applied directly onto the vent areas by mixing some fresh solution and applying using a hand sprayer. This will need repeating once a week for 3 weeks. Do this treatment at night when the birds are roosting to reduce stress trying to catch them. Chicken Vet Mite powder can be used on a weekly basis, by applying to the bird under the wings and around the vent too. Ivermectin 1% drops need applying to the bird’s skin on the back of the neck by lifting the feathers up. If being used on chickens that are laying eggs, you must not eat the eggs for one week after the initial application.

 

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Scaly Leg Mites

Scaly Leg Mites and Depluming Mites are two closely related mites which both belong to the genus Knemidocoptes.

The Scaly Leg Mite (Knemidocoptes mutans)  commonly infests on older hens.

Causes

This mite burrows underneath the scales of the leg causing damaged tissue, often with white crusting and seepage of tissue fluid, sometimes this may become infected. This burrowing causes irritation, raised scales and crusting. You will notice thickened and raised leg scales and sometimes signs of inflammation and infection.

In the early stages the affected bird will be no more than mildly irritated by the Scaly Leg Mites but as the scales become thickened and the mites cause more extensive damage the affected legs will become very painful.

It is important to note that it takes several months for the scales of the legs to become raised and consequently to heal again after treatment.

Treatment

Treatment of the Scaly Leg Mite involves killing the mites and softening the roughened scales.

A solution of Dergall(10ml in 1 litre of water) can be used to gently cleanse the legs, with the aid of a soft tooth brush or cloth. Once legs are dry, dip the foot and the leg in the Dergall solution, as Dergall will suffocate the scaly leg mite and also help the legs to heal due to its bactericidal properties.

Ivermectin 1% spot on drops are advised too, but it is important to note that Ivermectin is not licensed for chickens and as such the prescribing vet needs to set an appropriate egg withdrawal period and if appropriate, a meat withdrawal period.

Smothering the legs in Vaseline will help to soften the scales on the leg and to suffocate the mites. Scales can take twelve months to heal and completely regenerate so be patient as it takes a really long time to see an improvement.

You will need to repeat this treatment every few weeks until you see signs of healing.

 

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The Depluming Mite

The Depluming Mite (Knemidocoptes gallinae) is related to the Scaly Leg Mite and like its better known relative, is a burrowing mite. However, whilst the Scaly Leg Mite burrows in between the scales of the leg, the depluming mite burrows into the feather shafts particularly on the head, neck, back, belly and upper legs.

This burrowing causes damage to the tissue which oozes with a nutrient rich fluid on which the Depluming Mites feed. This burrowing causes irritation and pain to the chicken causing it to scratch and to pull out its own feathers. Severely burdened chickens will lose weight and will lay fewer eggs.

One interesting fact about Depluming Mites is that rather than laying eggs, they give birth to live young and they can complete their lifecycle in as little as 17 days. They tend to be most prevalent in spring and summer, with numbers falling in autumn.

The mites can only be transmitted between birds by direct contact.

Treatment for Depluming Mite involves using Ivermectin 1% spot on drops. But again it is important to note that Ivermectin has a 1 week egg withdrawal time. Treat the house as you would for Red Mite infestation.

 

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Lice

Chickens can also suffer from Lice (Menophon gallinae) which are golden in colour and are approximately 1-3mm in length.  These lice are relatively fast moving, they lay their eggs (nits) which are white, and both the nits and the lice can normally be found around the vent, under the wings or at the base of their feathers.

The lice bite the chicken and feed from its skin and also the fluid which oozes from the damaged skin. Low levels of lice only cause mild irritation but large numbers lead to weight loss, restlessness and a reduction in the numbers of eggs laid.

They tend to rapidly increase in number around the autumn and winter.  Lice only live a few days and are often transmitted by direct contact.

The best way to treat them is to use a combination of Ivermectin 1% drops and Chicken Vet Mite powder, as previously described. Treat the house as you would for Red Mite infestation.

 

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