|There are two species of mites and it appears we've got both of them. The red mites, which are nocturnal, and the Northern Fowl Mites, which seem to be active 24/7. I've gotten very good at feeling when a mite is crawling somewhere on my body, and fortunately, they are easy to kill once you find them. But you can't manually kill thousands of these damn things.
Last year, I got entirely bitten up before I realized where the problem was coming from. It took a few more days to realize they were also traveling indoors - and into my bed - on my cats. I used Revolution on my cats to deal with that. I hate doing that, but one cat has a flea allergy and it seems that it's a choice between the preventative chemicals, or antibiotics after she scratches herself up. That seemed to work - for the cats. (It appears there are organic options for the cats, but if it involves putting a liquid on my cats on any sort of regular basis, I don't really see how that is supposed to work.)
The advice I got involved toxic pesticides and removing all of the bedding from the coop and spraying it down completely. I didn't do it. I went for diatomaceous earth and even Borax, which I didn't really want to use because the chicken bedding is our compost. The weather got cold, my hens were dust bathing regularly, and life was okay for several months.
The problem gets worse when a hen gets broody. When she sits in the same spot, day after day, without dust bathing, the mites have a feast. And they breed like crazy. But a few months ago, when my hen Frizzy hatched chicks in March, the mites weren't really a problem.
When the weather got warm this year, Frizzy was already back on some eggs, trying to hatch herself some more babies. Then Elizabeth got broody, and I took 3 eggs from Mama Frizz and stuffed them under Elizabeth. I bought some diatomaceous earth and used it on both hens and around where they were nesting. Elizabeth seemed okay. Frizzy was nesting somewhere less accessible for me to check.
A few days before the eggs were due to hatch, I decided it would be easier to deal with the mites before we had baby chicks than after. After all, I can move the eggs around and spray the area with water, but you can't get a baby chick wet or it can die. I took every last shred of bedding out of the floor of our coop and moved it over to a part of the garden where the chickens don't go as a mulch. I'd rather compost it first, but I stuck it on top of a layer of straw mulch and it had already sat around the bottom of the coop for about 8 months so it wasn't exactly fresh.
I moved Frizzy's eggs to my cat carrier, which was lined with fresh straw. Frizzy came back to her old nesting spot in the coop, found it empty, and gave up on her babies then and there. Babies? What babies? She's off acting like a regular chicken once again. With just 4 days to go til Hatch Day, I put her eggs under Elizabeth.
Yesterday, the chicks began to hatch. First we had two pips, then four. Then we had a fully hatched chick, another who was pecking its way out, and three more pips. As we saw the little chicken pecking its way out of the shell, we could see the mites crawling into the shell and around its beak. It broke my heart! I moved all of the eggs, the chick, and Elizabeth from one nest box to the other in hopes that would help.
This morning, I went to check and Elizabeth was sitting on six hatched chicks and a seventh who was pecking its way out of the shell at that moment. Out of seven total eggs! They had some mites on them, but in the nest box I had moved them out of, the mites were EVERYWHERE. They were crawling all over the fake wooden egg we keep in the nest and all over the egg shell that the first chick hatched out of.
I moved Elizabeth and her babies into my cat carrier and put them far away so they wouldn't get wet. Then I grabbed the Dr. Bronners soap, poured some into the nest boxes, and sprayed the whole place with the hose til it looked like a bubble bath.
But that's just a short term solution. Here's what I hope is the long term solution. I checked on the OMRI site to find out which pesticides are approved in organic farming. I was hoping to find pyrethrum and/or neem, and I found a few good ones.
I can do math. The expensive stuff is 100 times stronger than the cheaper options. To compare apples to apples, 24 oz of it would cost $34.67. (This is without factoring in any dilution that is done before using it.) But that makes it the best deal by far. And it should kick the crap out of our mites. So I ordered it. $64 with USPS Priority shipping.
Long term, I might start sprinkling powdered neem seed in the coop as a preventative measure. But right now, we have an out of control situation to take care of, and baby chickens to worry about. Once the Pyganic stuff gets here, I might stick some in a bucket of water and just start dunking the chickens in it.