chickens and mites

Chickens & Mites

Chickens can be infested by a variety of mites and this will impact the health and well-being of the poultry. The potential issues range from irritation to serious illness and death. Here's all the information you need to help you prevent infestations, to identify mites and to treat your birds.

Red Mites

Red mites are blood sucking ectoparasites that can infest chickens and turkeys. They could invade at any time but infestations are more common in the warmer summer months. These mites can be difficult to spot unless you have a serious population explosion. They are nocturnal creatures and hide during the day, emerging at night to crawl up the birds' legs. It is advisable to check any areas where mites could hide and to have a look in the coop after dark. If you see what you believe to be red mites, press a sheet of white paper onto them and if they are red mites, red streaks will appear on the paper. Any smaller greyish creatures are mites which have yet to feed. They turn red when they feed on blood and then turn to reddish-brown as they digest their meal. Low numbers of red mites cause irritation but larger numbers can result in a case of anaemia. The symptoms of anaemia are a pale comb and wattles, weakness, dullness and reduced egg production. Death can occur when red mites get out of control. The red mite life-cycle is only between 7 and 10 days so it is vital to keep checking for them.

How to Prevent and Treat Red Mites

To prevent an infestation of red mites, clean your coop regularly with a disinfectant which is effective against mites. When the coop is clean and dry, apply a dusting of mite powder or spray the coop with an appropriate product such as Smite Professional Red Mite & Parasite treatment. Apply powder to the birds, paying attention to the areas under the wings. You should also apply powder to nesting boxes and perches.

Northern Fowl Mite

The Northern Fowl Mite is an oval shaped mite which is about 1mm in size. Like the red mite, it is initially a pale grey colour and feeds on the chicken by sucking its blood and then turning to a brown colour. This feeding irritates the bird causing it to lay fewer eggs and to lose weight. A bad infestation can lead to anaemia and matted feathers. The mite lays its eggs at the base of the feathers around the vent. The eggs hatch after a few days and mature into adult after 12 days. They will spend their entire life on the bird.

Treating Northern Fowl Mites

With this type of mite, it is important to focus on the bird rather than the coop as you will not find the mites hiding away in the cracks as with the red mite. These mites will be found on the chickens. You should apply an appropriate powder or spray onto the vent areas once a week for three weeks.

Scaly Leg Mites

These mites burrow beneath the scales of the chickens' legs, damaging the tissues. You may see white crusting and the affected legs may become infected. The mites cause only minor irritation initially but the damage will get worse as time passes. It can take months for severely damaged limbs to recover after treatment.

Treating Scaly Leg Mites

Cleanse the affected legs using an appropriate anti-mite treatment together with a toothbrush or cloth. When the legs have dried, dip them into a solution of an appropriate mite treatment. smothering the legs in Vaseline will soften the scales and help to suffocate the mites. Repeat the treatment every few weeks until the legs start to heal.

The Depluming Mite

The De-pluming Mite is related to the Scaly Leg Mite and is also a burrowing species. However, the depluming mite burrows into the feather shafts, particularly on the head, neck, back, belly and upper legs. This activity damages the tissues which then ooze a fluid which the mites feed on. The burrowing is irritating and causes chickens to scratch and pull their feathers out. Chickens may lay fewer eggs and lose weight. De-pluming Mites give birth to live young and they can complete their life-cycle in as little as 17 days. They tend to be most prevalent in spring and summer. Mites are transmitted between birds by direct contact.

Treating the Depluming Mite

Consult with your vet if you suspect that your chickens have been infested by these mites as you will need a prescription medication to tackle them.


Chickens can also suffer from Lice which are golden in colour; Lice are fast moving and lay eggs (nits) which are white. Both the nits and the lice can usually be found around the vent, under the wings or at the base of their feathers. Lice bite the chickens and feed on the skin and the secretions from the damaged skin. Low numbers of lice cause irritation, larger numbers lead to weight loss, restlessness and a reduction in the numbers of eggs laid; Lice are most active later in the year and are transmitted by direct contact.

Treating Lice

Treat the coop as you would for red mite infestations and apply a powder or spray which is effective against lice to the birds.

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