Category: Chickens

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a flock of chickens

Our chickens have mites. Specifically, Northern Fowl Mites. These little critters are pretty common all across Canada, and they can be a great big problem.

The most obvious symptom of poultry mites are poopy bums on your chickens. If you pick up a chicken and examine their vent (bum) area, you will see dirty feathers (mite eggs and other yuck), and you will also probably see some tiny dark brown or black round specks moving around – these are the mites themselves. Northern Fowl Mites hang out on the skin around the vent and under the wings, and they bite the chickens and feed on their blood.

northern fowl mites on a chicken

The Chicken Chick has a great article about how to identify parasites in chickens, which is helpful in figuring out whether you are dealing with mites or lice, as the treatments may differ.

Northern Fowl Mites are difficult to treat. They have a short life cycle (5-7 days), and they quickly develop resistance to various treatments. Besides living on the chickens, they also infest nesting boxes and coop bedding, adding to the difficulty in dealing with them.

Right now, though, the biggest issue with treating them is that there is no approved treatment in Canada.

It used to be that you could buy an over-the-counter dusting powder that you sprinkled on your chickens, the nesting boxes, and the bedding, with a repeat in a few days, and generally the mites were dealt with. However, that product was pulled off the shelves last year, with no tested and approved replacements.

There is all sorts of advice floating around the internet for how to treat mites without dusting powder, but I had trouble finding sources that were Canadian (and therefore recommending products that are actually available here) and also reliable.

So I asked my vet.

My vet said that any treatments would be off-label, which is a problem, because there is no information about withdrawal times. Withdrawal time is the amount of time that any medication keeps showing up in the eggs or meat, and could therefore affect anybody eating those eggs or that meat. You definitely don’t want to poison your kids when you’re trying to kill the mites!

Ugh. I needed more information.

Through a long and winding series of phone calls and emails, I eventually found myself speaking with Poultry Veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Smith. Dr. Smith has a passion for chicken issues, and was extremely helpful.

Dr. Smith recommended treating every bird in the flock, whether they had obvious mites or not, as there is a very high chance that they are all carrying at least a few mites, and we definitely don’t want them passing those mites between the treated and untreated chickens. That would increase the chances of the mites developing resistance to whatever treatment we use.

The first treatment we discussed was Diatomaceous Earth (DE). This is a powder made from a particular type of rock full of fossilized diatoms. The particles in the powder are tiny, but have very sharp edges that cut insects’ bodies when the insects crawl across it. Diatomaceous Earth is organic, so some people like to use it for bug control, but its effectiveness is questionable, and the sharp particles can cause respiratory problems if the chickens breathe it. If you were using DE, you would need to thoroughly dust each bird with the powder in a well-ventilated area (preferably outside). Some people also spread DE around their coop, but this runs the risk of causing respiratory problems as the chickens dust bathe and breathe the DE.

Sulfur can also be used to control Northern Fowl Mites, but it can cause allergic reactions in people, and is generally not a good choice for a backyard flock.

There is a product called Ectiban that is an insecticide approved for use in cattle in Canada; Dr. Smith suggested it as a good way to control the mites in the nesting boxes and coop litter, though it is not approved for use on the chickens themselves in Canada. I did find a website that gives dosage information for actual use on chickens, with accompanying withdrawal times before butchering. Unfortunately, there is no information about withdrawal times in laying hens, and it is not clear if this is an approved use in Canada.

Another option for spraying directly on chickens is called Debantic. Dr. Smith noted that the nice thing about this insecticide is that there is no withdrawal period for eggs. Debantic is a powder that gets mixed with water to make a spray that you spray on the chickens. The downside of this product is that it has to actually contact the mites in order to kill them, and it might need several applications to be effective. Here is some further information about Debantic.

Lastly, we discussed Ivermectin. Ivermectin is a product used in horses, cattle and swine; it has not been tested or approved for use in chickens. It is available in a paste that is used for worming horses, as well as an injectable liquid for cattle and swine. The paste is not a good idea for use on chickens, as it is very hard to control the dosage; using the liquid (injectable or pour on) 1% Ivermectin product gives you a lot more control.

Dr. Smith noted that you can put a drop or two of the injectable Ivermectin on the chicken’s skin (not injected) at the bottom of its neck, and it will be absorbed into the chicken and kill the mites when they suck the chicken’s blood. She suggested that people consult their vets for dosing, as chicken weights vary from scrawny little layers to the big dual-purpose and meat breeds, so it’s a good idea to run it by a professional before medicating your flock.

Some people put Ivermectin in their chickens’ water, but this is not recommended for backyard flocks, as it is very difficult to calculate and control the dosage. Dr. Smith also mentioned that if you use Ivermectin too frequently (less than 7 days between doses), there can be problems with toxicity – it can make your chickens sick. There is no established withdrawal period for meat or eggs, but most vets recommend not slaughtering the chickens or eating the eggs for 3-4 weeks.

It is frustrating that there is not a simple solution to poultry mites in Canada. There is a fine line between killing all the mites and preventing resistance on one hand, and having lengthy (or just plain unknown) withdrawal times to make sure you don’t poison your family. I also would be very careful about disposing of the treated coop bedding, as you don’t want to be adding insecticides to your garden, especially since it is hard to find information about how long they persist in the soil.

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Treating Northern Fowl Mites in Chickens in Canada

By Jess

Frozen & Cracked Eggs: Can You Eat Them?

March 17, 2019 | Chickens | 2 Comments

An egg with a cracked shell

We are finally getting temperatures that suggest spring might come…eventually. A couple of weeks ago, I started writing this post, as it was still -40, and we were having problems with cracked eggs. While it won’t be an issue for us now for several months, I thought it was still worth putting up a post about it, as we all know winter (and polar vortexes) will be rolling around again soon enough.

We keep our chickens in an unheated barn / coop that we made from a converted granary. While the walls cut the wind, there is not much insulation, and the body heat from the chickens still doesn’t bring the temperatures in the barn up above freezing if it is cold out. Of course, we are zone 2/3, and get pretty cold in the middle of winter. As in -40 kind of cold.

This year, February was exceptionally cold, and the temperatures hardly came up above -25 for most of the month. As you can imagine, that sort of weather is hard on chickens. Their feed consumption goes way up, and their egg laying goes way down. We are careful to keep the coop ventilated to reduce the chances of frostbite, and the hens tend to cuddle together to stay warm.

We still get a few eggs, even on the coldest days. However, if we aren’t there to collect them as soon as the hen lays them, they will freeze. Egg shells have two layers – the hard outer layer, and a thin, flexible inner membrane. As the egg freezes, the egg yolk and white expand, and can crack the egg. If they don’t sit for too long, or if the weather is not terribly cold, they don’t crack; however, if they get too cold, or stay frozen for long enough, they will develop cracks in the shell, and sometimes even the inner membrane is affected. Some days (especially the -40 days), we are collecting nothing but cracked eggs.

chicken eggs that have frozen and cracked

Frozen eggs are fine to just thaw and eat, and if they haven’t cracked, they can be stored as usual in the fridge or root cellar with no special treatment. While we haven’t done an actual comparison, we haven’t noticed any significant difference in how frozen eggs cook, nor how long they store.

Eggs with a cracked shell but intact membrane are fine to cook and eat, as long as they are not poopy or dirty, but the cracks will allow bacteria in, so they should be used up right away, and thoroughly cooked – we won’t even taste cookie dough made with cracked eggs, just to be on the safe side. We just let them thaw in a dish on the counter, then use them as soon as they are liquid again.

The odd egg is so badly frozen that even the inside membrane is broken. We don’t eat those ones, as there is just too much chance of contamination. You could, I suppose, if you were desperate, but I’d recommend making sure they were thoroughly cooked to a high temperature (something way beyond soft boiled or over-easy), as there is a lot of bacteria even in the cleanest nesting box. We just cook them up right away in a nice porridge to feed to the dogs, who appreciate a hot meal on those cold days.

an egg that has frozen to the point that the shell has cracked and the inner membrane damaged

By Jess