It can be horrible where the sun comes out and the dreaded red mite rears its ugly head. Even brand new coops can suffer with red mite as they can be brought in by wild birds (much like with lice).
Red mites are really tiny (smaller than a money spider) living tucked away in the house during the day and coming out to dine on your hens’ blood at night. Hens suffering with a red mite attack will often lose the redness in their comb and look a bit anaemic. Their health will deteriorate and it can be fatal. However, often a red mite attack can go unnoticed because they do not live on the hen, rather they hide in the crevices in the house. Look for red mites at night and, if you can’t see any but want to be certain, run a white cloth under the perch when the hens are roosting and blood spots on the cloth will confirm red mites. They are red if they are feeding on your hens and brown/grey if they are not feeding.
The best way to prevent infestation is to have a thorough cleaning regime and to treat the house and your birds regularly (every two months in the winter and every month in the summer) with red mite powders. When cleaning the house out, it's best if you can use a pressure washer (or just a garden hose on a hard spray). The vibration of the pressure washer will wake up any dormant eggs. Spray inside the house with hen house cleaner (such as Smite Ready to Use cleaner) and dust the inside of the house with red mite powders (which are often combined with louse powders) paying particular attention to the crevices, nestboxes and perches.
The best way to treat the hen is to hold them upside down and fluff it under their wings and in the fluffy feathers around their rear end – if you’re unsure, ask me to show you the best way to treat your hen so that you can apply the powder in the most effective way while she is comfortable. Another trick is to put powders in the hens’ dust bath and let them do the work!
Red mites are tricky to get rid of as they lay lots of eggs. Treatment should be done five days apart to ensure that any hatched eggs are also killed. Red mites can live for months between feeds so even coops which have not be inhabited for a while can suffer. Plastic huts are better than wooden huts for keeping red mite at bay but red mite may still attack.
If you are unlucky enough to suffer an infestation then the best way to treat an outbreak is as follows:
1. Muck the house out then clean the house thoroughly using a suitable red mite preventative cleaner, a power washer is best as it not only blasts them out of the hiding places but it wakes up any dormant eggs.
2. Wash all drinkers and feeders.
3. We have found that it is worth washing the house again after another half hour or so, as it gives red mites the chance to come out of any crevices the power washer didn't get into.
4. Once the house is dry, puff around heavily with your mite/lice powder paying particular attention to crevices, nest boxes and perches.
5. Dust the birds with powders before bed, so they go to bed covered in powder.
6. To be absolutely sure, do the whole process 5 days later to ensure that any eggs which may have hatched are destroyed before they lay their own eggs.
7. If it's a really bad outbreak, do it another 5 days later. It's a pain but worthwhile!