“What the…???” A few months ago, I went to collect the eggs out of our coop and was horrified to find extraordinarily small, almost microscopic bugs, crawling all over the eggs in the nesting box. “What in the frickity frack are THOSE!?” I shouted to my husband, wondering what could now be going wrong with our backyard chicken project. We had only been raising chickens for four months at this point and already had to deal with a myriad of issues, including culling one of our hens due to a persistent respiratory infection that refused to abate.
Back to the creepy-crawlies. These things are tiny tiny tiny, and it’s almost impossible to find any decent info on them. After doing much worrying, and much research, I diagnosed the critters as chicken mites. Ew. These buggers hide out during the day in the cracks and crevices in the coop then feast on the chickens at night, little vampires sucking their blood. Swell. They can eventually kill hens if left untreated. One of our hens refused to budge from the nesting box so I checked her hind end and there they were, many of the ruthless mites all over her, crawling on her skin, near her vent, it was awful. Her vent was all crusty and she was missing a bunch of feathers. I felt like a terrible parent for not noticing sooner.
Anyhoo: after finding the critters on our hens, it was late, I figured I would have to do a serious coop cleaning the next day. All bedding out, removed it and placed it far away, scrubbed coop with soapy, slightly bleachy solution, and figured a generous application of FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth (DE) would do it, or so I had been told by the limited info I could find. Long story short, it didn’t work. I gave it about a week, but the darn mites were still there. Egads, now what do I do??
Head to the feed store, buy huge bag o’ pine shavings (kiln dried is very important!), a fresh bag of FOOD GRADE DE (I’ll explain why), Poultry Protector (a natural pest spray), and permethrin. No, I didn’t want to use any sort of pesticide but at this point I’m thinking if I don’t all my chickens will die and I’ve just started selling eggs to co-workers. I can’t lose my business, even if it’s currently only two dozen a week!
Why a fresh bag of FOOD GRADE DE? In my research I had discovered that if DE gets wet, it becomes useless. I had an “ah ha!” moment. Everything I had read indicated that DE does the trick when it comes to mites and other pests. Perhaps my DE had been wet at some point (it had) and that’s why it was no longer effective. Why do I keep capitalizing FOOD GRADE? Because that’s the type you need to use around your chickens. There are two types of DE, food grade and non-food grade. The non can be toxic, so stick to the FOOD GRADE. Go to any feed store, they should have it. I digress…
Oh–and wear a dust mask and safety glasses/goggles when applying DE, and don’t get it in your chickens’ eyes or around their beaks. I digress again…
So back to the coop I go for Round Two of thorough cleaning. This time I applied the Poultry Protector diluted spray after the bleach solution had dried. Then I sprinkled a little permethrin in the cracks and crevices in the coop, lots of FOOD GRADE DE all over, in every nook and cranny, a very thick layer. Then came the pine shavings, another sprinkle of DE, and I was done. Later that night, we applied DE to all the hens and I even applied a little permethrin to the vent area of the infested hen. I gave it another week and it had worked to an extent. We continued to dust the coop and hens for a few weeks, every few days. I also removed the majority of the poop each day and applied a little fresh pine shavings after dusting the coop with DE. It took a few weeks, but we ended up ridding the hens and coop of the mites. When using a natural method of pest control, you have to be diligent and give it time. I would discourage my fellow homesteaders from using pesticides because 1) they can be toxic, and 2) pests can build up a resistance to what you’re using. We only dusted with the small amount of permethrin once. Just remember when using DE to control mites you have to be patient and diligent. It really does work! Hopefully there’s not a next time, but should there be we will skip the permethrin and use it only as a last resort.