There's always a downside - cautionary tale

There I was, enjoying the heatwave. Working on the computer in the garden and thanking my lucky stars for my wonderful life in general... when... my little hennies stopped wanting to go into their house at night, preferring instead trying to roost in a very small cherry tree where the branches were too thin for all but the tiniest of them. I couldn't figure it out and I couldn't let them stay huddled around the cherry tree base all night where they would be easy pickings for Mr Fox. So I cleaned out the henhouse, special clean and physically put them to bed.

The next morning little speckle lay listless and limp on the floor of the henhouse. On closer inspection she wasnt dead, but hardly alive. I put her into a cardboard box and brought her into the house where it was cooler, thinking that perhaps the intense heat had made the henhouse too warm at nights for them. Tried to get her to drink from a syringe but she expired very quickly. I was really baffled and very upset.

We rigged up some netting so that we could leave the back of the henhouse open for ventilation during the night but the following day, little Angelina, our tiny white 'ballerina' hen lay similarly listless on the floor of the henhouse. The rest of the hens seemed fine and I began to think it was some kind of virus - images of bird flu pandemics crossed my mind... nah... there were no symptoms of flu. Just a lifeless bird with no energy and no will to eat or drink or even move about. Then I noticed something crawling on her... a tiny creature... minuscule... then I noticed more of them crawling on me... Red Mites... there were hundreds, thousands, millions of them.

This is my beautiful Angelina Ballerina... we named her that because she struts around like a ballet dancer.

I immediately sprayed Angelina all over with the preparatory product but it didn't seem to do any good at all... they were still crawling. Will nothing kill these horrid things? They aren't supposed to live on the birds... only in the crevices of the housing and then come out at night to feed on the birds, this was a really bad infestation. I sprayed Angela several times but she expired within a very few hours.

I cleaned the hen house like a mad thing. I scrubbed and disinfected and soaked every bit of the wood with the special disinfectant. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day and by bed time it was dry. Of course the hens still didn't want to go to bed but I popped them in, secure in the knowledge that the mites would be dead.

Yesterday morning when I opened the henhouse, Blackie was lying listless on the floor. Oh no! On close inspection she was covered in red mites. I phoned the company who make the special red mite powder and liquid spray and the lady told me to mix up a very strong solution of the liquid and bath the hens. I did this. Wilma and Bluebell had one or two crawlies on them which soon floated off in the disinfectant bath. Blackie was crawling with them... it was like a horror film. In total I bathed her three times in fresh disinfectant each time and at the end I could still see creatures moving about on her feathers. I sat down exhausted in the garden and just cried. Blackie sat listless on the grass... dripping wet... not even bothering to shake the water from her feathers. I was so miserable. I was convinced that I would lose her, and after her, all my lovely hens.

Blackie with Blue bell behind her.

The lady from the disinfectant company had said that there was a huge increase in mites just this last two weeks due to the warm weather but that an infestation as bad as mine would require the burning of the henhouse and possibly destroying the hens. I bathed them all again in yet more fresh disinfectant.

I dragged out the old dog cage that we no longer use and covered it in a shower curtain and placed it on the patio to serve as a new temporary henhouse. With some perches balanced through the bars and some sawdust on the floor it would do. I locked the hen enclosure. The mites can live for up to 6 months without feeding so the enclosure is a no-go area now until next spring.

I ordered a new henhouse... dug deep into the savings and got one of these... I pick it up on Monday. Then used a syringe to force some water with a vitamin additive into poor Blackie and then waited. Just before 5pm in the evening Blackie suddenly perked up... started eating some grass and drinking some water. I breathed a sigh of relief... couldn't see any more mites on her, but now she's feeling better its hard to catch her to check! The hens spent last night in the dog cage and seemed to settle down fine. All three happy and healthy this morning, thank goodness.

I have to repeat the bathing process again in five days to catch any eggs or remaining mites. The trouble with the mites is that they have rather hard shells and they curl themselves up into a ball and almost nothing penetrates through. Very clever really but it makes them almost impossible to kill. The garden will still be infested for the next 6 months or more so I shall have to continue the bathing or thorough dusting of the hens every month now. Thankfully the new henhouse is going to be really easy to keep clean.

The moral of this tale is... don't try to save money by having someone knock up a henhouse for you out of scrap wood and recycled stuff... it all sounds very 'Technobilly' and recycling is eco friendly etc... but where the health of your pets (yes... they are pets... a farmer might not have blubbed as much as I did!) is concerned... you have to bite the bullet and spend the money!


  1. I hate it when my hens get sick and die.. we have that happen a few times.. but I don't think it was from mites.. I will be extra vigilant this coming spring to give the hen house a big cleanout...

    nothing I can say really so I will give you big cyber hugs xoxo

  2. Thank you Miss *R.. hugs are always welcome :-).

  3. Good grief! What a great big mess, sounds like you handled it with the sturdiness of a true farmer! What's in that powder, anyway? I always try to avoid the harsh chemicals, but keep a bag of permethrin dust socked away for emergencies-it is fiercely strong, but breaks down in the environment in five days, so I am told.

  4. Hi Sara... it doesn't say exactly what is in it ... apart from tea tree oil and lavandin oil... but the lady on the phone said it is natural and wont cause any problems... this is why I think it was so hard to kill the little blighters... not heard of permethrin but was interested in this stuff... I shall have to get some for a regular dust bath for them.

  5. Good greif!! Better go and check Eggy and Peggy right now! x

  6. Oh dear, what a terrible time you have had, how awfull. I read a lot about red mites on the forum, sorry I don't mean to plug it but it is very useful for info. Some have said that if you have a plastic hen house you won't get mites. You can use one of those wheelie bin sheds, or a plastic wendy house.

  7. Now you tell me Meanqueen... after I already spent the dosh on a very expensive plastic hen house and run! lol! Oh well... it should last me forever and wont need anything more than a regular clean!

  8. Would food-grade diatomaceous earth help? It's supposed to be safe even taken internally, but used as a dust will (also supposedly) get through the "shell" on vermin...
    hope your problem is solved - very sorry about the loss of your chooks!!

  9. hi Billie Jane, first visit-Ive arrived here via Robyn. So sorry to read of the loss of your hen, i lost my white hen a few weeks ago, and it sucks, I cried too. She died of old age though, which is easier to come to terms with than illness.

    To hopefully makes you feel better, eglu's are fab. I am on my third!! :-) well worth the investment really, although i think the mark2 is still better than the big cube _ (i have both) Is yours coming with wooden bars or plastic ones? if it has wooden ones, upgrade to plastic, as redmites could hide in the joints of the wooden bars. Ive only had redmites once-
    and that was in a wooden ark, never in any of my 3 eglus. hope that helps!

    Leanne x

  10. Thank you Quinn.. I would think that diatomaceous earth would be pretty much the same thing! Shall have to watch out for it...

    mmm... dont know which bars I am getting... will sort it out tomorrow when I collect it. Very excited... hennies are settled in a dog cage every night at the moment and during the day running amok in my garden... thanks for the tips... will let you all know how it turns out.

  11. Hi, I've come here via Marmalade Kiss and read your post about red mite with horror! Off to check my girls now... I never realised it could be so bad. I'm definitely a technobillie by the way... good to have found you! Gina x

  12. Unfortunately the problem doesn't necessarily go away as the mites are thought to be spread by wild birds and can attack your girls in the garden as well. I hope not though as I personally hate the thought of loosing my hens to something like that.

    I have a wooden hen house which I know is likely to attract mites but I check regularly and have some powder on standby just in case.

    I do however have one fantastic tip to pass on. The mites tend to get onto the chickens in the roost at night by crawling along the roost bars and up their legs. The simple step of wrapping double sided sticky tape around the end of the bars does two things. It prevents the mites from being able to get across as they stick to it and secondly if there are mites stuck to it you have a really clear sign that there is a problem.

    I use 2 inch wide double sided carpet tape as it is very sticky and very wide. I check it once a week to make sure so hopefully there's no chance of a major infection. I also pick up my hens every day and have a quick look. They are seldon happy about it though!

    I feel your pain though.


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