Bird Mites: Natural Control for your Flock 4

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Bird mites come in several different varieties, but suffice to say, they are a chicken owner’s nightmare. We’ve had issues with mites a handful of times over the past twenty years, but this past week I’ve seen our worst infestation yet.

Bird mites come in several different varieties, but suffice to say, they are a chicken owner's nightmare. Here's how we combatted a recent infestation.

One of our hens has been broody, sitting on a clutch of eggs. I made the mistake of allowing her to sit in one of the nesting boxes. The other hens didn’t seem to mind climbing in with her to lay their eggs, so it fell to me to pick her up a couple of times a day to remove the new eggs. Several days ago I realized that she had mites, so I sprinkled the nest with diatomaceous earth. When her chicks hatched a couple of days later, I realized that this was not just a few mites, but a serious infestation. I’d noticed that her comb was pale and dry looking, but what I’d attributed to broodiness was actually a symptom of the mite infestation.

I couldn’t touch her or the chicks without getting mites on myself.  And she was sick. Her first time off the nest after the chicks hatched, she was stumbling and struggling to walk.

I’m sure that hunkering down for weeks to hatch eggs exacerbated the problem. She wasn’t dust-bathing. She wasn’t preening. She was pretty much the perfect host.

How do chickens get bird mites?

Wild birds and rodents bring in these minuscule pests and once they take hold, the mites pass easily between hens as they share roosts and nesting boxes.

What kind of damage can bird mites do?

Mites are blood suckers and can cause anemia and a decrease in egg production. Hens may become lethargic and their combs noticeably pale. Serious infestations can even cause death.

How to treat bird mites naturally

In two days we’ve gone from serious infestation, with mites visibly crawling on the hen (and myself, when I’d get near her) to being able to pick her up without any mites transferring to me. She’s not completely clean yet, but I’m hopeful she will be soon, and that we can prevent any more of this grossness. Because man. It’s pretty gross.

A lot of poultry sites recommended using pesticides to combat the mites, but I prefer to avoid such harsh treatment if I can, and this time especially so, since there were brand new chicks to think about.

As I’m wont to do, when a big problem like this arises, I throw everything I’ve got at it. In other words, I did a number of things that collectively seem to be working.

Treating the hen:

The first thing I did was to work out a system that kept the dang things off of ME. Before handling the infested hen, I put on disposable surgical gloves and smeared coconut oil on the upper part of the gloves and on my wrists. The mites stayed mostly on the gloves with this method, though some did get past the barrier. They are small and fast, so be prepared to dump your clothing right into the wash and hit the shower as soon as you’re done working with the chickens.

  • I isolated the infected chicken and her chicks to avoid passing any more mites to the rest of the flock.
  • A bath — or more accurately, two baths — in warm, soapy water was the next step. Even after two dunks I could see lots of mites on her skin, though. I’m sure it helped, but this alone wouldn’t have done the trick. I followed her bath up by rubbing some Vet Rx under her wings, near her vent, and at a few other spots where I could reach her skin.
  • I filled her box with fresh shavings tossed with a liberal dose of diatomaceous earth.
  • I added a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar to her water. (I did the same for the whole flock.) It’s good at supporting their immune system, plus I read that the garlic is toxic to parasites. Note: I did not take the time to research this in the midst of my infestation, but figure it can’t hurt.

Treating the coop:

Here’s where the problem lies. While the chickens play host to mites, the cracks and crevices in the coop are also great hidey holes for mites and their eggs.

  • I removed the bedding from all nesting boxes and raked out the floor to remove any bird mites that were harbored there.
  • Killing all the mites hidden in the coop seemed like a difficult task. My friend Chris at Joybilee Farm suggested smoking them out with a very smoky herb burner if I could make the coop airtight. I couldn’t, but Chris’s suggestion gave me another idea. I got out my weed burner and used it. I ran the flame over all the nest boxes, inside and out, as well as any exposed wood. I did this a couple of times, making sure that I didn’t hold the flame in one spot long enough to actually catch the wood on fire, but to really heat it up. I’ll probably go back and do this again next week.
  • I sprinkled a layer of agricultural hydrated lime on the floor and in the nesting boxes as suggested by the folks at Just Fowling Around. I covered this with a fresh layer of pine shavings.
  • Finally, I dusted the nest boxes with diatomaceous earth and a little peppermint oil for good measure, then added fresh bedding.

Future prevention and maintenance:

  • My friend Janet, the author of Chickens from Scratch: Raising Your Own Chickens from Hatch to Egg Laying and Beyond, tells me that bird mites will hide in the cracks of unfinished wood; she recommends painting all wood surfaces to prevent mite issues.
  • I need to pick up a spray bottle to make up some of this garlic spray to treat the entire flock to be sure to get a handle on this.
  • We don’t have a wood stove yet, but I’ll try to create some wood ash in an outdoor fire pit and create a dedicated dust-bathing area with sand, ash, and diatomaceous earth. As it is now, the girls just dust bathe wherever the notion takes them; it would be good for them to have access to dust more suited to control of these pesky bird mites. (Ash is supposed to be really good at this.)
  • At Janet’s suggestion, I’ll add some fragrant herbs like mint, thyme, basil and oregano to the nesting boxes, too.

Raise chickens at your place!

If my mite woes haven’t scared you off and you want to make the most of chickens at your place, I invite you — no, I urge you — to take advantage of this free four-part video series that will give you so many ideas for how to make it work!

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4 thoughts on “Bird Mites: Natural Control for your Flock

  • Doug Newman

    On our ranch we use Klean free on all the animals for mites,lice, ticks and other things.. then we use D.E. for a daily maintenance.. I can’t speak high enough for the Quality of Kleen Free and the Instant relief it gives our animal.. We normally use it a a Twelve to One ratio meaning 12 parts water to 1 part kleen Free.. the reason it works so well is it is just enzymes and it causes all bugs and eggs of the bugs to molt within an hour or less.. Great stuff try it and you’ll be blessed with very happy birds.. God Bless and Alohas,
    Doug Newman

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      Thanks for this, Doug. This isn’t something I’m familiar with, so happy to have the recommendation!

    • Donna

      We are seriously thinking about getting our first chickens so have been reading like crazy. Certainly want to keep mites and lice away if at all possible. Where do you get Kleen Free and do you bathe the birds with it?

  • elaine

    I leave a pile of wood ash for my birds to dust bathe in. The wood ash is a natural anti mites and lice. Never had an infestation! 🙂