Sunday, 12 June 2016

Chicken doctoring: Part II. Mites

If you keep chickens chances are you will encounter mites. Tiny little pests that can cause a surprising amount of harm to your flock. There are two types that really go for poultry: red mites (blood suckers) and scaly leg mites (burrow under leg scales).

Red mites

Red mites can live for months on a single feast of chicken blood. They will hide in any nook or cranny they can find in the hen house and come out at night to suck blood.

Easy-clean hen house
The easiest way to deal with these is to get a the most mite-unfriendly hen house you can find, i.e. one that is easy to disassemble and power-wash and doesn't offer any hidey holes for the mites. We upgraded from a large wooden hen house to a small plastic one for this reason. The wooden one took hours and hours to clean and disinfect and even then the mites still had plenty of secure places to hide!

Now we simply power-wash the hen house components twice a year and haven't had any outbreaks since.

The hens deal with this problem by copious dust bathing. You can help them along by adding some good natural ingredients to their favourite dust-bathing spots, namely diatomaceous earth and wood ash. A good cheap source of diatomaceous earth is 'Fuller's earth'-type cat litter.

Scaly leg mites

Check their legs for mites periodically
You can spot this on the chicken legs quite easily: the scales become raised, when they normally lie flat and smooth. If this is left untreated chickens can become lame. Luckily treatment is cheap and easy. The course of treatment lasts 12 weeks. Dunk their legs in vegetable oil once weekly for weeks 1 to 4, then again once in weeks 8 and 12 to make sure the mites are gone. It's a little bit time-consuming catching all the hens and they don't appreciate their dunking, but this method works very well by smothering the mites in the oil.

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