Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mites! Preventing & Treating these nasty parasites!

We've been blessed to maintain a pest free farm using all natural preventatives, good husbandry, and healthy nutrition in the past.  Diatomaceous Earth, Garlic, and proper feather care have been our best friends in preventing external parasites.  The best way to deal with mites and louse is to never need to deal with them at all.  Unfortunately, even the most careful of us will fight this battle!  Since keeping your flock free from mites and louse is important in maintaining the overall health of your chickens, if you do suffer an infestation, you'll need to deal with it immediately. 

External parasites decrease egg production, weight gain, disease resistance, and food intake.  In a worst case scenario they can cause death in their host birds, especially in bantam varieties.   One of the more common parasites, bite the birds with piercing mouth parts that irritate their skin and cause feather damage. 

Katie enjoying a dust bath
Tiger, Holly, & Chipmunk having some scraps
Proper housing and nutrition can help your chickens avoid and overcome external parasites.  Cleaning your coops and runs regularly, using DE, and a consistent, healthy diet with some treats, and avoiding or at least reducing the traffic of others visiting your flock, and being attentive to your flock all work towards a solid preventative management program.  

One of the most important aspects of a pest prevention program is to inspect your birds DAILY.  Look closely and ensure they're behaving normally.  Part their feathers and look for feces or "dirt" on your chickens.  You'll often see this around their belly or tail.  Around their eyes, vent, crests (especially in silkies they love to get into their crests and around their eyes and beard) the chicken may appear dusty and dirty (dingy looking) from the casings.  If your birds have crusty eyes in the winter without any appearance of respiratory illness, look for pests!  If you suspect mites but don't see any, you may be dealing with the Red Chicken Mite which come out at night.  If that's the case, head out to your coop with a flashlight and check your birds after dark.

You'll notice (below) symptoms on this poor Silkie hen (we obtained from someone who did not maintain the quality of care she deserved).  Look at her eye- notice the yellow crust in the corner?  This is after I'd applied hot compresses to it.  Her crest is sparse and dingy as is her poor beard.  We were originally told this bird was in a molt so to expect her crest to be, "a little light."  This poor girl wasn't molting, she was suffering from a mite infestation and we were shocked, to say the least upon her arrival.  That, folks, is for another post, however.

Cleaning your coop regularly and keeping it sanitized is a huge deterrent.  Normally, we clean and sanitize the coops, removing all nesting materials, and being careful to clean well in corners and cracks.  I then add a layer of Diatomaceous Earth (often referred to as DE)  to the coop before reapplying the new nesting material (we use pine chip flakes.)  Just ensure that the DE you purchase is "Food Grade", it should state it on the label.

We always add DE inside their runs, coops and nesting boxes to help avoid the nasty bugs. DE is safe, effective, and environmentally friendly. The DE controls the northern fowl mites when applied externally. We've found it to be effective in fly control and other pests as well, especially in the hot, humid summer months here in Virginia.  

Dust bathing is one of your chickens' best defenses to maintaining good feather health and staying parasite-free.  It's an enjoyable experience for your chickens and great entertainment for their owners.  Our birds love to roll around coat their feathers in DE mixed in with some good, dry earth. It always amazes us to see just how much of it they tuck under their wings during their rolling. After they've coating themselves, allowing the dirt to asphyxiate the pests, they'll finish off by gathering feather oil and preening themselves and sometimes each other to spread that oil back on their feathers.  Ensure you provide your flock with space and material to dust bathe regularly. 

Flossie, Katie, Tiger, & Stella clucking happily over a sweet dust bath spot they found.
DE is also great to add to their feed.  We provide our chickens with the appropriate commercial feed for their age and mix in garlic as well as DE to help prevent mites.  Up until this recent incident, it's always worked for us in combination with the tips listed above. 

Now- what happens when you still manage to get mites?  In our case, Northern Fowl Mites?  First, remember, "It's okay."  I know it's upsetting, trust me!  In all this time I've been proud to say we have managed our flock well with organic and all natural products combined with good husbandry and never had a problem.  Unfortunately, it happens to the most careful of us.  We brought our mites back with us from another flock.  Yes, we quarantine but that's for another post.  This post is about dealing with the "situation" when you've done your job but the pests still get in.

First and foremost you still have to clean and sanitize your coops and runs.  Yes, I know, once you know the birds have mites, it's no fun.  My head felt itchy and I had the "creepy crawly" (as my kids would say) feelings on my arms the entire process until we were complete!  It's important to clean really well!    While our chickens were out free ranging, I cleaned and sanitized the coop and nest boxes being careful to hit the corners and crevices where the bugs like to hide really well .  One of the best products out there for sanitizing chicken coops, cages, and runs is Oxine.  We also use Oxine when we attend shows and I talk about it in my Poultry Show Series.

Once I was certain the coops and nest boxes were well cared for, it was time to put down my insecticide.  Make sure whatever insecticide you choose that it's safe and approved for a poultry population.  You can check with your local University or County Extension Poultry Specialist.  For us, this time instead of laying down DE after I'd cleaned, I sprayed ours well with Sevin.  You can also purchase the Sevin dust and sprinkle it throughout your coops. I know- I'm not a fan of chemicals, you'll know this but once I knew we had mites, I had to do what was necessary to responsibly care for our flock. I coated the walls, floors, roosts, every crack, crevice, and corner with the Sevin spray thoroughly   Then I waited for it to dry.  Even more fun is cleaning out the runs.  We raked and cleared the straw and pine shavings from each of our runs and followed up again with the Sevin insecticide spray while the chickens were OUTSIDE of the area free ranging.  I personally do NOT use the Sevin on my chickens or in the coop or runs when they are in there.  I know other breeders that do, it's just a preference for me.  I'm not a veterinarian nor chemist so I can only offer what we've personally tried for our flock. 

While the Sevin was drying, it was time to work on the birds.  You're going to want to clean your birds.  If it's cold outside like it is here, you're going to need time and space to dry them well.  It won't do any good to rid your babies of mites only to put them back outside wet and freezing for them to get sick or die.  We used the blue Dawn dish washing detergent on our birds.  Dawn has been used by farmers for generations to kill and rid their birds of nasty parasites like fleas, mites, and louse.  It worked well for us.  There are insecticide shampoos at pet stores and the vets office you may inquire about.  As I've said, the less chemicals the better and Dawn has worked well so we stuck with the old standby.  If you've never washed or bathed your birds before, you can learn how by reading Briana's post here.  The difference was I used Dawn and it's colder now so we took extra care in drying them.  You may not be able to dry them all so having a warm room or brooder to put them in while they finish drying for a few hours is most helpful.  It also gives you time to finish up with the nest boxes, coops, and runs. 

DE sprinkled in coop after Sevin has dried and starting to add the pine shavings
While my girls were drying the chickens, Chance and I went back out to finish their living quarters.  We added new DE back in the coop, nest boxes, and throughout the runs and topped it off with all new pine shavings for a clean, warm, pest-free area.  At this point, we were feeling much better about our farm area again. 

To better control the Frontline spray, I put it in a dropper for application.
Once the chickens were fluffy and dry- and beautifully clean- we used our insecticide that goes on the chickens.  We consulted with Dr. Peter Brown aka, "The Chicken Doctor" who has always been such a blessing to us and helped us with our flock.  He suggested the Frontline Spray for the treatment on our chickens.  It doesn't take much, only 4-8 drops depending on the size of your chicken.  We used a drop at the back of their head (in their crest but not too close to their eyes/face), a drop under each wing, a drop above their tail head, and a final drop below their tail head.  Be very careful not to get the medicine in or near the vent area.  Some breeders choose not to use Frontline on male breeders because there have been rumors of infertility in the males on Frontline.  We haven't experienced this problem, but again contact your vet or Dr. Brown for advice if you're unsure.

Katie towel drying while waiting for her turn under the blow dryer
Once the runs, coop, and nest boxes were all clean, sanitized and sprayed with the insecticide and the chickens were also clean, dry, and had received their treatment, they went happily back out to their living quarters.  Almost immediately they seemed perkier, scavenging around in their clean runs (making a quick mess of it right away!), chirping loudly to each other, and seeming to feel frisky all cleaned up.  I know I feel better and now don't have that creepy crawly feeling anymore!  I'm happy to say our hard work paid off and we are mite free again!  My plan is to use the treatment again in 30 days and then see where the weather and the birds take us from there.  I would love to go back to our holistic, natural husbandry methods and my goal is to do that, I just need to be certain that our flock is cared for properly and safe from re-infestation first.  I'm so delighted to be back to our "old selves" and our chickens healthy and comfortable! 

Love & Blessings,



  1. Thank you, Tiffany, for a thoughtful, important post. I'm wondering about egg use after the Frontline, I'm assuming you must a wait a bit? Glad you were able to get rid of your "bugs". What a job, though!

  2. Thank you, Meredith and great question! It's a question that has been floating around many of the breeder and show boards recently. With this time of year, it seems the Northern Fowl Mite is at it's worst and there are many discussions concerning it. I personally wait the 30 days before eating the eggs. Many, many (a surprising number, in fact) breeders have stated they eat thier eggs and have not had any problems. I think I prefer to wait this time because I do like the organic side of things for our food so it's more natural in my opinion. If we get to our 30 days and we have to reapply, then I may consult our vet or Dr. Peter Brown and get more information. With the health conditions in my home, I think we'll wait. Since egg production is down here right now for many of our laying breeds it's perfect timing!

  3. There would be no withdrawl time on eggs using Frontline. It is not systemic and is not in the hen. It is on the skin.