I’ll carry on with the henhouse hunting for the two Araucanas over Easter – I don’t think there could be a more appropriate time to be poking around coops and it’ll be great to have four whole days to devote to poultry matters as I haven’t had a great deal of spare time to explore chicken residences over the past week or so. Another issue has sprung up with all this lovely warm weather: the red mite. This little parasite can really blight the henkeeper’s summer if not caught early enough, but stamped out now and we can keep on top of the issue for the rest of the season. The tiny red specks live and reproduce on chickens (though they’ll readily latch on to humans – I have dived into the house to rid myself of the creeps with a hot shower many times after cleaning out the house). They live in the tiny cracks and crevices of a coop (and some believe, under the felt roof), which is why our shiplapped sheds are particularly attractive dwellings for them, and at the ends of perches, crawling onto the poor chickens at night to feed on them (hence their larger and redder appearance in the morning).
In her excellent book Chickens, Susie Baldwin has a very handy chapter ‘General Health’ on this and other maladies, in which she suggests a natural treatment called Diatom Powder (Diatomaceous Earth), which I hadn’t come across before (available to buy from Flyte So Fancy) that you can puff into the corners and cracks of the coop. She also recommends placing crushed garlic cloves in the drinkers, as red mites loathe the taste and amazingly the eggs themselves don’t take on the smell and flavour of the eggs. I’m afraid to say that James and I, in a desperate bid to rid our flock of the parasites, have only ever used a rather harsh chemical spray treatment, aptly called Total Mite Kill, and never took time to explore the alternatives! As Susie says, whatever treatment you opt for, the most important thing is in order to eradicate these fast-reproducing creatures you need to treat your birds and the house regularly to break the life cycle of the mites and rid you and your feathered flock of the critters.