I would rate red mites as being one of the biggest problems you will face when keeping chickens. Red Mites live in the cracks of chicken houses (typically under perch ends) coming out at night, crawling onto your birds for a feed.
They start off as very small greyish-white mites that swell up into red coloured mites after a feed and at their biggest are only 1mm so small numbers of them can be hard to spot unless you know what to look for.
You will often find a grey ash like deposit around perch ends which is where the mites have been and if you lift the perch, you will see clumps of mites.
Red Mite in chickens’ houses are active during the warmer months, usually May to October and will become dormant over the winter. They multiply at an incredible rate: their life cycle is just 7-10 days. In other words from hatching from an egg to being an adult laying hundreds of eggs takes just a week if conditions are right.
The best course of action is to check for red mite routinely when you clean your chicken house out and use some preventative treatment to the house before they get a hold. You will get to know the places to look and once you have found small numbers of them, you can treat the house to keep numbers under control. See my ‘preventative measures’ below
Are there Red Mite in your Chicken House?
People normally discover Red Mite when they are over-run by them. When hens are being bitten, they can refuse to go in to roost at night, they will become anaemic and their combs will go pale. They will often stop laying and you may find red blood stains on eggs (squashed Red Mites). Eventually, you will start to see losses in the flock.
Checking for Red Mite in Chickens Houses
Red Mite will hide away in the daytime but can often be seen if you lift perches, examining the ends. They will usually come swarming out if you treat the cracks with Poultry Shield but by far the easiest way to check to see if there are red mite is to take a piece of white kitchen roll and to rub it along the underside of the perch when your hens are roosting (in the dark). Look at the tissue and if there are Red Mite heading back from their feed, they will be squashed on the kitchen roll as streaks of blood.
Getting rid of Red Mite
It is very hard to get rid of them completely so it is often better to get the numbers down and then find a way of keeping them down that doesn’t involve you spending hours on cleaning the house out. There are lots of different treatments that people use, some more effective than others but I will focus on what I do and have found to be the most successful for me.
If you haven’t got red mite and the weather is warm enough for them (May to October in the UK) then skip step 1 and go straight to step 2. Preventative Measures.
1. Getting rid of an infestation.
If you find lots of red mite in the coop, it’s time for a big clean up that will take a couple of hours initially, then an hour every 5 to 7 days for at least 2 more weeks.
The products I have found to work the best (that are relatively safe) are Poultry Shield and Diatom. These two are not ‘knock down’ products as such, they do take a little while to work but are none the less very effective. I also use Red Mite Powder on the hens themselves to help them through the night when the Mites are active.
You can BUY Poultry Shield from Amazon Here.
Here is what I do with the Poultry Shield.
- Remove all birds from the house.
- Strip the house down as much as possible.
- Clean the house out – be careful where the bedding is going as red mite live for 6 months without a feed and will find a new home If they can. Ideally seal the bedding in bin bags or burn.
- Mix up as many watering cans of poultry shield mixture as is needed, as per the instructions on the label 1 part to 9 parts water.
- ‘Water’ all cracks in the chicken house, concentrating where there are perch ends and concentrations of red mite.
- Leave to soak for 15 minutes
- Red mites will be coming out. Cover them and the cracks with poultry shield again.
- Wait 15 minutes
- Hose out the house, concentrating on getting the pressure jet into the cracks and so on.
- Leave the house to dry.
Poultry Shield is a mild detergent and ‘washes’ the waxy coat off the red mites. It is also good for removing organic matter from the hen house so is useful for cleaning. I wouldn’t be without this!
After using the Poultry Shield, when the house is dry, I use Diatom. Diatom is made of micro skeletons of fossilised remains of diatoms. These were once a kind of algae found in water. They are microscopically sharp and pierce the outer waxy coating of the mites which causes them to dry out and die.
The second step also double up as my ‘preventative’ measures if you haven’t yet got a bad infestation
You can BUY Diatom from Amazon HERE
2. Preventative Measures
- Dust the ends of the perches / nest boxes and where ever else you found concentrations of red mites when cleaning.
- Rub as much into the perches as you can. Red mite will avoid the diatom and will crawl around it if they can, so make sure they have to crawl through it to get a feed.
- Repeat every couple of days for as long as you see signs of red mite in the coop.
Repeat the whole cleaning process if there are still lots of mites in 5 to 7 days. You will find you might not need to spend as long on the washing as there won’t be as many mites.
Very Important: Make sure you repeat it before 7 days so that the mites don’t have a chance to lay more eggs. A few mites become a lot in a very short space of time!
If you have a felt roof on your chicken house and they get underneath, it is usually impossible to get rid of them without removing the felt, cleaning and re-felting. My page on Chicken Houses gives more information.
Finally, I will dust the hens down between their feathers with Red Mite Powder to give them some respite during the night when the mites are active.
Beware of what you read!
There is a lot of information written about these troublesome ectoparasites on the internet these days, much of it re-written and re-spun. When I started writing about them, there was little available online. Strangely, some small errors that I had introduced on my page that I corrected in an update pop up frequently on other websites. Running a Google image search often uncovers companies that have used my copyrighted images! I make regular checks to try to stop this from happening.
If you wish to learn more about red mite then I would encourage you to read the guide to red mite on poultrykeeper.com. This is a reliable source of information and is regularly updated.
Hi we have just discovered we have red mites. I was on holiday last week and 3 of our bantams died my hubby was looking after them we thought it was the heat and 2 of them were broody he said nothing obvious on them. I came back yesterday went to check the 4 remaining for eggs no eggs, but id put my arm in their bedding didn’t think anything of it and they all looked happy feeding and eating. I later laid on my bed and felt something tickling my arm and found what I know to be a mite then continued to find about 3 more on me they I immediately asked my daughter if she was itchy as she given the chickens a cuddle! she was and had found a mite. So we both showered i was still bitten all over my legs in the afternoon and found more mites. I went no where near chickens again only that time in the morning. I went to farm and pet and got red mite powder last night today we have cleaned out the coup and now we know what we are looking for could easily see them (hubby had his glasses on today!) so have put he powered all of chickens and our two dogs and the coup and the run everywhere!! we had covered up in waterproofs and tied string round wrists and ankles! still got some on us though. im really worried about why I keep finding them on me? it says they cant live on humans or dogs what can I do to make sure they are not in the bed or carpets are there smoke bombs I can use I have brought some spray that is suppose to kill all creepy crawlies including bed bugs and the like and have sprayed that on bed and bed room carpet.
Would it be better to buy a new coup as this one has felt roof and was given to us! but obviously we heed to get rid of the mites first?
How long does the red mite dust take to work? Any ideas on how to kill them if in house?
its sooo horrid!! Poor chickens.
thanks in advance!
Felt roof is a problem – there will be millions of them underneath. You could take that off and replace with something like Onduline (Wickes sell that) or another corrugated type of sheet.
Normally you’ll need more than just the powder to remove them. That is handy for dusting hens and the perches after the coop is cleaned but you’ll need a much deeper clean to remove them from the coop.
In fact it’s often impossible to remove them completely but once they are under control, you can keep a look out and treat a little and often. In a week, their population can explode during warm weather because their life cycle is so short and they lay so many eggs after a blood feed.
I would use something like poultry shield (you can make a stronger dilution if needed). This article may also help: https://poultrykeeper.com/blog/how-to-get-rid-of-red-mite/
Well we are in our 70s and have kept chicken years ago without mite/lice issue. With a lovely antique hen house empty and a unused large wire dog pen (for the time when we went out and no fox could get in) l persuaded my husband that we have 3 hens again. The hen house was thouroghly cleaned before we collected them. All went well and last year time for5 months was taken up with my elderly mum who sadly passed away. Hence hens were looked after but not lovingly watched. A few months ago a fox grabbed one of the chickens, in the afternoon, whilst they were free range in our paddock. My husband rescued her when he heard the commotion but she passed away. Then one of the other hens went down poorly and we thought shock.
So one hen and decided to get another three. But!!! We noticed Amilia was scratching and we identified lice! And heavily infested – so we had neglected her and felt terrible. Plus brought in new hens!!! So we gave Amelia a bath with baby shampoo and had to get the eggs off! Then when dry they all got dusted with DE and house treated. They even have a dust bath with DE in it.
We have done this on 3 weekly intervals. Now l have read that a mixture of lemon juice, garlic and water (ratios were given) and also here l read the benefits of cider apple juice.
Whilst all this is going on my husband is saying why are we doing this again?
1. I love seeing them and collecting the eggs.
2. I do not want to buy insecticide that you put on their skin.
3. Can we control this organically?
4. Why do l feel so depressed about this?
5. Have looked at price of plastic houses which are so called easier to keep clean. That does not make economic sense for us and l don’t like the cheaper ones that sit on the ground. ( Surely they are cold in winter. ) Our old hens house is on wheels and has the best box protuding on the side.
Just writing this up has helped to share my problem. By the way they are all busy if you saw them now free range chasing insects and scratching away. They love their automatic feeder that they step on and the lid opens up.
Thank you for listening.
Lovely for you to share your thought with us.
So, first let’s be clear about the problem – Lice are found moving between the feathers on the skin. They are long and move quickly. Their eggs are clumped at the base of feathers like granulated sugar.
Generally speaking, you treat them and they are gone. They are not a big worry.
Red mites on the other hand live in the chicken house, you may find the odd stray on the bird during the daytime but they hop on at night to feed for a couple of hours and then go and hide in the cracks of the chicken house.
These are much harder work but you can get quite aggressive with treatments to the house and wash it out afterwards so nothing harms your chickens.
I find a big clean is necessary but then a hand spray (I like Jeyes fluid but you can use lots of other things) sprayed in the hot spots – under perch ends, certain cracks daily will keep their numbers down.
That ‘manages’ the problem. Getting rid of them completely is very difficult. They are only a problem during the warmer summer months.
The life cycle can be 7 days in the summer (from egg to egg laying adult) so to stay on top of them, you need to treat (the house) more often than this. Treating the chickens can help them but treating the house is essential and far better.
A very good article on red mite can be found here: https://poultrykeeper.com/external-problems/red-mite/
Hi I use liquid paraffin which I apply to all the cracks with a smallish paint brush. In a short time you will see them crawling out and will eventually die as the paraffin takes off their wax coating and they dry out. I do it 2 to 3 in a week to hopefully get the newly hatched eggs. This seems to clear them for a while but they always seem to return.
Sadly, our ancient hen coup has itchy old Red Mites too. We have decided to give up the struggle and buy the gang a new house. When I transfer the chickens from the old infested coup to the new one, could the mites be carried on the chickens to the new house and start a new infestation? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?
I thought maybe treating the chickens and then getting them to spend a bit of quarantine time in the broody coup might work? The new coup is going to be a long way from the site of the old one and the old one could be either burned or taken off site. What do you think? Is it silly to be trying to do this in Red Mite high season?
All the best
Strangely red mite will normally get re-established in the new coop fairly quickly… I guess they are also elsewhere in the wild bird population and in bark of the trees where birds roost or maybe they just carry across on the birds in small numbers.
Whilst they live off the bird during the day, sometimes you can find a couple on the birds.
I’ve found diatom based powders to be good (and safe) to dust between their feathers but do not breathe the dust of course.
Red Mite powder seems to be a diatom powder with added tea tree.
I keep a little plant sprayer with Jeyes fluid mixed up near the coop and every few days I look in the ‘hot spots’ / under perches / in cracks for mites and give a spray on these when I find any. Keeping the number down seems to stop big infestations from occurring and saves you a much bigger job.
Many thanks for getting back to me…I shall invest in a spray for Jeyes fluid and some Red Mite powder and get on the case before we rehouse the gang.
All the best
I have 2 peking Bantams (Beatrice and Alice) i did have 3 but unfortunately whilst on a 2 week holiday, my poor girl Mabel died due to a red mite infestation and i assume becoming anaemic. My neighbour was very kindly caring for my chickens, but with no poultry keeping experience, Red mites came and were un noticed, i feel awful about the whole situation- i never thought to pre warn my neighbour of the signs for red mite as i have never had them before.. How could i have let this happen.. ?
I desperately trawled the internet for every bit of approved tried and tested info i could… in doing so
i have thoroughly treated the whole coop inc legs, ramp and removing any loose felt off the roof, every crevice and crack i can find. i used an insecticide spray especially for red mite… once treated i repeated the process again a few days later. The second time i treated the coop i found thousands more.. i have also dusted the chickens with powder concentrating the base of the wings, back of neck and carefully near there vents as advised.. I also crushed 2 garlic cloves and added these to there water.. My 2 remaining girls combs have become brighter, nice and red, they are happy enough in themselves and eating, drinking well. when i checked the coop tonight with a torch, i can see no moving mites, im hoping ive zapped them all..(wishful thinking?)
once i put in fresh sawdust i powdered this also, concentrating on the edges, perches have also been thoroughly rubbed with powder..
However my poor chooks are still reluctant to go in the coop at night- each night i have to pick them up and place them in the coop- i dont like to think there distressed but can not leave them out for obvious reasons.. Will my chickens likely start to roost on there own again or do i buy a new hen house? I had planned too..
Sorry for the essay- its my first time keeping chickens and i want the best life for them.. Any advice or reassurance would be great? Also they have not laid any eggs since the infestation..
They should get used to the coop again if you keep popping them back in there. It can sometimes take a while, especially if it’s nice weather and they have found somewhere else appealing to roost.
You could try making the outside perching place less appealing? Maybe block it off somehow? That might speed things up.
Good luck and welcome to a wonderful hobby (even with red mite!) 🙂
I have just found red mites in my coop and on my six Pekin bantams today. This was such a useful site. Well written article. Thank you.