Are you suffering from re-occurring red ‘mitemares’?!
Although an incredibly difficult problem to solve 100%, this month through practical advice and my own experiences, I’ll be aiming to get you as close to that goal as possible and hopefully have you sleeping a bit easier!
Red Mite Under Microscope
What is Red Mite?
I guess any new poultry keepers reading this may well be wondering what we are talking about here, well, we are talking about (in my opinion): ‘poultry enemy No.1’ – The Red Spider Mite.
I have recently upgraded the ranking of this little blighter to the top as I honestly believe it to be a more formidable opponent for the birds and us, than Mr Fox. We will be covering how to keep your flock safe from the fox very soon, so, for now, you will have to take my word for it! When we get to it, you will see that though the fox carries quite a reputation for death and destruction in the world of poultry (particularly for back garden keepers), it is actually a lot easier to deal with than the red spider mite.
Firstly, what is a red spider mite? Not to be confused with the red ‘aphid’ spider mite (lives on plants, feeds on sap & basically safe), our mite is a blood consuming external parasite, similar in principle to a ‘tick’, however, not living on its host, but attaching for just 1-2 hours, usually during the night. It then returns to the cracks and crevices of the poultry house to digest the blood meal, ready to repeat the process the following night. They do of course take the time to breed (rather a lot!), and poo! As it happens, red mite poo is nothing to be sniggering about, it is in fact, one of the only clear indicators that you actually have red mite in your poultry house, I’ll explain in just a moment. The birth to breeding cycle of red spider mite is around 7-10 days, though can be much less in most favorable conditions. Their eggs are laid within those perfect ‘nooks and crannies’ inside the coup, out of our sight, hatching within 2-3 days, and able to take their first blood meal within 24 hours of hatching.
Are ‘red mites’ red?
If you were to drop a biro point down onto a piece of paper, the dot produced would be the size of an average red spider mite. They begin life quite a bit smaller, just like a speck of dust, pale greyish green to olive in colour, only obtaining their namesake colour red once the have consumed there first blood meal, then, with the blood shining through their thin skin, become more visible to our eyes. More mature adults (7 days +), after subsequent blood meals can turn darker red though to black. At Mantel Farm, we deal regularly with people struggling against red mite within their flocks. It is quite common, especially in new keepers arriving in our shop for advice, describing little crawly things in the coup that are ‘definitely not red mite’, as they are grey, green or black, not red!
So how do you know if you have red mites?
People often ask me how would they know when they have red mite in their poultry coup? I think the truth is that in most cases this question gets answered (‘the hard way’) long before it gets asked. Normally though lack of knowledge (reading/research), most are generally unaware that such problems exist. Finding out the hard way is generally during egg collection or cleaning out, when you suddenly have loads of crawly itchy things running up your arms, or if you are seriously unlucky, having stuck your head inside the coup for whatever reason, they have showered down into your hair, anyone reading this who’s experienced that, knows exactly what I'm talking about! Exclaiming that they weren't there yesterday won’t help, the fact is, they were, you just didn't notice!
So, what about that red mite poo we laughed about earlier?, It appears as ash/dust like markings around the edges of the cracks and crevices, often referred to as ‘salt n’ pepper’ makings, the only real daytime indicator that mite are present. Another indicator is the state of your birds health, though realising that your birds are looking lethargic and pale-faced – anemic, can often be too late, at this stage the birds are often on the brink of death, having had the life literally sucked out of them! Indeed if they seem reluctant to go into their coup at night, trying to roost up outside, have a thought before you force them in – there mite be a reason why!, you would be shutting them in for yet another night of torture!
Battling the mite
The red mites rate of reproduction combined with its ability to survive our efforts to eradicate them, make for a proper battle.
Here at Mantel Farm, we have spent many years battling this very annoying pest, after so many years, we are proud to be in a position where we feel we have the situation ‘under control’. We say similar with respect to foxes and rats, indeed, we would be lying to our customers if we said that Mantel Farm was ‘red mite free’! Though I think what we can say is that there’d be a challenge for you to find some here you would be needing a pry-bar a magnifying glass and some spare time! So, how have we achieved this???
How do they arrive?
Prevention is always better than cure, I firmly believe that all poultry keepers should behave as if they have red mite in all their poultry houses, treating them all regularly, thereby undertaking a regular course of preventative action... just in case! I'm often asked where red mite come from, how do they arrive in one's poultry house, or, what brings them in? The truth is, there are lots of possibilities, some say ‘wild birds’, some say ‘chicken to chicken’, some say on second-hand housing and equipment, and some say lots of other stuff! No one can be totally sure, earlier on I compared them to specks of dust, undoubtedly at that level they could even be carried on the wind. My belief now, how and where is irrelevant, I think we should expect the worst when considering red mite and act accordingly – Prevention!
Red Mite Nooks and Crannies
Be careful where you dispose of cleaned out material
Paramount, is ensuring proper disposal of the cleaned out material – particularly when you know for definite that red mites are present in the poultry house. Just throwing it on your compost heap or chucking it into your brown wheelie bin, is often not the right answer. If the compost is too near to your birds, the mite will just migrate straight back! Also, that wheelie bin lid really does not fit tight enough to keep those tiny mites in! Even inside a black bin liner with the top tied up is no barrier to a very small red mite following the scent of a chicken! You really do need to make sure bags are sealed, composts are a proper good distance away (or dig a hole in the compost and bury the material some way down).
Remember - Red Mite can escape from bins too!
Red mites are generally more active during the warmer months, though with our climate ever-changing it becomes harder to say in which months to concentrate the anti-red mite measures. Starting no later than April I would recommend after each cleanout (generally once a week), a thorough spraying with an anti-red mite proprietary liquid. Our recommended product being Poultry Shield, we've used it for many years and trust it to do the job. It doesn't contain poisons and can even be used in organic production systems. It is bio-degradable and has a low odour. It is important to concentrate efforts on perching rails (especially support sockets), nesting boxes and all corners (not forgetting the rest of the indoor accommodation!) It is essential that you use enough liquid to penetrate all the cracks and crevices. I tell the lads here, that if it’s not dripping out the bottom, then they haven’t used enough! (It really isn't the area to make a saving on).
Please take note, if you like to use a jet wash to wash out your poultry house, often employed by people to ‘blast the little blighters out’, then that’s fine, BUT, not before thoroughly applying the Poultry Shield (or other) and allowing to soak for an hour or so. If one jet washes first, then most of the red mite are just washed out of the poultry house and the majority climb back aboard later once ‘the dust has settled!’
My favored alternatives are either bonfire (though I'm aware this is not possible in many areas), or removal from the property.
Apply anti-red mite powder
Once the coup is dry (or as dry as practicably possible) from the application of Poultry Shield, I would recommend a good application of a proprietary anti-red mite powder.
Red Mite Droppings
In last months’ article, we looked at dealing with fleas and lice, one of the best products for which being ‘Diatomaceous Earth’ (Diatom or DE for short). This product is also my recommended anti-red mite powder. The powder works by dehydrating the red mite. By applying the powder liberally around the inside of your birds housing, nesting boxes & perches, it will be possible to tackle red mite, fleas and lice all at the same time, ideal!
I did read an article in a magazine some time ago saying that it was a bad idea to use straw as bedding in poultry housing as ‘all those little tubes’ make a labyrinth of hidey-holes for red spider mite. I have to disagree with the writer, as I would consider that the more red mite hiding in the straw the better, as they will be leaving the house once a week during the cleanout for a date with the bin or better still the bonfire! If they weren't in that straw they’d be in the cracks and crevices! Personally, I favor wood shavings for poultry bedding, with a thin layer in the nest box with straw over the top (nest box only).
Myths of mites
Mythical history tells us that vampires are warded off by garlic, indeed regular inclusion of a garlic supplement such as ‘NopexBK’ tonic in the birds drinking water, during times of red mite infestation has been proven to help them repel these little ‘mini-vampires’, as they can detect the garlic in the bloodstream and are not too keen! We often use NopexBK in our water here at Mantel Farm as it has proven health benefits and should the odd stray red mite waltz in, it’d hopefully be waltzed back out even quicker!
When I started writing for Home Farmer magazine just two months ago, I know I did promise you the odd amusing situation story from our years at Mantel Farm relevant to the current month’s article. The truth is, I just can’t think of such a story relating to the jolly old red spider mite, the plain fact is, they’re just not funny! So, please keep soldiering on, do not give up the battle for the sake of your birds, you are responsible for their safety – at all times.
I think last month I did say I’d be covering a few other poultry pests as well as red spider mite, my apologies – I've run out of space, as it’s turned out, they are such a big subject, and apart from maybe the odd bit of waffle, there was a lot to cover on an incredibly important subject that all poultry keepers need to be well and truly on top of... so, stick to the plan, and hopefully no more ‘mitemares!’
Next month we’ll have a look at the bits that there wasn't space for this month - poultry problem-solving.