Red mites can invade at any time, but warmer UK weather is set to give them a significant advantage as they thrive in warmer conditions. This has caused a considerable increase in red mite infestations over the last few years.
The coming red mite problem
Avian influenza has been dominating the headlines and the resources of poultry farmers, government and industry bodies for the last 6 months. But, bird flu isn’t the only threat to poultry. A less deadly, but very distressing problem for poultry, is red mite infestations.
What are red mites?
Red mites are ectoparasites (Dermanyssus gallinae), which live and breed quickly in poultry coops and sheds, and whilst they infest all types of housing they have been known to prefer wooden coops where there are gaps and crevices to hide in.
During the night, red mites feed off the blood of poultry, and then digest the blood and breed during the day. It is estimated that 5% of a bird’s blood can be taken by red mites overnight. This causes stress in the birds and can lead to anaemia, which affects their immune system, leaving them susceptible to a range of illnesses and diseases, which in turn can cause a higher mortality rate in flocks.
Mite eggs can lay dormant for many months, but can be awakened by the body heat of the birds, which is why poultry keepers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been warned that flocks could be more susceptible whilst the housing order is in place. After hatching, a mite will start feeding within four to seven days, and after mating, female mite’s will lay between four and eight eggs per day, feeding on the bird’s blood in between each batch. This rapid breeding process heightens risk for the birds.
Symptoms of a red mite infestation
Red mites can be seen with the naked eye, but when there are low numbers they can be extremely difficult to spot. They are also nocturnal; which adds to the difficulty. Some of the signs to look out for include:
- Red mites, but also grey mites, which are their lava form which change colour when they have fed on a birds blood
- Birds which are reluctant to enter their coop or show signs of restlessness
- Pale combs and wattles on the birds
- Signs on birds itching
- Loss of feathers
- Blood on the legs and scabs on the feet
- Blood spots on the eggs
- Aggressive birds and feather pecking
- An increase in food consumption, as birds will often eat more when there is a large infection
- In extreme cases there can be between a ten and 20% drop in egg production
- In severe infestations, death of the birds
Red mite infections range in severity. A rule of thumb for the level of infection are described as:
- An acceptable level of infection is generally classed as 50,000 red mites per bird
- At around 150,000 red mites per bird, it will have a physical impact on them
- Fatalities will occur when there are a staggering 50 million red mites per bird
How can you combat red mites?
Although it is virtually impossible to totally eradicate red mites from flocks, there are things you can do to keep them down to a manageable level. These include:
- Constant vigilance and good care of the birds by regularly inspecting the flock
- An instant response when red mites are detected
- Cleaning, disinfecting and using right products
- Regularly replacing the bedding, keeping it clean and fresh
- Using plastic coops instead of wooden ones, as they are easier to clean and give less places for the mites to hide
- Treating the birds before placement can reduce the severity of a future infestation
- Practising stringent biosecurity
What to do in event of an infestation
When an infection is spotted, instant action should be taken. It is recommended that the birds are removed from their coops so the cleaning and disinfection process can take place. This means cleaning everything.
- Remove any bedding from the coops and dispose of in a tied off plastic bag and burn them.
- Strip the coop down as far as you can, removing feed bins, boxes and any containers, including any felt roofing that might be used.
- Use a detergent that generates a foam that can get into every space, to dislodge the eggs and mites that are hiding there.
Biosecurity is key
Robust biosecurity on-farm can help red mites from getting established on your premises. You should:
- Have a low, and limited number of access points to the property
- Have control of your perimeter fences
- Refuse access to visitors who have been at another poultry farm
- Provide foot dips at entry points to where the birds are kept
- Have a change of clothes for workers and visitors
- Clean ventilation fans, and brushes etc, regularly
- Keep wild birds away from your flock
- Clean adjoining rooms
How Livetec can help protect your birds from red mites
Biosecurity is a year round process, as poultry suffer from a whole host of diseases as well as lice and mites. Some diseases are fatal such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease, but lice and mites cause great discomfort to poultry. In great numbers they can affect the health of the birds and even fatalities.
Livetec have been championing on-farm biosecurity for over a decade. By having a Livetec biosecurity plan in place and following the protocols set out in the step-by-step format, you can greatly reduce the risk of a red mite infestation.
Contact us here.