Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are blood-feeding ecto-parasites that live in small cracks inside poultry houses. They come out at night to get a blood feed from chickens and turkeys. They are not species specific and will feed from any type of bird although Ducks and Geese are normally not affected because they have an extra layer of feathers, don’t perch in the same place and are relatively active during the night.
Red mites (also called chicken mites or poultry mites) cause severe skin irritation and stress to your birds and will cause a reduction in egg numbers. In extreme cases, birds will become anaemic and can even die.
They can be carried into your flock from wild birds and can transfer from bird to bird although they mainly live in housing.
Identifying red mite?
Red mite are hard to spot if you haven’t seen them before and before you know it, they are everywhere! Once you have seen them, you will know what to look for in future and will be able to spot them easily during the weekly clean before they multiply too much.
Look for the signs of red mite close to where birds roost at night and near to nest boxes where broody hens may sit for long periods of time. If your perches are removable they are easier to spot. Once they have had a feed, they appear as clumps of red that turn to red blood when squashed. Since they feed at night, they are difficult to spot during the daytime.
The signs of red mite
- Grey to red mites up to 0.7mm
- Infestations around perch ends & cracks
- Grey ‘dust’ (mite excreta) around areas of infestation
- Chickens not wanting to roost in their house at night
- Anaemia and death in young or weak chickens
- Loss of condition, restlessness
- A pale comb and wattles
- Drop in egg production / birds stop laying
- Spots of blood on eggs
Birds will be restless at night and will have a severe skin irritation from the biting mites. Red mites are almost white before they have fed, blood-red after a feed and grey / black with partially digested blood so you will see various colours of mites. Unfortunately it usually takes several attempts to get rid of Red Mite and if they get under your roofing felt, it is usually impossible to shift them without removing and re-felting the roof.
Red mite are silent killers – so please be aware and check your coops regularly, especially during the summer time when the weather is warm as often this is the time of year when conditions are optimum for red mite infestations.
If you are still unsure, there is more detailed information on our How to Spot Red Mite page
Controlling red mite
Here are some ways that people control red mite. Some I have used myself, some I haven’t so I can’t say how successful they all are. I have adopted a more organic approach to flock management and a few of these methods rely on some fairly strong chemicals so be careful not to harm yourself or your birds if you decide to try some of these!
- Creosote applied to the house. This has to be the ‘old fashioned’ creosote though and was banned in 2003. Sadly Creosote substitute that is sold in DIY stores doesn’t seem to have the same result. Please note, it is illegal to sell or use Creosote now unless you are a professional. It can often be bought from agricultural suppliers.
- Paint Paraffin into cracks and crevices.
- Blow torches can be used around the cracks and crevices but be careful not to set fire to your coop! Do not use a blow torch on a plastic coop.
- Steamers like this one used for stripping wall paper can be used to get into cracks and work really well.
- Pressure Washers like this one can be used to spray into cracks to wash out mites.
- Smearing a mixture of Paraffin and Vaseline into cracks and crevices. Vaseline is used frequently by poultry keepers to get rid of scaly leg mites. It smothers the mites.
- Double-sided sticky fly papers / double-sided sticky tape on the underside of the perch and / or around ends of perches.
- Coke (no particular brand) poured into cracks to wet the mites apparently works by dissolving the waxy outer coating of the mite which then causes them to dry out, dehydrate and die.
- A dust bath can really help the birds with mites and lice and is their natural way to getting rid of external parasites. Dusting powders can be added to dust baths (like Diatomacious Earth) so the birds get it into the places you have missed. When mites hop onto your birds at night, they will rub against the diatom.
It is important to understand and interrupt the life cycle of the red mite in order to be successful at removing them. Read How to Kill Red Mites for further information.
Products to kill red mite
Most insecticides contain permethrin which is a man-made synthetic pyrethroid derived from dried flowers of the Chrysanthemum Daisy. Permethrin works as a contact insecticide that damages the nervous system of the insect. It is an effective insecticide and has a low toxicity in mammals. Most products containing permethrin come in powder form for dusting bedding and perches. They remain active for some time but do need to be re-applied after cleaning the house / bedding out. Diatom does not contain insecticides (more on that further down the page).
Liquid red mite treatments are useful since they will run into the cracks and crevices. They can also be sprayed into difficult to reach areas. It is usually best to use a liquid for the cleaning of the house, followed by a dusting powder (concentrated on the perch ends) once the house is dry to catch mites that have been missed as they come out at night to feed.
Poultry Shield is the most popular red mite product by far. It is a multi purpose cleaner / detergent / sanitiser that is good to use for regular cleaning of the coop but is also very effective at killing red mite. It is not caustic and contains no insecticide, it simply washes the waxy coating off the mite, causing it to dehydrate and die. It is safe to use (following the manufacturer’s instructions of course) and can even be used with your birds inside the house although I’ve never used it like this.
You can buy Poultry Shield here.
Smite is another popular detergent based product that is effective against red mite and their eggs as well as other parasites. It is a degreasant and cleaner that is good for removing organic matter during routine cleaning. It has a pleasant odour and has an easy to use dosing pump fitted to the top of the container. A
You can buy SMITE here.
Both Poultry Shield and Smite are non-toxic products that don’t contain pesticides so are my preferred choices for cleaning and red mite control.
Red Mites: Our Top 8 Products page provides detailed information on these and other types of treatments available and lists the top products we have found to be effective.
There are also some natural insecticides and deterrents that can help you with a red mite infestation, many of these can be found in products suitable for human use – anti-mosquito products for example as well as in natural / organic powders. Here is a list of some natural insecticides / deterrents that can be used to beat red mite.
Diatom powder is the most popular dusting powder and, like Poultry Shield and Smite, it is safe to use when following the instructions from the manufacturer. Diatomaceous Earth is made of micro skeletons of fossilised remains of deceased diatoms, a type of algae so is a totally natural product. Diatom is also used in organic farms. If it is dusted around the bedding and rubbed into the perches it can drastically reduce red mite numbers.
Diatom has microscopically sharp edges and it works by piercing the outer waxy coating of the mite which will basically dry up (desiccate) and die after a short while. There is no chemical toxicity since diatom controls insects by physical rather than chemical means.
You can buy Diatom here.
Other natural products that can be used include:
- Tea Tree.
- Citronella – Often sold to prevent mosquitos.
- Eucalyptus – Trees grow well in the UK and can be bought from garden centres. Crush fresh Eucalyptus leaves and use in bedding to help to deter Red-Mites or plant a Eucalyptus tree near the coop.
- Lemongrass – Can be grown from seed in the greenhouse.
- Cedarwood Oils.
- Soya Bean Oils.
- Garlic and Garlic Oil
I have used a few of these for red mite control with success the main two being garlic and Eucalyptus. Garlic has many other health benefits as well as being a natural insecticide. It is thought that the red mite don’t like the smell that comes off the skin or the taste of blood after garlic has been eaten. I crush a couple of fresh cloves into their water, or, if I’m in a hurry, I will use dried garlic granules that I buy in big bags from an equestrian shop but it can also be added to food.
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