Thursday, February 11, 2010

Northern Fowl Mites

I was inspecting my Brahma hen to see if she was laying yet, and she in not, but what I did see were creepy crawly orange transparent little mites all over near her vent area. Initially I was horrified and could barely bring myself to look at another hen. Turning over a few more hens led to more unfortunate discoveries. My most heavily feathered birds are more infected whereas most the healthy sexlinks and Welsummers have just a few if any that I could see. 

First I got online to diagnose the problem. Bad news, is that I'm pretty sure they are the Northern Fowl Mite. Here is what I know:
  1. They are blood suckers
  2. Found primarily near vent, under wings, back of head
  3. They can bite humans, cause dermatitis, and possibly pester dogs etc.
  4. Pigeons and other wild birds may be infected, but most likely transfer is from other chickens.
  5. Once you have them, it is difficult to get rid of them completely.
  6. Most sources call for heavy regime of alternate pesticide use on all birds and in coop.
  7. Sick, old and injured birds are most suceptable
  8. They reside in nesting boxes and can live off host for a while, they like wood 
  9. They are more prevalent in winter, probably because the birds are cooped up, not getting out as much to dust bathe.
  10. They can affect egg production, meat bird growth and overall health if allowed to thrive
As far as pesticide use goes, I would wonder about how they would affect the chickens, build up in the walls of the coop, work their way into their eggs and meat (our food source). I called my chicken expert friend and she was like "welcome to the world of raising chickens". She said she has dealt with them for as long as she's raised chickens. Usually her birds have low numbers of mites, she said if she sees a lot she treats them with diatomacious earth or occasionally Ivermectin wormer for cows. She has used a couple other products including pesticides for immediate results when she thought a chicken was going to die from the infestation.

My first action was to take one of my wormer formulas that I feed the goats and mix it into the chicken feed. The herbs are garlic, wormwood, black walnut and something I'm forgetting. I have another wormer powder with different herbs that I am going to alternate with. My next step is to put some diatamacious earth in their dirt bath area. For my couple birds that are most affected I might sprinkle the powder near their vent area or make an herbal paste to smear around the area. I just started reading one of my more thorough herbal pet books, "Herbs for Pets", and I haven't gotten very far but I think I'll get some more ideas from her. This weekend I am going to clean the coop out completely, let it dry and spray it with some sort of herbal solution. Ingredients that initially come to mind are vinegar, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic and dr Bronners soap, maybe some neem oil. We are going to big up some bags of cedar chips use those instead of hay in their nesting boxes and on the ground. 

I have this dreadful feeling that I'll be battling these pests forever. On the other hand I'm guessing I'll need to change my perspective on parasites so that I am not emotionally tormented by them. I broke my number one rule, brought in adult birds into my flock without any sort of inspection or quarantine. I trusted my source but should not have. Lesson learned. I'll keep you posted on the progress. If you have experience with chicken mites and have had success with alternative remedies, please share. As much as I am disgusted by these parasites, they are a fact of life. Chickens self treat with dust baths. So far, the most infected birds still look great, a far as bright combs and healthy plumage. I can't help but wonder if this was really inevitable...


az said...

You know actually that sounds more like poultry lice than mites. Mites tend to look more like reddish black dirt accumulated on the feather shafts and they don't really move fast enough to see well. Lice are like little sesame seeds that you can visible see crawling around. Check out the poultry page I listed to better check. Either way we have had experience with both and we use pyrethrins for treatment. It's a marigold extract, and it's organic, you can use it in organic operations. It's generally listed at poultry dust. If it is mites then yes give the coop a good cleaning and dust the whole thing. Then give them a dusting box and mix a couple cups of dusting powder with sand, the chickens will take care of the rest. Use it once every week for about 3 weeks. If it's lice, then just a light dusting in the coop and in the dusting box and you're good to go. You can eat the chicken eggs, don't dust them, while treating. Lice don't live off the chicken for very long. I know they are gross, but don't worry, with birds comes bugs!

Emily said...

Hey, I think you are right Az. One of the first pages I came across initially said that the mites could be pin head size and they showed a transluscent similar shaped looking parasite. But when I first had spotted the pests I figured they were feeding off dead skin and couldn't really imagine them sucking blood or leaving the host and nesting in the wood etc. Well, thanks for setting me on the right track! I sure appreciate the information.