When it comes to parasitic mites, Ben Franklin was right: An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
As the survivor of a heavy chicken mite infestation and owner of a website on the subject, I advise people who wish they had never let this genie out of the bottle to ask the question “What do we wish we’d known, before it ever started?”
There are Mites and then there are Mites
First off, you have mites. We all do. There are scavenger mites living on the faces of 100% of humans, eating our excretions, coming out to mate while we sleep. There are other scavenger mites in our bedsheets, eating our cast-off skin cells. This may not please you, but you’re not going to get rid of them. And these scavengers are not going to bite you.
What concerns us here is how to prevent an infestation of parasitic mites. Mites such as Dermanyssus gallinae (the chicken mite, or red mite) and the Northern fowl mite are often found on birds, and cause huge economic losses because they feed aggressively on chicken blood. Poultry can also harbor bed bugs, by the way: another thing you wouldn’t stand in line for. And all these ectoparasites can cross species lines and make you their unlucky favorite.
The Joys of Abstinence
Just as you can severely limit your chances of getting pregnant by not having sex, there are things you can avoid to limit your chances of a parasitic mite infestation:
- Don’t raise chickens in your yard.
- Don’t bring home bird’s nests.
- Don’t keep pet birds in your house.
- Don’t allow pigeons to roost under your balcony or in your attic.
- Don’t let rodents make your house their home.
- Don’t buy a fur coat from a thrift shop.
- Don’t pick up used upholstered furniture from the curb.
But some people really, really want backyard chickens. Which brings us to:
If You Must…
If you are one of those folks whose life is not complete without a flock of chickens, here are steps you can take to lower your chances of a parasitic mite infestation.
Know your grower: Buy your baby chicks from a reputable source. Have someone who knows what they are looking for inspect the chicks with a jeweler’s’ loupe for signs of any stage of mite growth (egg, nymph, deutonymph, adult) before you buy your chicks.
Contain your chickens: The free-range idea is lovely. But free-range chickens are likely to come into contact with a variety of wild birds as well as rodents. This means the pristine chicks you bought from your reputable grower could pick up any number of ectoparasites from visitors to your yard.
Keep your coop clean: Parasitic mites as well as bed bugs are cave parasites. They co-infest the coop and its residents. Keeping your coop clean is an important part of preventing a few mites from turning into a major infestation. Use a cleanser with miticide properties on a regular schedule. You can also treat your coop with a commercially available mix of diatomaceous earth (to desiccate mites) and essential oils (which repel mites and are a natural miticide).
Keep your chickens clean: Consult your veterinarian about a good miticide shampoo and use it regularly. If you are organic, consult your veterinarian about an essential oils shampoo. Regular bathing is key.
Insulate your home from your chickens: Your community likely has an ordinance mandating a minimum distance between your chickens and your home. This ordinance is for your protection. Follow it. It is also a very good idea to keep a spare pair of shoes outside your back door and use those to walk out to your coop and back. That way, if your flock does contract parasitic mites, you won’t track them into your house before you realize what is happening.
If All Else Fails
Some will ignore prevention tactics. Most of those folks will be fine. Others will come down with the kind of infestation that keeps you up at night reading about how to put the mite genie back into the bottle. Check out my website, www.yearofthemite.com. You’ll find advice and encouragement for getting rid of this scourge, as well as stories about the experience of infestation. Best of luck.