Red mites are the bane of many poultry keeper’s lives and I have tried many ‘lotions and potions’ over the years to rid my own coops of the dreaded red mite.
This summer (2011), I was intrigued to hear about a ‘predator mite’ that could be introduced into the coop and will eat red mite for breakfast… lunch… and dinner! In fact, they sounded like the perfect solution to my red mite problems so I thought it was well worth checking these hungry little fellas out!
The predator mites in my trial were supplied by St David’s Poultry (AKA Chickenvet) and I am grateful to them for supplying the mites and providing the necessary information to me.
Replacing one mite with another?
The first thing that sprang into my head was that in adding another mite to the chicken coop, I might just replace one mite problem with another. Well, thankfully not. The predator mite is very easily killed compared to the red mite and any of the normal red mite treatments will kill them off, however we wouldn’t want to do that, so in fact, it is important NOT to have treated the coop with any of the usual paraphernalia of treatments so that the predators can live as long as possible, killing off red mite as they go. Once the food supply is removed, the predator mites will die within 7 days and once the cold weather arrives, they also die so there is no fear of them turning into a plague in the coop or anything like that. Predator mites aren’t good with water either so if you want to get rid of them, wash the coop out with water.
The key to success
For the predator mites to work, there are some very important points to keep in mind. These mites aren’t half as resilient as the red mite so if you get it wrong, they won’t survive. The predators arrive in a sealed pack, held within a substrate that looks very much like potting compost. A comprehensive instruction sheet comes with them which details some very important points that MUST be followed for them to be effective. Combined with what I have learned, here are the key points you need to know:
- You must not have used red mite treatments in the chicken house for 4 weeks prior to introducing the red mite. The coop should have been hosed out during this time too so that products such as Diatomacious Earth or Red Mite Powder are washed away.
- You must use the predators immediately upon arrival. They can only survive a short time without a feed and will starve if you delay distributing them.
- Predatory Mites need to be kept warm. Ideally between 8 and 20 degrees C. Above 30 degrees (not much fear of that in the UK) will kill them, as will low temperatures.
- You must introduce the mites evenly around the coop but not in deep litter. Concentrate on the cracks and crevices as well as nestboxes, perch ends and under feed containers. Red mite are usually found near to chickens where they roost at night.
- You shouldn’t clean the house for a couple of weeks. Removing the litter will remove the predators too. Pick droppings out rather than clean out.
- Make sure there are no wet floors or leaky drinkers – they do not tolerate getting wet.
Before I treated my chicken coop, I had a close look at the predators on a sheet of paper and took a few photographs of them. The photograph at the beginning of this article is one of the macro photos I took of an adult red mite (after a blood feed) and a predator mite. You can see from this, the predators are smaller than the red mites and this makes them very hard to see in the supplied substrate (which looks like and probably is garden compost).
If you look very carefully at the supplied bag through the clear window, you can actually see the predators when they are moving around. You’ll need good eye sight and patience for this though!
I added the mites to an area where there was a red mite infestation in the cracks of the wall and around the end of one of the perches. The rest of the mites were distributed evenly around the chicken house…. and waited.
Two weeks later, I examined the same crack again, looking for both red mites and predator mites. Neither could be found. I found evidence of mites by the dirt that they had left, but in terms of mite activity? Not a sausage.
I did find a very small crack which contained red mite. This was in the joint of two perches at 90 degrees that forms a ‘T’ in mid-air in the coop. The predators hadn’t been distributed here and had obviously not made it along the perch to this point yet.
The predator certainly did its job and removed the red mite where I had distributed it. I can see these being a very valuable asset in the fight against the red army. They can also reach parts that other treatments cannot reach.
The patch of red mite I found in the joint of my perches had not had any predators near it so the predators either haven’t made it here yet, or hadn’t been able to crawl along the perch and find them. To draw conclusions about the whereabouts of the predator mites now is also difficult with them being so small and difficult to see. They could have moved on to elsewhere in the coop after feeding on the red mite, or they could have come across some remnants of diatom in a crack that I was using liberally a month earlier. This really emphasises the need to use them in coops without red mite treatments as I am wondering if the diatom I used is still in some of the cracks. The final possibility I can think of is that the predators ate all of the red mite and starved to death. This is mentioned on the directions for use, if you add too many predators, they can use up their food supply too quickly and die before the next round of red mite hatch from their eggs. The predators die in about 7 days without a feed.
I’m quietly hoping though that somewhere in my coop in a deep crack, there’s a bit of a party going on. I hope they are hidden away, munching on another cluster of mites, filling their bellies in an all you can eat ‘red mite style’ buffet.
Bon Appetit Predator Mites…!
My thanks to chickenvet for sending us the predator mites to try.
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