The battle of the chicken mites…naturally

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This summer, for the first time in my life, I got mites in the chicken coop. If you haven’t ever experienced this, consider yourself very, very lucky. And what I’ve learned from this is that, like everything, prevention is the key. But….if you are finding yourself in a similar situation, let me share what ultimately wound up working for me. And I only used natural treatments. I had poultry dust in my hand one day at Tractor Supply, in a moment of desperation. But the label said that it is dangerous to aquatic animals (and cats), and my coop is uphill from a vernal pool. I couldn’t do it.

First of all, let me say that I was also initially scared off of using diatomaceous earth (D.E.) because it could cause respiratory issues in chickens. The recommendations from “natural” chicken keepers was to use wood ash instead. But I came across a post that said wood ash can also cause respiratory issues. They both perform a similar function….drying out external parasites (i.e. killing them). Since this was the summer and wood ash was not available, I ultimately went with the D.E. However, I’m told it loses it’s effectiveness once it gets wet (even if it dries out again). So my feeling is that it is most effective in the coop. It also kills any insect, so I would never use it outside of the coop/pens. And if you use it, be sure to use the food grade variety. (I am planning on saving up a HUGE bucket of wood ash from burning in my wood stove this winter. Will be much cheaper than buying D.E.)

A little bit about mites

The mites come out at night and most live in the coop, not on the chickens (unlike lice, which live on the chickens). There are multiple varieties. Northern mites, red mites (a.k.a roost mites), feather mites (live on chickens), scaly leg mites (live on chickens). My big issue was the red mites, which are actually only red when filled with a blood meal.  A good indication that you might have red mites is that the chickens won’t go up to the roost. In my case, we have two roosts. One is nearer a window and when they all moved to that one, I just figured it was because it was hot out. Silly me. The mites eventually migrated over to the newer roost, too.

I also learned that chickens with shaved beaks have double the load of external parasites (from a study I found online). This is because they can’t preen properly. I have a couple of chickens that I got as older chickens that had already had this done to them. I will never keep chickens with this deformity again (although I’m keeping the ones I have, so I’m going to have to be very proactive in fighting external parasites). If they get infested and bring the mites into the coop, all the chickens are going to have to deal with this increased load.

Treating mites

I wound up trying many things, and will list them for you, to give you options. Look for the asterisks (***) beside the treatments I most recommend. My take away point, however, after battling them for the whole summer, is that waiting the 5-7 days to retreat the newly hatched eggs is too long. That’s great if all the eggs are set to hatch on the same day. But if not – and they won’t be – you’ll get a new batch of mites sooner than that. I ultimately beat them back when I did something every day to every other day.

You also should treat the chickens along with the coop. Mine got lots of baths this summer.

I also need to say that all of these treatments are ones I found on other sites. I did a lot of research and tried lots of things, making adjustments here and there.

NEEM OIL

You can order this off of Amazon. Get the pure neem oil, which you can also use in organic gardening. However, if you use it, it needs to be diluted!

***I used this primarily for their baths. It should be a 1:2000 dilution of neem oil to water. For a 6 gallon bath, you would add 2 teaspoons neem oil and 1/8 of a cup of Bronner’s liquid soap. I made a 9 gallon bath and adjusted the amounts. I had a second bucket of plain water for a quick rinsing dip.

You can also make up a neem oil spray for the coop. 1 teaspoon neem to 20 ounces of water. You can add vinegar, too.

HERBAL POWDERS

***Mix a bunch of fragrant dried herbs (you can also add neem powder, but be careful, it is very dusty. You probably want to wear a mask while mixing it). I put this in the nesting boxes. The bonus is that this will repel a lot of insects. Without the neem powder, it won’t kill any of them, however.

ELEMENTAL SULFUR

Your elemental sulfur needs to be at least 99.5% pure. I found this on Amazon as well. I was at the point that I was probably going to do a sulfur “bomb” which I found listed in an old book I saw online, however I didn’t get to this point. That treatment got mixed reviews and it was a little scary to me. Didn’t want to burn down my coop by mistake! Instead I power-washed and limed the coop (more on that later).

***What I did use this for was mixed in Bert’s Bees ointment to smother their legs. (You can also make up a diluted olive oil neem oil spray to spray on their legs, first). This was to battle scaly leg mites – yeah, we had those AND lice all at the same time as the mites. It’s been a fun summer.

***I also used it to powder the roosts. As one blogger posted, the roosts should look like a powdered gymnasts bar! He was talking about D.E. (diatomaceous earth) but I used the sulfur in the same way. I also sprinkled it around the coop floor and in the nesting boxes. Basically, I used it in place of D.E. at first. My conclusion is that I will continue to mix it up. Sometimes powder the roost / coop /nesting boxes with sulfur, sometimes with D.E.

DIATOMACEOUS EARTH / WOOD ASH

***I used this to powder the roosts, sprinkle on the floor of the coop and some other flat surfaces where I had seen mites crawling (then I brushed it around so it went into the cracks and was on all the floor surface and spread wood shavings on top), and put in their dust bathing areas. I wound up getting two deep kitty litter boxes and filling them with builders’ sand mixed with D.E. so they would have a permanently dry dust bathing area in the coop and a sheltered area of one of the runs.

I will continue to alternate D.E./wood ash/sulfur powder.

Note: let these powdery treatments settle before letting the chickens back into the treated areas and wear a mask and safety goggles when using (learn from my mistake of not doing so. Sulfur, especially, will bother your eyes!).

WASHING THE COOP

I did this multiple times and in multiple ways. Initially, I got one of those fertilizer mixer attachments that go on your hose and added white vinegar and neem oil. My husband did a couple of bleach washes, but he didn’t spray the top of the coop and upper walls, which have a lot of nooks and crannies, which mites love. So I wound up power washing the whole coop.

You don’t specifically need a power washer for this, but you do need a nozzle with a jet setting. My hubby did a power washing one time (again, not the upper areas of the coop) but the time I went to do it the machine was being stubborn and I couldn’t get it started and he was at work. (I don’t have much luck with power tools.) I sprayed EVERY nook and cranny AND flat surface with the jet setting, going over that coop systematically. And, after it dried, I did this next thing….

WHITEWASHING

***One of the last things I did was whitewash the coop. It was a BIG job because I have a BIG coop. But I really think this following a power wash was what ultimately beat back the mites. You need to get hydrated lime. I had to have Agway specially order it for me. There are a few recipes on the web, but I found one with added borax, for an extra mite whammy! Here’s the recipe:

1 gallon hydrated lime

2 c. salt dissolved in hot water

1/2 box mule team borax

hot water until thin enough to paint with.

Mix all of these ingredients, then let sit for at least 12 hours (I did that for the first batch, but I needed to make up a second batch, so I’m not so sure this step is needed). When mixing, WEAR a mask and safety googles. Also wear old clothes and safety googles when painting. You don’t want this stuff splashing in your eyes. Get into EVERY nook and cranny and cover every surface. I ran out of whitewash/time before we went away on vacation and didn’t get all of the ceiling, but it still seems to have done the job, thankfully. Guess the mites didn’t travel up that far or got killed on the way down walking over the rest of the painted surface.

You will have to do this every year, I’m told. I’ll have to report back on that one.

OILING THE ROOSTS

I actually had to go out to the store to get some regular old cheapo vegetable oil for this, which I don’t use in my own cooking (it’s really bad for you). I mixed some neem oil in and slopped it on the roosts with a paintbrush. Supposedly this smothers the mites. I probably won’t do this one again. But you might like it.

MANUAL INSPECTION

Inspect your coop at night. That’s when mites are the most active and you’ll see where they are most concentrated. I never found any in the nesting boxes or a second coop. I also would hand squash any I found on the roosts, or spray them with garlic parasite spray.

GARLIC SPRAY / POWDER

They say you can dust your chickens with D.E. or wood ash. I haven’t done that. Instead I’ve used garlic powder (bought a big container of it at the grocery store) and a homemade external parasite spray. I alternate, depending on what I have on hand. They say to spray every other week as a preventative, but I’m still dealing with lice so I’m spraying/dusting them at least every other day. Get their vent area, their belly, and under their wings. Treat all of the birds. Some of my hens actually expose their vents for me to get sprayed. I guess it works/feels good!

Here are a couple of ways to make the spray.

Puree peeled garlic cloves in water (the ratio is 1 clove per 2 ounces of water). Heat to boiling and let cool. You can then add aloe vera (1 ounce to every 4 ounces water) and some essential oil (lavender is a nice healing one). The recipes I saw had a lot of essential oils mixed in (like 1 tsp per 10 ounces), but I’ve chosen to go lighter in amounts.

Or…add 1 ounce garlic juice to 10 ounces of water. I made my own “juice” with garlic scapes tinctured in Apple Cider Vinegar. Then add a combination of essential oils. I’ve stuck to lavender.

You can also feed them garlic directly or add it to their water. Parasites don’t like garlic-smelling chickens, haha! Plus it’s a natural antibiotic.

My husband picked up a natural spray called Poultry Protector at Agway. I used it in place of my garlic spray until it was gone, but the garlic spray is cheaper to make.

Good luck!

I wish you much luck and perseverance. I am proof this battle can be won in a more natural way. If you have a big infestation like I did, it might take longer. But you can do it! Don’t be discouraged, just keep fighting the buggers. And it’s good to mix things up so that they don’t get resistant to any one treatment. So try any or all of these suggestions. They all are effective to some degree. I also treated the second coop and the chickens in that coop even though there were no signs of parasites on them nor in the coop – but more in a preventative way (it didn’t get the whitewashing, but it got one power wash and continuing sulfur and D.E. and herb treatments).

Another treatment I didn’t list that people have reported as effective is steam cleaning the coop (didn’t have one).

Oh, one last thing. When the infestation was the worst, I came in at night, peeled off my clothes (I always leave my chicken “shoes” outside) and put them in the washing machine then took an immediate bath and shampoo. Although chicken mites are host specific, they will bite you. My understanding is that they won’t be able to reproduce though, from your blood. They need chicken blood. And they are really hard to see. I just felt like I had creepy crawlies all over me and this extra step gave me peace of mind, even if they weren’t actually on me!

Sources:

Here is a Pinterest board where I’ve saved some links on fighting mites. I’m pretty sure these are the ones that list some of the recipes I included in this post, with additional information you might find helpful.


The chicken picture I posted is of Scarlet, one of the de-beaked chickens. She also had the worst case of scaly leg mites, but the pink you see on her legs are new, healthy scales growing back. The bald patches on my birds are still an issue, however. 🙁