Mites and Chickens
Today, as Denise and I were giving the chickens some treats from the daily harvest, Denise said, “Why does her butt look so dirty?”
I didn’t want to think there was a problem at first, but after further inspection, I knew we had a problem. Her butt did look dirty. The tail feathers around our big blonde bird looked dirty and matted. This particular chicken has always been somewhat sickly. She will show signs of sickness, where the others will be fine. Chickens are like people in that way, you can have a chicken that is sickly, and it has nothing to do with how you are caring for her. In the wild, she would have already been naturally selected to death, but I have chosen to keep her around. I like her, she has a really docile disposition, and she is always at my feet. In fact, she likes to stand on my boots, and walk between my legs. Of course it doesn’t surprise me that she is the one showing symptoms of mites or lice.
The first thing I needed to do was to determine what the cause of the dirty looking matted feather was. I went back to my old chicken article on mites and lice from April, and I did some additional research. My initial inclination was mites or lice. With mites, there are three types to be concerned about, Chicken Mites, Scaly Leg Mites, and Northern Fowl Mites. I ruled out Northern Fowl Mites right away, because they are active in the winter. I ruled out Scaly Leg Mites, because her legs looked fine. So I was left with lice or chicken mites.
I checked her dirty feathers closer, and upon closer inspection, I did not see any lice, or louse egg masses at the base of the feathers. I did notice that the comb and waddles of all the chickens were a little duller than usual. This is a symptom of Chicken Mites. So after further inspection, I was leaning towards Chicken Mites. At this point, I thought it best to clean their coop and equipment, as that would be a necessary step whether they had lice or mites. I normally keep a piece of plywood under their coop to collect their manure for deposit in the garden. When I pulled this out, I saw tons of mites scurrying about. It was gross. I cleaned out the coop, and I dusted it with a Sevin dust. As you know, I am not a fan of chemicals, but the natural alternative only stops the breeding, and I felt that the damage could really hurt her if I did not act now. So, I am not perfect in my permaculture quest of being 100% chemical free. I will continue to strive for that goal though. I do need to think of natural ways to keep this from happeing in the future. Having roosting bars that are not made of wood is an idea, or coating the wood roostng bars periodically with linseed oil, or maybe spreading diatomaceous earth around the coop.
With Chicken Mites, you only need to clean their coop and equipment, because they live in the cracks and crevices of your coop, and feed on the chicken’s blood at night while they are sleeping. During the day, the mites are not on the chickens. With Northern Fowl Mites you must treat the coop and the birds. Below is part of my article from earlier this year on mites and lice.
There are three types of mites that most effect poultry:
Chicken or Red Mites:
-Active in warm climates in summer
-Feed at night on the chickens, hide in the roosting bars and coop during the day
-Look like tiny black or red specks on the chickens
-Control with thorough cleaning of coop, nest, and roosting bars, followed by a miticide dusting
Northern Fowl Mites:
-Active in cool climates in winter
-Causes scabby skin and dark feathers around vent
-May see tiny specks crawling on birds or eggs during the day
-Dust birds and nests with miticide immediately
Scaly leg mites:
-Burrow under the chicken leg scales
-Causes scales to stick out, and chicken to walk stiff
-Control by applying a mixture of one part kerosene to two parts linseed oil, and coat legs daily with Vaseline daily for 2 weeks
Don’t forget poultry lice:
-Chewing, small wingless insect that will feed on dry scales and feathers
-Chickens will pull out their own feathers to stop the irritation
-Result is feathers look dull and rough
-You can see straw colored bug moving on chicken’s skin
-You will also see scabby dirty areas around vent and tail, and masses of louse eggs
-Control with a delousing product approved for chickens, applied to coop, nests, roosts, and chickens. Also, make sure to remove old feathers
-This will need to be redone 7 days later, then 7 days later again. This will insure newly hatched lice are taken care of as well
If chickens are left untreated, the results can be a general weakening, lower egg production, loss of appetite, lethargy, and possibly death. Your chickens should be active all day, if they are not moving much, there may be something wrong.
Products for miticide control:
Sevin dust is effective in killing existing mites, and can be applied safely to the coop and birds, but must be reapplied for any eggs that hatch.
Poultry protector is a natural alternative if you do not want to use chemicals. Potassium sorbate is the active ingredient. It will not kill the mites, but it will inhibit their reproduction. This requires frequent application to birds and coop.
***As with any chemicals, please read label for instructions on safe application
Monitoring your flock for any of the symptoms, and acting quickly if an infestation occurs is the best way to manage these pests.