Poultry red mites: How can they affect the bottom line?

It has been estimated that poultry red mites (PRM) cost the European poultry industry €360 million per year, but how much is it affecting your business?

PRM may be small, but they can have a huge effect on the productivity and profitability of individual farms.

Regarded by many as an irritating inconvenience, because many farmers have lived with the problem over a period of years, it’s easy to disregard the financial impact.

Infestations can vary from low levels to a heavy burden causing visible distress and loss of condition in a flock. PRM reproduce rapidly during the warm summer months, so a moderate problem can soon become a real issue within just a few weeks.

Controlling the level of infestation

Regular monitoring and early intervention are essential if farmers are to control the level of infestation and to prevent long-lasting damage to flock welfare.

PRM feed after dark on the blood of the hens, causing irritation and distress. The birds are often noisy and restless once they come in at night and this can prevent them from resting and eating properly. If the problem continues, they will start to become thin, lose condition and suffer feather loss.

As well as the direct effect of the mites, this may also lead to them becoming susceptible to other health issues and diseases. Very high PRM burdens can cause anaemia from blood loss and ultimately death.

These welfare issues also affect egg production. You might see thinner, discoloured shells, smaller eggs, more downgraded eggs in the packing station and the laying pattern may be more spread out.

You would also expect to see a reduced laying rate, compared either to previous flocks or to your wholesaler’s average. Depending on the size of your flock, if your hens are hitting peak lay when PRM hits, the impact on production can be sizeable. Some studies have indicated that high infestation can cost up to €2.50/bird.

Most producers will need to treat their flocks for PRM regularly, as studies have estimated the level of infestation across Europe at 83%. PRM affects all types of poultry farms and production systems, so effective treatment protocols and biosecurity measures are essential to control the problem.

Treatment options can also be costly. Whether you choose to treat the barn or the birds, it’s important to factor in not only the expense of the products and equipment but the increased labour too.

The EU directive on Biocidal Product Regulation 528/2012 controls poultry disinfectants and mite powders and reflects an increased concern about safety for birds and farm workers, as well as the issue of residues in eggs and poultry meat.

As a result, the number of these topical products that are available for laying hens has reduced in recent years.

Farmers can also speak to their vet about treatment options. A prescription product is available that can be given to hens via the drinking water and has a zero-day egg withdrawal period.

More information

Farmers who want to assess and reduce the red mite presence on-farm should talk to their poultry vet and integrate any treatments into a wider biosecurity and flock health planning strategy.

Further information is available from your veterinary practitioner or MSD Animal Health, Red Oak North, South County Business Park, Leopardstown, Dublin 18, Ireland.

MSD Animal Health can be contacted on: 01-2970220; or emailed at: [email protected].