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Our ultimate guide to red mite

Summer is here, which means al fresco dining and beach days for us but, sadly, it brings with it unwanted visitors for our hens. 

Red mites are the bane of a hen keeper’s life and, if not dealt with quickly enough, can cause serious health implications for our pet hens. However, with some preventative action it is possible to keep red mites away or, at the very least, under control. 

These pests are yellowy-brown in colour, becoming red after feeding on the blood of your hens. They are almost invisible to the naked eye (0.6 to 1mm) and live in cracks, crevices and on perches during the day and feed on hens at night.  

You may notice your hens scratching and feather pecking and in extreme cases, their combs and wattles will be pale due to anaemia. The most obvious sign of red mite infestation is your hens’ reluctance to enter their coop and/or a change in their perching habits; this is because they know there’s something in there causing irritation.  

Red mite is easily spread by wild birds but can also be introduced through newly purchased stock or second-hand housing. 

Preventing red mite 

  1. Routine cleaning avoids a build-up of dirt and dust in the corners of hen houses where red mite love to hide. Cleaning this away stops them congregating and means your hens can sleep safe in the knowledge they won’t get a peck in the night. 
  1. Quarantining new hens minimises the chance of red mite spreading between the two flocks, as well as making the transition easier for your new pets. 
  1. Use Diatomaceous Earth in your hen house, paying particular attention to the cracks and crevices. The powder will scratch the mites’ waxy outer shell causing them to dehydrate and die. 
  1. Encourage regular dust bathing by providing a space for your hens to do this. Adding Diatomaceous Earth into the soil is a great way of allowing the hens to treat themselves for red mite too. 
  1. Keep your hens’ feed under cover or do what you can to stop wild birds accessing it – a common way of your hens picking up red mite is through contact with wild birds. 
  1. Change your clothes if you’ve been to visit a fellow hen keeper, just in case they unknowingly have a case of red mite. 

How to spot red mite 

Now we know how to keep red mite at bay, but if they’ve still worked their way in, how do you spot them? If you’ve got an infestation in your hen house the first sign will be a reluctance by your hens to go into it at nighttime, but there are ways and means of discovering these pesky critters before things get that serious. 

Pop a square of white towelling in the corner of your hen house – if it turns a reddish-brown colour by morning well, yep you guessed it, red mite are the cause. You can also run your finger along the underside of perches, being mindful of splinters. If red mite are present you will either have smears of blood on your hand or live mites. 

Getting rid of red mite 

So, you’ve identified a red mite problem in your coop. What’s next? It’s important to mention here that, while not impossible, it’s very hard to eradicate red mite completely; they breed quickly during warm weather. 

That said, following the steps below will remove as many of them as possible and bring the situation back under control, making life easier and more pleasant for your hens.  

  1. Clean clean clean – sweep out all the bedding in the hen house and strip it of as much material as you possibly can. Remove as many parts of the coop as possible, such as perches, pop holes and anything else that will unscrew easily. 
  1. Treat the whole hen house, and the parts you took out, with a red mite spray such as Chicken Vet’s Dergall concentrate or Nettex Total Mite Kill Spray and leave this to soak for 10-15 minutes. 
  1. Then, power wash the entire house, getting into every nook and cranny as best you can, before leaving it to dry. 
  1. Check the house again for mites and repeat the process if you see any still lurking. 
  1. Once it is entirely dry you can dust the house with Diatomaceous Earth, a non-toxic powder which will kill any remaining mites. 

We would advise wearing old clothes and washing these immediately after cleaning your hen house, as well as taking a shower yourself. Red mite can remain on you and your clothing for some time, causing irritation if not removed. 

As with any pests, prevention is key, so make sure you take as much action as possible to avoid these little critters making their way into your hen house this summer. 

For more support on this, please call our Hen Helpline on 01884 860084. 

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