The advice hub Red mites

How do you know you have them?

Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are blood sucking ectoparasites that infest and feed on chickens and turkeys. They 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 therefore proliferate extremely quickly in warmer weather.

Red mites are visible to the naked eye but are challenging to spot in low numbers. If you have a population explosion of red mites they are difficult to ignore. Being nocturnal, they hide in cracks and crevices of the poultry house during the day then emerge at night to crawl up the birds’ legs, through the feathers and take a feed of blood. After feeding they return to their hiding places to digest the blood meal and breed.

Red Mite

We suggest you regularly check your housing paying particular attention to perch ends, in the nest boxes and any cracks and crevices. If you find any mites act as soon as you can to avoid them getting out of control to prevent them impacting on your bird’s health. A tip is to quietly 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 the newly hatched nymphs 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 to a reddish-brown.

Health issues

Low numbers of mites can 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 a 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 become anaemic and eventually die.

Chicks are very susceptible to a mite infestation as the saliva from the mite is toxic to chicks.

The red mite lifecycle from egg to adult mite takes only seven to ten 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, found in the housing, particularly in crevices or on the eggs
  • Birds are often restless due to the irritation and may not want to go in the house
  • May cause anaemia (pale comb and wattles) and potentially death
  • Loss of condition
  • Drop in egg production
  • Blood spots on eggs
  • 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 as a preventative measure, 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 Disinfectant, not only is this a good disinfectant it has also shown to reduce red mite infestations.

Once dry, apply a liberal dusting of Diatomaceous Earth, particularly in the nest boxes and the perches. Put the fresh bedding in on top.

For treating and infestation use Dergall, which is a concentrated liquid which is mixed with water then sprayed onto the house. Dergall is a non-toxic product which destroys red mites by immobilisation. Using a treatment once every three to four weeks throughout the summer will keep red mites under control. Dergall has the great advantage of also destructing scaly leg mite and northern fowl mite.

Applying to the bird as a prevention or treatment

Diatomataceous Earth can be applied to the bird and to dust bathing areas. Pay particular attention to under the wings and the vent areas. Ivermectin 1% spot on drops, 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, to aid recovery; we recommend you use these for five days in the drinking water.

If you find your chickens 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. Red mites can be very persistent so it is important to make sure you remember to re-treat as they can get out of hand very quickly.