POULTRY KEEPERS have been warned to keep on top of red mites this summer, particularly if high temperatures continue.

Red mites are blood-feeding ectoparasites that live in small cracks inside poultry houses, coming out at night to feed on birds during the warmer months. They are difficult to eradicate and have significant welfare and egg production implications in commercial and backyard flocks.

They become active at 5 °C but as temperatures increase, so does their level of activity. They thrive under warm and humid weather conditions, and are seen as the most common health problem a poultry keeper will face.

“Over the years red mite has been a continuous challenge for owners of backyard poultry, as it is extremely hard to spot and treat, with many people experiencing reoccurring infestations in chicken coops,” said EBVS avian medicine specialist, Steve Smith.

“These parasites cause extreme discomfort for chickens by feeding off the bird’s blood often causing severe anaemia,” he continued. “As well as anaemia, these mites can cause weight loss, a reduction in eggs produced and can cause death in extreme cases. To make matters worse, the parasites are known to carry diseases which can be transmitted to chickens, including Salmonella and E.coli.”

One of the biggest problems for owners is that it is difficult to identify whether red mite is present in chickens, as they are commonly only active, and therefore visible, at night. Working with poultry owners and vets, Mr Smith has found some effective ways to check for the presence of red mite.

“At the end of the day, place a white sheet on the floor of the coop, near the birds and wait for at least an hour, or ideally five hours, after dark when the mites will be most active,” explained Mr Smith.

“After this time, when you shine a torch on the white sheet you should be able to see grey or red spots if red mite are present.

“Another way in which you can check for red mite is by running your hand under the perches, again at night, to see if red mite are present there. This is because the mites will travel to the chickens to feed, so can be visible around nesting areas,” he added.