Our small flock of ten laying hens and one
rooster, all ended up sickly in a thick infestation of mites at
the end of this past winter. It took twelve weeks to get
rid of them. Three months of itchy, heebie- jeebies!
We live on a large wooded homestead. Fairly certain, the
mites were passed to our flock from the wild birds that we feed
during the winter. We get heavy snow on the NY/Canadian
border; which is problematic for our birds who are free to range
the rest of the year. While they are sometimes cooped up for
days at a time, they do not get regular dust
On our part, we were not providing sufficient ash from the wood
stove in the chickens’ covered yard. Not for lack of ash; we heat
exclusively with wood, and burn a lot of it! Our failing was
thoughtlessness that was followed by unintentional neglect.
Too, it was the trek to the coop in continuous two plus feet of
snow. We have to use sleds to get anything of bulk or weight
moved from late November to early March. No, the snowy trek
didn’t keep us from feeding, watering and collecting eggs
daily. In the future, all of the chickens’ needs will be
met, whatever the weather!
Another mistake: we ran out of pine shavings, which is our first
choice for bedding. On hand, and cheap… hay and straw cut
from the field. Not knowing that mites find pleasure in
playing hide and seek inside of the hollow dry grass.
When spring broke, our flock didn’t appear very healthy.
Dull combs, weight loss, slowed laying and low energy were
exhibited. After, assessing them all and the coop, we
determined an unhealthy population of mites had moved in.
Much internet research followed. There are a few different
types of parasitic mites, as you may well know. Which kind
was it, that were sucking the blood of our beloved chickens?
We’ll never know. The health of our flock was what mattered.
immediate steps taken were – we set up new temporary housing in
the pickup truck’s cap (best fifty dollars spent, purchased used
from a friend over fifteen years ago). All the birds,
received hand-rubbed diatomaceous earth
massages before moving into the temp coop and then after, weekly,
for ten weeks. We choose to live chemical free lives.
So, running to the farm store for Sevin was not an option.
We keep honey bees (also treatment free) who share the same yard
with our flock. I think no further explanation is needed…
From what I’ve read of your bee keeping
management style, we think much alike.
cleanup measures involved, burning the grass bedding, wooden
nesting boxes and roost poles. We washed down, the empty
coop weekly with a dilution of neem oil. Every week, every surface
The temporary coop was moved weekly to a fresh spot in the
yard. At this same time the chickens received their dust
massages. When on their own, the chickens had their pick of
multiple dusting areas of diatomaceous earth and ash. The
chickens were only in the truck cap during the night, to protect
them from a long list of predators (opossums, racoons,
Eastern Hog Nose snakes, bobcats and coyotes). Yeah, all of
those and it happened to be mites that almost “did in” at least
one of our hens.
As you know, some hens get broody in the longer, warmer days
of spring. This is when we very nearly lost our sweet,
want-to-be mama, Flicka. Ended up sacrificing her clutch of
seven eggs and nursing her through with electrolytes. She
turned around quickly. In just a couple of days she was able
to rejoin her sisters. The hardest part during this time,
was for our young children not being able to hold and cuddle their
feathered pets. The touch deprivation extended both
ways. Our chickens are our pets. We don’t eat them up; we
love them up! Vegetarian here. But, we are growing some
mighty healthy, free range kids on three chicken eggs a day!
Our experience – mite infestations can be fierce and
persistent! Going forward, we will take all of the necessary
measures to keep such invasions at bay.
As you can tell, I don’t write often or well.
However, so very often I’ve gleaned entertainment, joy, and
knowledge from reading about your adventures, I felt compelled to
share some of our story when you
asked the question.