I’ve always prided myself in keeping a healthy and clean flock. Sure, we’ve had a few run-ins with chickens that we’re brought into the flock throughout our chicken keeping days (who hasn’t?), but we came out with more knowledge once we actually walked through those issues first-hand. Our first misadventure was lice. We had bought several French Black Copper Marans that, unbeknownst to us at the time, had lice. We had no idea what we were doing back then (years ago), and we learned, very quickly, to look over future sets of birds that we bought.
Surpassing that, we’ve never had any issues with external parasites in our flock. Well, until the mite infestation of early 2018.
The Virginia weather has been so crazy this year, that I’m sure it played a role. The other issue is that our flock hasn’t been free-ranging like they had been before, due to us having to re-grade and re-seed our backyard area. Certainly, we’re remedying that by feeding them a mostly raw diet with feed scraps and veggies, but we’re missing the point of the rotational grazing and free-ranging—it’s not just about the diet. The biggest reason we free-range is to keep down on internal and external parasites. Because chickens are rotating or free-ranging, they are less likely to be consumed by parasites, in general, because their diet is so widely diverse, and they are dispersed across the property rather than sitting in one place all day long.
Unfortunately, with the current property projects, our chickens have been lacking in the free-ranging department.
Whatever the case may be, I walked outside one morning this winter to discover that our chickens had, at some point, become mite magnets. Northern Fowl Mites, to be exact.
Mites are nasty little things. They feed on the blood, dead skin cells, and feathers of your chickens. Chickens most commonly get them from migrating birds. Because our chicken coop sits directly under the wooded area of our property, this shouldn’t have shocked me.
While there are natural preventative measures that you can take to help lessen the possibility of your chickens getting mites, sometimes, they simply don’t work. It takes a perfect storm for chickens to get mites. Let’s go over some ways to prevent them from getting mites, and then I want to share with you how we were able to naturally get rid of them, without any chemicals!
Ways to Naturally Prevent Mites
- Dust Bathing Area. Your chickens need to have a dust bathing area available to them at all times—yes, even if it’s raining and snowing. This is their natural defense when external parasites arise, and the only way for them to naturally get rid of the parasites themselves. Make sure you have a bathing area that is either under-cover, or has a removable cover.
- Add wood ash to their dust bathing area, as it is a natural mite deterrent and kills the external parasites when it comes into contact with them. I prefer adding wood ash to my dust bathing area, versus Diatomaceous Earth (DE), as it has a higher efficacy than DE when it gets wet.
- Brewer’s Yeast or Cultured Dried Yeast in their feed. While this can be hit or miss, adding brewer’s yeast or cultured dried yeast to their feed can help deter mites, but it’s not always 100% effective if other factors are at play. You could also try adding garlic to their feed, but they’d have to consume a lot per chicken for the efficacy to be high enough that not a single chicken had a mite issue.
We could talk about adding herbs to the coop to deter mites, but the plain fact is, herbs in the chicken coop won’t deter mites. Mites are tiny parasites that hide in crevasses and bedding, so while they might not hang out in nesting boxes due to nesting box herbs, they will most certainly be hanging out on the chicken roost and ready for a feast when your chickens roost at night.
While nesting box herbs can most certainly help, mites can just bury deeper into feathers and onto skin to avoid nesting box herbs.
Mites can also hide in feed and other nutrient dense area that have waste or dust, if there’s a warm-blooded host around. So make sure you check throughout your feed bins regularly.
Natural Mite Treatment
So you’ve tried all of the natural preventatives, which are very few but easy to maintain, but you still have mites. I found myself in this same exact situation. While at first I looked at the sky and cursed this small parasitic filth, I took it as an opportunity to show you that mites really can be treated naturally and without chemicals. Perfect timing for my chicken book that’s coming out Spring 2019! More on that another day.
Let me show you how to get rid of chicken mites, naturally!
- Clean the Coop Thoroughly. Take out all of the bedding, burn it. Do not compost it. Simply toss it out, burn it, and be done with it. Sweep out the coop to ensure you got most, or all, of the little nasties. I did not add bedding back into the coop after cleaning (step 2), just the nesting boxes.
- Treat the Coop. Spray down your coop with eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, peppermint, basil, and cinnamon bark essential oils. All of these essential oils have been proven to have anti-parasitic effects when used topically. You can make this spray by placing 45 drops of each oil into a 16 oz. glass water bottle. Add your essential oils (eucalyptus and tea tree are important!). Fill the bottle up most of the way with water, then top off with about 1-2 tbsp of witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, or white vinegar. Spray down your entire coop, top to bottom, with this solution, concentrating heavily on dark areas and cracks in the roost and nesting boxes. After it dries, you can add straw back to your nesting boxes, but I would leave the coop floor bare and scoop out poop each day. Once the roosts are dry, dust them down with Diatomaceous Earth. Continue to dust the roosts with DE a couple of times each week.
- Dust Chickens with Wood Ash. The same wood ash that works wonders in the dust bathing area also works wonders with manually dusting your chickens. Take wood ask and dust each chicken individually, making a point to try and get it to touch the chicken’s skin. Concentrate on the neck, top of the tail where their oil gland is, the vent, and under the wings.
- Treat the Chickens. In a study done at Clemson University, mite infestations were successfully dealt with using the topical application of garlic. Use the below recipe once a day for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, to rid your chickens of mites. You can continue to dust your chickens with wood ash once a week, but it may not be necessary.
Chicken Mite Treatment Spray
20 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (or 1 oz garlic extract)
45 drops eucalyptus essential oil*
30 drops lavender essential oil*
30 drops peppermint essential oil*
20 drops cinnamon bark essential oil*
20 drops melissa essential oil*
2 tbs White Vinegar (unless using garlic extract)
- In a 16 oz. glass spray bottle, combine garlic (or extract) and essential oils. If using smashed garlic, allow it to sit for several hours before using.
- If using garlic extract, do not use white vinegar. Simply fill the rest of the bottle up with water 3/4 of the way full. If using smashed garlic, add vinegar.
- Shake the bottle well before each spray. Spray directly on the skin of the chicken, concentrating only on the neck, the vent area, and the top of the tail where the oil gland is. I also spray their feet and the base of the roosting bar so that when they lay back down on their feet and roost, the mixture gets onto their bellies. Do this treatment at night after they’ve gone to roost.
- Continue this treatment for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, to rid your chickens of mites. You can continue to dust your chickens with wood ash once a week, but it may not be necessary.
We were able to successfully rid our chickens of mites with essential oils and garlic! I hope that this method helps you as well. More than likely you’ve come across this blog because you’re currently having this issue, or what to know what to do if you have this issue. I’m here to tell you that it works!
Topical Application of Garlic Reduces Northern Fowl
Mite Infestation in Laying Hens1
G. P. Birrenkott, G. E. Brockenfelt, J. A. Greer, and M. D. Owens
Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina 29634-0361
Organic parasite control for poultry and rabbits in British Columbia, Canada (essential oils)
Cheryl Lans and Nancy Turner