It’s red mite season – check your chookhouse!

chook weedersSummer is red mite season, so today I want to encourage you to check your chook house. Tonight! Without delay! Red mites are nocturnal parasities that live in the walls and come out at night to feed on your chooks. Little devils! Because they aren’t about in the daytime, you can have low level infestation without even noticing.

Super uncomfortable for your chickens and if left they can get pretty crook. Anaemia (which shows up as pale combs), off the lay, lost mojo and fluffed up in the corner are indications somethings not right.

Red mites are notoriously tricky to manage because they have such a tenacious grip on life. Even when deprived of a food source for a few months they will burst back to life the minute a live chicken/ bird comes along. Having had red mites once – I never want to go there again.

Prevention is way simpler than management.

First up: have you got mites or not?

Sadly, I have no red mite photos, but there are some good ones in this article here.

Put on your head torch and your glasses (cause mites are tiny, wee) and venture out to the chook house as late as you can handle.

Look for tiny, wee black or red critters moving over your chickens or on the house itself. Mites turn red when full of blood which is both gross and helpful cause it makes them easier to see at night. They show up well under torch light.

If they aren’t immediately obvious – dont stop looking. Run your finger all about – along the perches, ceilings and eggboxes. If they are in residence you will collect them on your finger. If you have an infestation they’ll be all over your arm as well. Ewwww. Luckily you can’t ‘catch’ them, they’re not into us – just birds. So that yuk feeling you have of being itchy all over is psychosomatic. Even still, have a shower 🙂

You may catch them dashing away from eggs/ laying chooks in the eggbox in the morning, but otherwise you wont see a thing by day. They’ve disappeared into the nooks and crannys and all that remains is a grey-ish fuzz on the walls.

Preventing red mites

2 chook houses

ply house

Summer ply chook house

We have 2 chook houses. A summer house. And a winter house. I forgive you for scoffing and thinking I’m OTT. The day will come when you have to manage mites and that day, you’ll reverse the scoff and see the wisdom of my ways. The idea here is to deprive the mites of their food source.

Red mites can last months without a feed so its important not to rely on this strategy alone. Along with 2 houses, here’s what I do to keep them at bay:

  • give the house a good clean and dust the chooks twice a year
  • keep a sharp eye on chook health
  • check regularly for mites in the house
  • use anti parasitic herbs in forage and strewing
  • daily dust baths

Moving and cleaning

Our chooks get 6 months in each house. We move them at night time when they are floppy and chill on their perches. It’s alot less stress for the girls when no chasing and dive bombing is involved.

Before they move into clean, fresh quarters the chooks are dusted with diatomaceous earth. DE is magic stuff for external parasites, it cuts through their outer shell and dehydrates them. DE can be used in all animal housing for external parasite (flea + lice) control. I love products that multi task!

This twice a year clean out is for prevention ok, not management. If you have mites you will need to spray the house then dust the birds and house weekly to keep up with new egg hatchings. I have known people with such grand infestations they’ve had to burn the house and rebuild.

How to dust your chooks

dusting chooks

Dusting with DE

Another pair of hands are handy here – one holds and one dusts. Lay the chook on a bit of fabric. Dust your chook front and back, getting right in under the feathers. Armpits (wing pits?), around the neck and be sure to get stuck into the backside, which as long your chooks are healthy, isn’t at all gross.

Be oh so gentle. Especially holding those delicate wings out. My girls are pretty relaxed about the whole affair, they only squawk and fluff when they are flipped on their back, but they settle down and chill out pretty quickly. I’ve made up a story that they enjoy the massage.

Though dust masks look gruesome it stops you getting chook lung. Jokes. But there is a thing called chicken dander and truth is we sneeze like heck after, so now we protect ourselves.

Do a quick health check while you’re at it

dusted and oiled

Dusted and oiled and ready for bed!

While your chook is captive, is a great opportunity to do an overall check up.

  • Check that they are a good, hearty weight. This is something you get to know over time which is why its important to handle them.
  • Part the feathers (especially round the rear end) and check for lice (who unlike mites, live on the chook). Looks like clusters of white eggs or little zoomy brown critters. Also managed with DE – love a 2 for one deal. If lice are present, dust with DE again in a week.
  • They should be bright eyed, alert and have a bright red comb.
  • Their nostrils should be dry and clean
  • Their backside should be clean as a whistle – pink not red and definately no crusty poop.
  • Check their legs for scaly leg mite. Healthy scales are kind of shiny and lie flat against the leg. When the mite burrows in the scales lift up and get crusty + scabby. I rub raw Neem into the legs for this. Go for it and get it right in there (don’t be a baby – its not contagious 🙂 ). Repeat as often as poss until the scales fall off and the legs go a healthy pink and start to heal. Scaly mite is pretty common, but no excuse – its super uncomfortable for the chicken who if left to it, ends up lame.

Aren’t we looking good. Dusted ✔ 6 monthly check up ✔ Clean house with fresh bedding ✔ No mites/ lice in this fine outfit.

A good clean

Once the chooks have left the building dig out out all the poopy sawdust and use it around the garden as needed or stockpile it for a rainy day.

Once emptied and swept, remove all removable parts (the ladder, perches and the bit of wood that stops the eggs rolling out), then thoroughly spray the house. Get the spray right into all the nooks and crannys and spray everything you’ve taken outside too.

When its time for the chooks to return, fill the house with fresh bedding then puff all over with diatomaceous earth.

A mite proof whare

Mites live in every nook and cranny, so the trick is to have as few as poss. Though my weatherboard house with its pohutukawa -branch perches looks cute as – its a devil to clean.

chook house clean

Mark #2 (aka the summer house) is made of ply with removable perches – heaps easier to clean and less places for mites to dive into.

Be wild bird and rat proof

Sparrows and rats are carriers of mites and disease. It makes sense to manage them. While its pretty impossible to keep wild birds away, you can minimise their numbers and impact by having a chook feeder with a lid and a sealed drinker.

As for rats – ideally we are all on the trapping buzz for our native birds and trees. If you have chickens, you have rats – no two ways about it. Keep bulk food supplies in lidded rubbish bins and as rats love a good egg feed, ensure chickens are laying in their houses and eggs are gathered daily. Like bees to honey – eggs to rats.

Anti parasitic herbs + dustbaths

Anti parasitic herbs like wormwood, southernwood, rue, tansy, marigold and rosemary, add another layer of protection. Grow them near doorways where the chickens brush past them regularly or use as a strewing herb on the chook house floors.

wormwood door

Chooks brush through the wormwood every day

Wormwood guards the door from our sawdust yard to run – the chooks have to brush through it every time.

Dustbaths are essential for chook health. This is how they clean and preen and eliminate parasites. Though red mites dont live on the chook, there are sometimes the odd hangers on.

Our chook timetable

chook forest

Summer chook run – in the forest!

We move the chooks early summer to their residence on the south fenceline which we’ve planted with flaxes, hoheria, alder, makomako, mapou, kawakawa and fivefinger. An awesome summer holiday for our chooks – plenty of bugs, plenty of good scratchable dirt and leaf litter, dust baths, shelter from hawks and plenty of shade.

Come late Autumn we dust and health check the girls and bring them back in the stealth of the night to their winter house, where they’re employed cleaning up the greenhouse + berryhouse + ocassional bed in the vegie patch.