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The Mighty Mites

By Audrey Pavia, Urban Farm Contributing Editor

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken coop

Photo by Audrey Pavia

Our coop: the mites' lair.

We’ve had Gwennyth Poultry the longest of all our hens, so she has a special place in my heart. She doesn’t mind being picked up and held, and loves to eat mealworms from my hand. So when she started spending entire days huddled in the nest box, I got worried. She wasn’t being broody—no eggs were forthcoming. She clearly didn’t feel well.
I decided to take her to my sister, Heidi, who is a veterinarian. Heidi noticed that Gwenny’s right eyelid was swollen, and prescribed an antibiotic eye ointment, along with an oral antibiotic. We could have drawn blood and done X-rays, but Gwenny was still eating and pooping, so we decided to go the conservative (read “cheaper”) route.
The best time to snag a free-ranging chicken for medicating is after sundown when they are roosting, so the next night, Randy and I went out to the coop to get Gwenny. I carried her into my tack shed so we’d have light, and that’s when I noticed them: little red bugs running frantically around her face.

“Dammit,” I said to Randy. “The chickens have mites.”
It just so happens I had just written an article on external parasites for Chickens magazine, so I knew what I was dealing with. These were clearly chicken mites, which live and breed in the wood of the coop and come out at night to feed on the chickens. They can cause a chicken to become lethargic, and make the whole flock stop laying. Is that why we hadn’t gotten any eggs in the past couple of weeks?
I don’t believe in using pesticides on my urban farm, so I had to figure out how I was going to tackle this. The only way to kill the things without spraying the coop with poison is to use something called diatomaceous earth, aka DE.

This is interesting stuff. It’s basically the fossilized remains of prehistoric algae that has disintegrated into powder. Because of its microscopically sharp edges, it slices up the outside of the bugs and kills them. It’s all natural and doesn’t hurt the chickens.

The catch is that it’s hard to find. I called Home Depot, and they said they had it. So I drove over there only to find that they had “pool” DE, which is different than “food” DE. The pool DE causes cancer. The other one is so harmless you can eat it. Guess which one you are supposed to use on chickens?
Good thing for the Internet. After two hours of driving around trying to find the right kind, I came home, searched the ’net and found out I could get it through Amazon.com. Imagine that!
The next task was Randy’s. He had to clean out the entire coop, scrub all the wood with soapy water, replace the bedding and then use a flour sifter to send a shower of DE all over the coop. For good measure, Heidi prescribed Ivermectin for the flock to kill any mites that survived the DE and dared to bite the chickens. This meant giving a small dose of the liquid to each chicken while they were roosting. Yeah, they loved that.
It’s only been a few days, but so far, so good. I haven’t seen any mites. Gwenny is out running around with the flock now, and some eggs have started to appear in the nest boxes. Fingers crossed we killed the suckers.

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a', Houston, TX
Posted: 11/11/2013 7:11:24 AM
If you turn your hens over and liberally sprinkle them with garlic power(not garlic salt, we arent baking here!..)you turn them over and hold them by their feet so the feathers fall away from the skin and the powder goes against their skin under the feathers. the mites will abandon ship , so to speak .if you turn your hen over in your arms and hold her back down, like you would cradle a small child, with your hand on her chest for a few moments she will relax and you can gently lift her by her feet (some hens prefer to have their head supported while upside down some don't care a bit .)if one of the ladies wants her head supported it makes this a two person job .done after roosting ive never even had a hen notice , and have done it many times to make sure i dont get mites.i lived in a very prone rural area.
babzc, leland, NC
Posted: 6/22/2010 7:39:45 AM
You may be able to find DE at your local Agway. I'm not sure whether you've got one nearby, give it a try. They've usually got a fair selection of tools and supplies. Good luck.
Chas, Highland, NY
Posted: 6/19/2010 4:50:44 AM

About the Blogger

Audrey Pavia
Keeping farm animals in the city can be a real hoot. Follow freelance writer Audrey Pavia's adventures in Southern California with a yard full of urban livestock, including horses, chickens, a Corgi and an urban barn cat. She somehow manages all these silly critters while working full-time, with no one to help her but her husband, Randy, a born-and-raised New Yorker. And you thought "The Simple Life" was out there?

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