Fighting Chicken Mites

Edie with her beard

Edie with her beard

I’ve been so ashamed to admit that my pampered, pet chickens have mites that until recently I haven’t told a sole. I’ve spent many, many late night hours searching through the archives of backyardchicken.com educating myself on how to spot them and how to get rid of them. There are many different schools of thought, which, although helpful, has added to my confusion on how to deal with the problem.

My battle started a few months ago when I noticed Edie’s luxurious beard getting a little mangy looking. I bought a bag of diatomaceous earth and sprinkled it liberally inside their coop. Diatomaceous earth or DE for short, is fossilized diatoms or a hard-shelled algae. It’s tiny edges abrade soft-bodied animals that come into contact with it causing them to die of dehydration. You use food-grade DE with chickens (non-food-grade is lethal) to kill mites, lice and to deter flies. Some gardeners also sprinkle the stuff around their plants to protect them from slugs. When using DE, you must wear a dust mask and eye protection.

I also read that you need to dust your chickens. What the heck does a city girl know about how to dust a chicken?! I immediately turned to the internet, which has never let me down until this point. I was told to hold them upside down by their legs and sprinkle the DE all over them. Under wings, by their vent (chicken speak for poop shoot) and around their neck. You can put the DE in the foot of a stocking and use it like a powder puff. I thought for sure that YouTube would have a video showing me how to do that, but they didn’t. They have lots of videos of chickens rolling around in the dirt taking a voluntary dust bath in case you are interested in that? No? Okay. I also read that you can put DE in a plastic bag, put the chicken into the bag up to its neck and then just shake the bag. One person on the chicken forum made the connection to Shake N’ Bake and I can’t get that image out of my mind now. Plus I can’t figure out how to do that without strangling your chicken.

We then proceeded to have the rainiest June I can remember. Every time I dusted the chickens (which consisted of me sprinkling DE on them and then trying to massage it under their feathers) and their run it would rain. DE doesn’t work when it gets wet. Gah. Edie started to look mangier and her egg production fell off. When she layed eggs, they were strange – bumps on the shells, soft-shells, no shells. She didn’t act sick, but I knew that there was a problem. I bought some Poultry Protector and sprayed it in their coop and on them. Poultry Protector is a natural enzyme that kills mites, but isn’t harmful to the birds or the environment.

But the rain continued and I didn’t get rid of the mites. Or at least Edie’s neck and eggs still were in bad shape. Getting rid of mites is a bit like fighting an invisible boogey man. I could never see them, but I knew they were there. I decided to use different products. I stepped up a rung on the toxic spray ladder and bought some permethrin. I draw the line at Sevin, which a lot of people use to great success. What killed the Sevin for me was the part on the warning label that says it kills bees. I couldn’t be a part of the collapse of the honey bee population. Permethrin is derived from plants, which makes it sound less toxic, although it too has a pretty long list of warnings on the bottle. I sprayed the coop after I cleaned it thoroughly and I also sprayed the wood chips in the run. I also sprayed a little on the girl’s tushes. I washed Edie’s tush because it was getting a little dirty looking. I was horrified to see lots of missing and broken feathers. See thoroughly gross photo…

broken and missing vent feathers

broken and missing vent feathers

feathers missing on the back of Edie's neck

feathers missing on the back of Edie’s neck

I also bought flea and tick shampoo and powder. My toxic arsenal was getting larger!! They both contain permethrin in their ingredient lists. A lot of chicken keepers have success bathing their chickens in flea shampoo, so I thought I would give that a try. You see, you have to continue battling the chicken mites for a while to break their egg cycle. These products kill the mites, but not the eggs, so you have to do a second or third (or in my case 45th) round to make sure you catch all the hatching mites. The discouraging part is that even though you might kill all the mites in your immediate coop area, some mites can live for 6 weeks off their host and can come back to re-infest your flock.

So here are some photos of Edie after her flea bath. I put her in my daughter’s Lego tub and then lathered her up on the patio. I rinsed her several times with warm water to get the shampoo off of her. You have to make sure when doing this that your bird doesn’t get chilled. Even though it was a very warm and sunny day, I could feel her shivering a bit. I toweled her off and held her in the sunshine until she was dry. As you can see, she was not happy at all about being shampooed.

chicken washing station

chicken washing station

an angry wet hen

an angry wet hen

I also just ordered plastic roosting posts from Omlet as I read that mites can hide in the tiny cracks in wooden posts. When those arrive I will do another entire breakdown, scrubbing and dusting of their coop and run. Edie’s neck still looks very mangy, but I think I see some feathers growing in. I’ve been feeding all the girls yogurt (probiotics) and cat food (protein to help re-grow feathers), which they devour with gusto.

fighting-mites_131

This has been a huge pain in the neck for both me and the hens and I hope I will get rid of the mites soon. Don’t worry about coming over, chicken mites don’t like humans. It’s just the thought of them that makes you itchy. And if someone wants to produce it with me, I think YouTube needs a video of how to dust a chicken.

Update: Since this post, I’ve learned that the mites do in fact bite humans. Many of my readers can vouch for that! And I did find YouTube videos for dusting a chicken. You can see some on my follow-up post here:

http://www.brooklynfeed.com/2011/05/dusting-your-chicken-for-mites/

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66 thoughts on “Fighting Chicken Mites

  1. I’m not sure what the availability of Ivomectin is in Australia. Try searching online to see if there’s a source via the internet in Australia.

    Since making this post, I have learned from readers that mites do attack humans. Most sources online state otherwise. But enough of that, let’s figure this out. Basically you can treat your home like you would for fleas to get rid of the mites. You may be able to put some sort of flea spray on your arms while handling your chickens. Just read the label to make sure it’s okay for people and skin first please! You can wash your hens in a flea shampoo for pets, but I found that didn’t help in the long run. Besides they don’t really like getting wet and you have to make sure they dry without getting chilled.

    Many people use Sevin dust with great results. I didn’t like all the environmental warning labels on the box. Too scary for me.

    You should clean out any and all bedding and straw. Never use straw, by the way. Use hay, which doesn’t have a hollow shaft – the perfect hiding place for mites. I just had a reader get an infestation from a bale of straw she put in.

    You can use diotomaceous earth (food grade only!) to dust your hens. Take a peek at the videos on this post to see how it’s done.
    http://www.brooklynfeed.com/2011/05/dusting-your-chicken-for-mites/

    Let me know what you find in your area and how you are doing in the war against the awful critters.

  2. I am currently fighting this AWFUL battle and I am about at my wit’s end! I called a retired ag teacher and he said to try Sulpher on them. He said that I should be careful and not get it in my eyes..I have used D.E. powder now for at least a month and I can’t tell that it has helped much. All my animals, including me, have had enough of these blasted irritating minute monsters! I don’t want to use Seven dust, but, if the Permethrin doesn’t stop this, I am going to do whatever I have to do. I have dairy goats, dogs, cats, chickens and donkeys and they all seem affected.! Pray for me! Thanks! I appreciate your post.

  3. I highly recommend Ivomectin/Eprinex drops. It is sold for cattle, so you just put 2-4 drops on the scruff of your chicken’s necks (fewer drops for smaller chickens)

    Good luck! Mites are absolutely no fun.

  4. I totally agree regarding Ivermectin…. I have been using this on my chickens, ducks, geese with great success. We also totally spray the coop with maldison, then lime the area, all the kids are left outside all day so everything settles before they are put to bed in the evening.
    Another thing is replacing as much of the wood perches and laying boxes with plastic replacements.
    I have just ordered DE so am so excited to try this.

  5. I forgot to add, I also live in Sth East Queensland and have found flea bombs for the house when these little buggers invade the home an absolute must, also exposing any bedding to direct sunlight.
    Finally I must say that I enjoy your site. Great advice

  6. I use the eggs . what about ivomectin do you have to withhold the eggs .The chickens bodies are different than cows on withhold.

  7. As far as I know there haven’t been any studies done on ivomectin persistence in chicken’s eggs. I toss the eggs for 2 weeks. Grudgingly. I usually try and time the ivomectin dosing with a time the chickens aren’t laying. :-)

  8. We had a BAD infestation of mites the first year we owned backyard chickens. We didn’t know to look for them, and I didn’t realize there was a problem until I noticed the “dust” in the coop was moving… YUCK! The place was completely covered, the chickens had stopped laying in the boxes and started laying all over the run. Their combs were turning pinkish, and got some black spots on the ends. There were also mites in the chicken food bins, it is easy to get cross-contamination issues.

    We had made the decison to not use chemicals of any kind. It does take more work, but I felt much better about what I was doing to the chickens, myself and the environment. I realize sometimes these techniques would not work for some people who have many chickens and many coops to worry about.

    Firstly, we pulled all the wood pieces (nesting boxes and posts) and bedding completely out of the chicken area, and burned it all.

    Then we sprayed down the entire coop building, from top to bottom, with warm lemon water, about 2 part water, 1 part lemon juice. You could throw some citronella essential oil in there too, if you have some. Then we used a shop broom and scrubbed the walls a bit. WEAR A FULL FACE MASK, or at least mouth and eye guards, lemon water in the eyes isn’t pleasant.

    Then we sprinkled DE all over the coop floor, and all over the dirt ground of the run.

    We caught every chicken individually, held her by the legs upside down, and sprayed the lemon water into her feathers. (Do not use the citronella on the chicken’s bodies, if you plan to use it on the housing area.) It takes a few seconds per chicken, and the most time is spent chasing them :)

    Three days later, we caught them all again, and dusted them with DE.

    Three days later, the lemon spray again, etc.

    I think we did the lemon spray and DE 2 or 3 times each.

    When we were finished, the mites were gone.

  9. I have also had this awful mite problem,as you say the thought makes you itch,we have kept chickens for about 7 years and never had a problem but my daughter went on a two week holiday. and I did not let them out of the run because of the foxes which come along at all times and suddenly the chickens combs went very pale and the old chicken which w as about 6 years old became hunched and I thought it was just old age but she died and the next day a young chicken also died when we looked close the plastic igloo was alive with tiny black mites we stripped the plastic igloo and washed it with the hose plus bleach and powder from the chicken supplier but then we found them on ourselves and under the watch straps and they had even got into the children’s bed sheets so every thing has had to be washed down to the covers on the bed mattresses plus the pug dog it has been an absolute pain!!!!

  10. Please can someone help im at my wits end with these mites cant seem to get rid of them they have come into the house I have many bites all over my body and come up in big welts I think I have an allergy to them ,I have washed all the chooks and the coops but my house is riddled cant sleep, so please any advice would be much appreciated

  11. I’ve been battling mites as well and it’s awful for my chickens, dog, parrots and myself. The bites last for at least three weeks and itch and hurt the entire time.
    I’ve tried everything which includes, DE, Scatt, Ivermectin, Sevin dust and spray. I’ve scrubbed the coop over and over. I had an infestation 5 years ago and the products that worked then, do not work now. Finally, out of desperation, I sprayed the hens and the dog with Frontline Spray. For the first time in weeks, I didn’t see mites on the chickens today when I inspected them. My old hen, [10 yrs] even has some of the color coming back to her comb.
    On myself, apple cider vinegar when applied to the bites, does take the itch and pain away. I mixed 50% AC to 50% water. I suspect it would help bite ridden chickens too.

  12. Wow, I can’t believe the Ivermectin didn’t work. That works for me every time, although fortunately I’ve never had the mites leave the hens and jump onto us. I would freak out and try anything. Glad that the Frontline has done the trick. And glad your hens are already showing that they are less stressed.

  13. We have mites in our home. Originally we noticed them after the barn swallows left in late summer. Our chickens are also infected now. I’m trying to find information on how to get rid of the mites. This site has been very helpful. I have stumbled on one solution for mites that get on my skin. I use coconut oil as a moisturizer on my skin and I noticed the itching stopped for quite a while when I applied it. On areas that seem to have the most itiching I also apply tea tree oil over the coconut oil. (Tea tree oil can be irritating if not diluted a bit). Next I need to treat my chickens with something.

  14. Thanks for the tips on helping mite bites on humans. I’ve been fortunate to not have had them come indoors. Having a dust bath available to them has helped tremendously, although it is packed away during all of our snow. I’m a huge fan of ivermectin (for the chickens), although one reader said it didn’t work for them.

  15. I also was battling mites on my broody girls……. Took 3 day old coals from my fireplace. Crushed it up and gave them a bath in them…. Then gave them. Bath in flea and tick shampoo. Both girls are happy Nd healthy….. Sprayed their nests with Lysol and flea and tick shampoo. Haven’t seen them back yet?!!!!!

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