“Animal welfare is very important to us, but when we started to see production falling as well, it was time to move in and do something,” Jonathan Cunningham from Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone explained.

Jonathan farms 14,000 free range laying hens supplying Skea Eggs alongside his suckler herd on the family farm. He erected his first 6,000 bird shed in 2010 and has slowly extended his capacity to two houses with a central packing area.

“We started to see red mite in the older House 1 and, although we were spraying regularly, we could never quite get on top of it,” Jonathan said.

Poultry red mites live and breed rapidly within the hen house and inhabit dark cracks and crevices emerging only at night. The mites crawl onto and suck blood from the roosting birds causing high stress levels in infected flocks.

“Last autumn, Skea organised a farmer meeting for us to learn more about red mite and a new treatment that had just come onto the market.

“The next day I phoned my vet and he came out to talk to me about it more and explain how to administer the product in the hen’s drinking water twice, one week apart.”

Jonathan treated his hens when they were aged 50 weeks and immediately saw an improvement in production.

“Within a day or two of the treatment, you could see the hens were happier in their movements and you could start to see production lifting; it rose 2-3% and it finished very strong out through the crop.”

“Now we have a new batch of hens sitting there at 30 weeks and want to nip any problems early to give them the best possible peak production period which is up to around 45 weeks.

“The return you get, compared to the price of the product, it’s well worth it and we’ll definitely continue to use it in the future,” Jonathan concluded.

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 at: 01-2970220 or emailed at: [email protected]