When we had a mite infestation in our flock this summer, I scrounged every blog and forum and online agricultural extension Google could find for tips about how to seriously kill mites and keep them from coming back. Mites are carried on the wild birds that often share the same space as chickens, and they fall off and crawl onto poultry. Since we couldn’t keep the sparrows out of our chicken run, the army of mites received fresh birdloads of reinforcements daily. Our mite problem lasted months, and as soon as we thought we had it licked, they flared up again in droves. Of course, part of the problem is that I was trying to kill ’em dead as organically and naturally as possible, which often translated to “not very effectively.”
Just in case anyone else out there is aggravated by a mite problem that refuses to be ethically exterminated, I want to share with you what ultimately worked for us.
Stuff we tried:
Ivermectin: This chemical is usually used as an antiparasite medication in livestock, but has an off-label use to treat mites in poultry when applied topically. Everything I read about treating chickens with Ivermectin warned against eating the eggs for weeks afterward. On the scale of toxicity, this was the most toxic thing we tried, and it didn’t work at all.
Permethrin (i.e., poultry dust): Some people swear by this stuff, but we didn’t see much effect. It might have killed the mites on the birds, but they came back from where they were hiding in the bedding almost immediately. It’s also messy to apply and bad for your lungs and eyes and every mucous membrane.
Neem oil: Every 7 days, we would clean out every scrap of wood shavings in the coop and spray down the entire coop, nest box, and chicken run with diluted neem oil concentrate. Repeated 3 times to fully destroy the egg-laying cycle. But the mites always came back, either by hiding in nooks and crannies in the wood, or because they were freshly delivered daily by the sparrows.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is one of the most common treatments for mites, but it’s only useful as a preventative measure. It won’t help you out once you’ve got an infestation. I’ve seen poultry dust bath “recipes” for equal parts sand, wood ash, and DE, but I haven’t been able to find wood ash anywhere, so I just mix the DE with sand in a buried kitty litter box in the chicken run.
What ultimately worked:
- Poultry Spa: The easiest way to get the mites off the chickens is to give them a bath. It was so much less messy than the permethrin dusting, and we were able to scrub the casings from the nits off the feather bases and be SURE nothing was going to hatch in a few days. We dunked each chicken up to her neck in a 5-gal bucket of warm water mixed with a 1/4 c. Dawn dishwashing soap, scrubbed vents and tail feathers thoroughly, then rinsed them in a 5-gal bucket of warm water mixed with with 1 c. of apple cider vinegar. I gently wrung out the feathers as best I could and set them up in the sun to dry. This approach could be more difficult on a cold winter day, since chickens easily catch cold without their feathers to regulate temperature.
- Poultry Protector: It’s an enzymatic product that really does kill ’em dead, and it’s safe for you and the chickens. It comes in a ready-spray bottle and a liquid concentrate. The diluted product can even be sprayed directly on affected chickens, so every other day for a week after the chicken bath, I sprayed their hind ends with poultry protector. I also diluted the concentrate in a garden sprayer and sprayed down the cleaned out coop (after numerous attempts with the Neem oil). If we had gotten a hold of this product sooner, we could have also used it in a higher concentration in a bucket bath, as described above, but that should only be necessary in very extreme cases (like ours). For most mites, a spritz from the spray bottle should be enough to take care of the problem. http://www.mannapro.com/products/poultry/poultry-protector/ I couldn’t find this product locally, but my local farm store was willing to order it for me.
- Sand: This was perhaps the linchpin. As thoroughly as we tried to clean out the coop every 7 days, there were just too many nooks in the rough wood where mites could hide, and the wood shavings litter in the coop was a very comfortable home for mite reproduction. After cleaning out and spraying down with Poultry Protector, we poured in 3 bags of playground sand as bedding (about 1 in. deep), with just a light layer of wood shavings on top in the nest box. I keep a kitty litter scoop in the coop and regularly remove the droppings. The mites do NOT like the sand, and our problem is solved, at long last. The downside to sand as bedding is that it’s definitely less convenient than the deep litter method, where the droppings just decomposed in the litter. Also, wood shavings absorb a lot of odor, and I’ve noticed that our coop is a bit stinky since we switched to sand.
Once we finally got the mites under control, the chickens all started laying again. Whew!