Red mite is one of the main threats to your chickens. Terry Beebe advises how to deal with it

During the year, the poultry keeper comes across a variety of problems    that have to be dealt with. These include the birds going through the moult, the usual seasonal illnesses, one of the main ones being the respiratory diseases, and there is the ever-increasing insect infestations. The latter include lice, northern mite and – the worst problem of all – red mite. This insect is, at first, hard to detect and, once it gains a hold, it is almost impossible to remove. It can cause serious problems including the loss of many birds, loss of egg production and extra hours administering treatment.

Often people don’t even realise they have a problem with red mite, and it is not discovered until they come out of a poultry shed and start to itch all over! The loss of birds increases rapidly, there is a noticeable difference in the flock, birds are lethargic, pale in the face and comb, and, in advanced cases, they stand with wings drooping, and some just fall over without the strength to stand.

Finding the mite during daylight can be difficult. This is because the insect hides in cracks and crevices inside the poultry house where we have no chance of seeing them, let alone be able to eradicate the insects and their eggs.

Red mite hide during the day and come out at night when the birds are roosting. They climb onto the birds and feed (suck the blood). This can last anything up to two hours; then they leave the bird and return to the hiding place to breed. It is very easy to mistake red mite for lice, especially during the day, as they are a beige, or buff colour. This is because they have not fed. Once they climb onto the birds to feed, the blood they suck turns their bodies red, hence the name red mite.

Once you have an infestation, it is critical that you spray every nook and cranny, both the inside and outside of the shed, every three or four days. This timing is very important – the idea is to try and break the breeding cycle of the insect.

If this treatment is not carried out correctly, the insects will multiply out of control, and the loss of birds will be quite staggering.

The breeding cycle is a total of seven days from the adults laying the eggs to the young hatching.

They then start to develop, and reach maturity after three or four days. They are ready to start to breed again by day seven. One single female can lay in excess of 100,000 eggs, so this explains the importance of the treatment and control of these insects.The signs:

Do your hens have red mite?

Look out for:

Loss of egg production.Birds refusing to go back into the coop at night.Eggs being laid outside (especially if they are normally in the nest box).Birds going very pale in wattles and comb.Eggs covered with red stains and the mite.Itching after coming out of the poultry shed.


There are many products on the market that are produced specifically for the treatment of these insects. Poultry Shield, Smite and Barrier Red Mite Concentrate X are all liquid dilute sprays.

You mix these with water and thoroughly soak the inside of the sheds, making sure you get into the corners and crevices, especially around the nestboxes and perches, as these are one of the main places for the mite togather. Treating the sheds is always better done towards the end of the day, and even at dusk, as this is the time the mites emerge from their hiding places.

Spray with the birds in the sheds, but try to avoid spraying them directly. The birds can be powdered with a range of suitable products made to help deal with this problem. It will help to protect the birds, but this does not mean that the sheds can be left and not sprayed.

For suitable products, check out the websites below. These will also give added information and advice on how to deal with this poultry pest.



Some of our readers may be reluctant to use products that are chemically based. If this is the case, then there are non-chemical alternatives available.

Barrier Healthcare is a UK-based company that produces a large range of nonchemical products; these are manufactured from pure natural ingredients including plant oils. Included in their extensive range is a Red Mite X Liquid Concentrate treatment for sheds, and Red Mite Powder and Red Mite Concentrate which are suitable for use directly onto the birds.

The liquid concentrate is very easy to use. You dilute a mix of 50 parts water to 1 part concentrate. This makes the product very economical to use as a 500ml bottle makes 25 litres of treatment. To apply the mix, use a normal garden-type spray, making sure all areas inside the shed have a good soaking, especially corners and crevices, nest boxes and perches.

The powder is ideal for use on the birds. It penetrates through the feathers onto the skin; it is also ideal for use in the nest boxes and broody coops for protection of hens and chicks.

You do have to take into account that non-chemical products can take longer to work than the chemical ones so, if using these, allow extra time.

If you decide to use a non-chemical product, do not mix this with a chemical one, as one product will prevent the other from working.

MORE: Barrier Animal Healthcare, Tel 01953 456363 or visit

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