Exploring the options for red mite control


Red mites are a constant challenge for many poultry farmers that can sap flock health, productivity, and profits. However, the benefits of a holistic management strategy combining hygiene, nutrition, and direct interdiction are bearing fruit for a growing number of farmers. 

The poultry red mite is viewed by many as an endemic ectoparasite within the poultry industry, with around 60-85% of commercial egg-laying farms being infested at any time. The challenges around red mites relate to the lifecycle, growing resistance to acaricide treatments, and significant impacts on flock health and performance.  

New research published this year in Poultry Science put the estimated economic impacts of poultry red mites ranging from £0.50 to £2.20 per bird, with the approximate annual cost in Europe totalling €360 million due to egg production and health losses. 

There are several treatments to control red mites, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses. The most common method to control red mites in poultry houses is chemical acaricides. There are also physical treatments, for example, the use of a desiccant. Still in the research phase is the use of vaccinal control against mites.  

There is a fourth option available, which is the use of essential oils (EOs). Mite Shield is an example of a new EO product that, when provided in the feed, can work to repel red mites from feeding on birds.  

“The mode of action is that the volatile compounds in Mite Shield are absorbed into the circulatory system and exuded onto the bird’s skin,” says Kevin Stickney, Interim Head of Technical for Harbro. “Through olfactory perception changes, the mite is repelled and no longer recognises its host.  

“As the mite is obligated to consume a blood meal to continue its life cycle, a failure to feed leads to weakness, inability to reproduce and eventual death of the resident mite population. 

“In terms of practical application, the product can easily be incorporated into the feed. I recommend starting with 100g/tonne of active product and reducing it to 50g/tonne once fewer red mites are seen.” 

Where producers have used Mite Shield, it has tended to be adopted by including it in the ration from week 15 when hens are introduced onto the farm. This is because it is not uncommon for mites to come onto the farm with the birds, states Kevin. Birds on transfer eat little and have lost body weight. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to attack, and day one is the best time to begin preventative strategies.  

“Mite Shield also provides further benefits due to being administered via the feed; you don’t have the challenges of spraying. Chemical treatments can present problematic challenges, for example red mite resistance, residues in the environment and risks to non-target organisms. Mite Shield has a strong case for routine inclusion,” states Kevin.  

The effectiveness of tackling red mites with any solution will always depend on the level of challenge and other contributory factors, such as weather conditions and poultry house hygiene.  

Kevin explains: “In houses with high infestations, Mite Shield will help reduce them. We know environmental considerations must also be made, such as changing boots, wearing hair nets and clean clothing.”  

“I would advise that Mite Shield is combined with effective biosecurity practices to prevent ingress of mites onto sites or between houses.  

Farmlay in Aberdeenshire, one of Scotland’s largest egg production units, now routinely includes Mite Shield within its feed. Following a warm summer in 2022, more red mites were reported in multiple units, with the resultant depressed production you can expect from the birds being attacked by such an aggressive and fast-multiplying parasite.  

Once the problem was identified, Mite Shield was added to the home mixed ration, mixed with the Harbro Tropper.  

Mite Shield was first introduced to the feed last summer when the red mites were starting to have a detrimental effect on health and performance. The team told us that “although results weren’t seen overnight, within 6-8 weeks, the birds re-gained their condition, and all-round flock performance returned to normal. We now include Mite Shield routinely as part of the feeding regime as a preventative measure.” 

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