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.

How to check for mites

Red mite sign ash under the perch ediblebackyard nz

Ash like markings indicate mites live here

Put on your head torch and your glasses cause mites are only 1mm, 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 only into 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

ply chookhouse

We have 2 chook houses. A summer house. And a winter house. I forgive you for scoffing and thinking I’m OTT – if you ever get mites you’ll get it. The idea here is to deprive the mites of their food source.

Red mites can last 8 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 once a season
  • keep an eye on chook health
  • check regularly for mites in the house
  • anti parasitic herbs in forage and strewing
  • dust baths

Moving and cleaning

Our chooks get about 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 them when no 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.

If you have a bad infestation of 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

Another pair of hands are handy here – one to hold and one to dust. 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 a new home

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.
  • Trim flight feathers on one wing if needed to prevent flying over the fences.

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

The next day, dig all the poopy sawdust out of the empty house 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

chook house clean

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 is cute as – its a devil to clean.

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

Anti parasitic herbs

wormwood door

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 guards the door from our sawdust yard to run – the chooks have to brush through it to come and go.

Dustbathsdustbath1

Dustbaths are a key part of chook health. This is how they clean and preen and eliminate parasites. Though red mites don’t live on the chook, there are sometimes the odd hangers on.