Learn how to identify types of mites parasitizing your flock, how to treat your chickens and their coops safely and effectively, and how to prevent further infestations.
You may ask yourself, “Why should I be concerned about my chickens having mites?” I mean, really, these are chickens, right? They hang out in a coop or wander around the yard bustling through grass and bushes. And, frequently, they dust themselves with dirt which has to be full of all sorts of parasites. And, yes, this is a matter of fact, chickens do all of the above.
Although mites in chickens are not common, a mite infestation can have a huge impact on the health and productivity of your flock from a decrease in egg production to decreases in the fertility of your roosters. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at poultry mites and why you should be concerned.
What are poultry mites?
Poultry mites are invertebrates, also known as arthropods. They have a chitinous exoskeleton (hard, external skeleton). They extremely tiny, external parasites measuring no more than 1mm and barely visible to the naked eye. They have no wings, but do have eight legs as they are an arachnid, not an insect. Mites are not host specific and may infest other animal species.
What are the different types of poultry mites and how do they harm my flock?
You may have heard them referred to by their common names:
- chicken mites, roost mites, or red chicken mites∆
- fowl mites∆
- leg mites∆
- cyst mite
- depluming mite
- feather mite
∆Primary mites in backyard flocks
Some mites are nocturnal feeders, feeding on poultry only at night and hiding out during daylight hours in and around the coop in the cracks and tight, dark places, on perches, in bedding and nesting material.
However, not all mite species are nocturnal feeders. There are some, like the Northern Fowl mite that are obligate feeders during the day, as well.
So, let’s break this down in the table below. You’ll find the common names and species, typical size, life cycle, host species, effects of infestation, and demographics.Click to get the “Chicken Mites Cheat Sheet”
How can I manage, or better yet, prevent a mite infestation on my chickens?
As with most things livestock-related, prevention is key. If you can avoid introduction of mites and other pests into your flock you are ahead of the game and can be assured you have healthy chickens. However, most of our backyard chickens do not live in a protective bubble, nor do they stay pest free. We need to be vigilant with our flocks. Best practices for a parasite-free flock include prevention, treatment, management, and biosecurity.
Preventing an unwanted parasite infestation is the first step. As flock keepers we can use the following steps to ensure that we start off with a relatively clean slate.
Prevention, Management & Biosecurity for a Parasite-Free Flock
1. Start your flock directly from fertilized eggs or chicks purchased from a reputable hatchery. For incubators, brooders and other chick rearing items including feeders and waterers you will want to make sure everything is cleaned and sanitized. It’s great to start off with chicken housing that is new and has never been exposed to other chickens or other fowl. However, if you are starting up a new flock following a previous flock, at a minimum, you will want to ensure that those areas where your flock will be living and roaming have had no poultry or other birds on it for at least 4 weeks or longer (4 weeks in warmer weather, or 8 weeks in cooler weather). This includes the chicken house or coop, and all surfaces your chickens will encounter.
2. When introducing new chickens to your flock, and you are unsure of their parasite status, it’s prudent to quarantine them for a minimum of four weeks; longer is better. If this is not feasible, you can treat your entire flock after introduction of new stock.
3. Once your flock is established, check your chickens (and eggs if laying hens) thoroughly and frequently for the two most common mites, chicken mites and Northern Fowl mites (see Table for Chicken Mite Information). If you find that some of your birds are infested, make sure to treat the entire flock (see Treatment), their housing and roaming surfaces. This includes all bedding and layering materials. Mite hotspots can crop up rapidly in optimal conditions.
4. If at all possible, maintain your chicken flock in a yard with chicken wire fencing, or fencing that will exclude wild birds. This may include fully enclosing the top of the yard, as well. Alternatively, use a chicken tractor. This allows for a full enclosure which can prevent wild animals and birds from gaining access to your fowl. This moveable coop also allows for rotational grazing thereby lessening the chance that your flock will remain in a specific area for long periods of time. If your chickens remain in one location, the greater the chance for a mite infestation.
5. Ensure your chickens have access to plenty of dirt. Dirt, or a mixture of dirt and diatomaceous earth (DE) in a dusting box allows the chickens to utilize their own grooming habits to help with the control of mites.
6. Coop sanitation is imperative. Cleaning your chicken house or coop regularly and frequently reduces the chance of certain mites from moving in and setting up house in the coop or on your birds.
7. Limit the number of persons interacting with your flock. Ensure that they are practicing good husbandry and hygiene. For example, using foot baths, or changing footwear between, say your egg layers and your meat chickens. And, always using separate equipment for separate flocks.
If all fails, and you do find mites on your chickens or their eggs, your two options come down to treatment of your flock and their housing, or culling the birds that are severely infested.
Treatment for Mites on Chickens
Please note, the treatment options listed here are approved for use in chickens in the United States, have no egg or meat withdrawal times, and DO NOT include any off-label use formulations. Products mentioned are for informational purposes only and are not meant to be endorsements.
It should also be noted that acaricide resistance is becoming an issue with continued chemical treatment of flocks and poultry environments. Rotating the different classes of treatments may reduce the potential for resistance.
ALWAYS read product labels and follow product instructions carefully. ALWAYS ensure that the products you wish to use are registered for use in your state. ALWAYS protect yourself, your animals, and the environment. ALWAYS wear protective equipment such as gloves, dust mask and protective eyewear when mixing and using any treatment.
1. Chemical Over the Counter (OTC) Treatments for Mites on Chickens
a. Elector PSP® (Elanco, Indiana) contains Spinosad (spinosyns A & D derived from a soil bacterium) diluted and used as a spray directly on the chicken to treat Northern Fowl mite.
b. Permethrin – Permethrin is a synthetic chemical which acts like a natural botanical extract of the chrysanthemum flower (pyrethrum/pyrethrin). Over 1400 permethrin containing products are registered for use in various forms including dust and powder, liquid spray, aerosol, and insecticide infused resin strips.
c. Sulphur – Yellow Jacket Wettable Sulfur II® (York Ag, Pennsylvania) can be used as a dust for a spray for Depluming mites.
2. Non-Chemical Treatments for Mites on Chickens
a. Pyrethrum/Pyrethrin – PyGanic® Specialty Animal Health (MGK, Minnesota) is a 5% pyrethrin liquid formulation used as a direct spray on birds and premises. This is an OMRI approved organic pesticide. There are also many OTC formulations that can be used as a dusting powder, as well.
b. Diatomaceous Earth (DE), Food Grade – Organic, food grade DE is safe to use directly on your chickens as a light dust or as a mixture with DE and play sand in your chickens’ dust box. Play sand is recommended as it is a finer and lighter grain sand than regular construction sand.
c. Herbs and Essential Oils
- Garlic or garlic juice can be added to your chicken feed or as a mixture of 10% garlic extract with water and an essential oil like lavender and sprayed on your chickens’ vents and abdomens, and around their coop.
- Combinations of dried herbs – Dried thyme, rosemary, lavender, spearmint, and garlic can be mixed into bedding and/or dust boxes to repel mites.
- Hemp essential oil – applied as a spray directly on the mites.
- Ajowan essential oil – applied as a spray directly on the mites.
- Clove essential oil – applied as a spray directly on the mites.
- Thyme essential oil – applied as a spray directly on the mites.
d. Gentle soap and water bath – use of a very mild soap with lukewarm water is another safe way to reduce the number of mites on your birds. This works mainly with small flocks, and when you are moving them to a pest-free area to treat infested housing. You will want to do this early and on a warm day, so your birds have plenty of time to dry.
e. Petroleum jelly or mineral oil – can be used to smother mild infestations of scaly leg mites on poultry legs and feet.
There are many treatment options out there. A simple Google search can pull up thousands of “tried and true remedies.” But remember, just because you searched for treatments for chicken mites, see a long list of possibilities pop up on your screen, it does not mean that they are:
- approved for use in the US, or even your state.
- approved for use in chickens.
- safe to use on or around you and your family, your pets, your chickens, or the environment.
The Chemical (1. a-c) and Non-chemical (2. a-b) treatments listed above have been well-studied and deemed safe for use in chickens and meet the listed criteria. Natural and homeopathic treatments like herbs and essential oils do have some evidence showing their safe use, but it is mostly anecdotal.
There are also treatments approved and available to veterinarians for off-label use in chickens which are not listed here. These treatments require longer egg and meat withdrawal times and can lead to resistance within your flock to not only mites, but other parasites, as well. Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about these options.
The Bottom Line
Chicken mites can not only be a headache for you, but can wreak havoc on your chickens, your egg supply, or possibly your meat production. Severe infestation of your birds, if allowed to persist without intervention, is not only inhumane, but it can also lead to the necessary culling of your stock. So, preventing mites from gaining a foothold within your flock and housing should be as much a part of your daily husbandry as their daily feeding and watering.
Along with prevention and good management of your flock, frequent cleaning of equipment, housing, yards and ranging areas, having a simple biosecurity plan in place can greatly reduce your chances for a mite problem.
But even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry, and you will need to treat your birds and their environment. Total eradication after a severe infestation is highly unlikely. The most one can hope for is to drastically reduce the number of mites by treating the chickens and cleaning and treating equipment and housing. If treatment is necessary, ensure you are using one that is approved for use in chickens and are safe for you, your animals, and the environment.
Check out this article about some old-time remedies for lice or mites on chickens that are best forgotten.
Want to learn more about raising chickens? This beginner’s guide to raising chickens (+pro tips) will help you ask yourself all the right questions, and it will also give you a realistic idea of what to expect as a chicken owner.
Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD), https://farad.org/
VetGRAM – FARAD, http://www.farad.org/vetgram/
American Poultry Association (APA) – Chiggers and Poultry, https://amerpoultryassn.com/2022/11/chiggers-and-poultry/
Veterinary Entymology – https://www.veterinaryentomology.org/
VetPestX: Database of pesticides by state for control of insect pests of animals – https://www.veterinaryentomology.org/vetpestx
Chicken Mites Bibliography
1Murillo AC, Abdoli A, Blatchford RA, Keogh EJ, Gerry AC. Parasitic mites alter chicken behaviour and negatively impact animal welfare. Sci Rep. 2020 May 19;10(1):8236. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-65021-0. PMID: 32427882; PMCID: PMC7237419.
2McCrea B, Jeffrey Joan S, Ernst RA, Gerry AC. Common Lice and Mites of Poultry: Identification and Treatment. ANR Publication 8162. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 2005. DOI: 10.3733/ucanr.8162.
3Murillo AC. Mites of Poultry. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/poultry/ectoparasites/mites-of-poultry. 2022 October (modified). Search on 2023 February 18.
4Murillo AC and Mullens BA. A review of the biology, ecology, and control of the northern fowl mite, Ornithonyssus sylviarum (Acari: Macronyssidae). Veterinary Parasitology. Volume 246, 15 November 2017, Pages 30-37.
5Wildlife Futures Team. Manges and Mites. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/research/centers-laboratories/research-initiatives/wildlife-futures-program/resources/fact-sheets/fact-sheet-detail/mange-and-mites. University of Pennsylvania, Wildlife Futures Program. Search on 2023 February 21.
6Moore GC and Merchant ME. Chiggers: House and Landscape Pests. Texas Cooperative Extension Publication E-365; 11-05. Texas A&M University System.
7Tomberlin JK and Drees B. Chiggers and Poultry. https://amerpoultryassn.com/2022/11/chiggers-and-poultry/. American Poultry Association. Searched 2023 February 21.
8Small Flock Poultry Health Manual: Disease Prevention and Good Management. Growing Forward Initiative, BC and Canada. 2011 January 1.
9Grist, A, Parsons, DG, Bianco, C, Cafiso, A, Foster, AP. Suspected Laminosioptes cysticola (fowl cyst mite) lesions in backyard chickens in southern England. Vet Rec Case Rep. 2022; 10:e460. https://doi.org/10.1002/vrc2.460
10Smith, Kirk E., et al. “Clinical Illness in a Wild Turkey with Laminosioptes Cysticola Infestation of the Viscera and Peripheral Nerves.” Avian Diseases, vol. 41, no. 2, 1997, pp. 484–89. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1592211. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
11Wernery U. Avian Medicine: Chapter 14 – Infectious Diseases. Third Edition. Editor(s): Jaime Samour. Mosby. 2016. Pages 434-521.
12Pfeifer M and Ficken M. Depluming Mites in Birds. https://tvmdl.tamu.edu/2020/10/05/depluming-mites-in-birds/. Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. 2020 October 5. Searched on 2023 February 21.
13Labrador, M. d. M., Doña, J., Serrano, D., and Jovani, R.. 2022. Feather mites at night: an exploration of their feeding, reproduction, and spatial ecology. Ecology 103( 1):e03550.
14Poultry Diseases: Poultry Mites . https://www.farmhealthonline.com/US/disease-management/poultry-diseases/mites/. Farm Health Online – Animal Health and Welfare Knowledge Hub. 2018. Searched on 2023 February 22.
15Mite Infestation. http://www.poultrydvm.com/condition/mites. The Poultry DVM. 2023. Searched on 2023 February 22.
16Pesticides Used for Control of Poultry Insect Pests. http://extension.msstate.edu/content/pesticides-used-for-control-poultry-insect-pests. Mississippi State University Extension. 2023. Searched 2023 February 25.
17Dr. Amy Murillo. Backyard Flock Pests and Management. https://youtu.be/SX0Awbzigyo. UC Riverside, California Poultry Federation, and UC Davis Veterinary Medicine. Viewed on 2023 February 27.
18Pests of Poultry. https://www.veterinaryentomology.org/poultry. Veterinary Entymology.
19VetPestX – Pesticides for control of Insect Pests of Animals. https://www.veterinaryentomology.org/vetpestx. Veterinary Entymology.
20Gerry, A. C. VetPestX: Database of pesticides for control of insect pests of animals (updated 1/20/2020). Retrieved from https://www.veterinaryentomology.org/vetpestx
21How to Get Rid of Chicken Mites and Lice Naturally. https://www.freedomrangerhatchery.com/blog/how-to-get-rid-of-chicken-mites-and-lice-naturally/. Freedom Ranger Hatchery, Inc. Searched on 2023 March 5.