Bird mites (poultry red mites, poultry mites, whatever you want to call them) are bad news. They feed on the blood of poultry, up to 5% a night, and cause a range of ailments. Not only do they transmit diseases, but they also weaken the hens and cause stress. This can result in poorer quality eggs and meat. It also pushes up the overall mortality of the flock.
Luckily there are a number of products available to combat bird mites. This is a comparison of just two of them: Ultimite UltiGuard, and Diatomaceous Earth.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous Earth is a natural product that essentially consists of the fossilised remains of diatom, a microscopic type of algae. Ground to a fine powder, for the purposes of mite control it is applied in the chicken coop by rubbing it into the cracks and crevices where mites hide, as well as to the underside of wooden roosts. It contains a high amount of silica, which is microabrasive as well as acting as a dessicant (it draws out moisture). This makes it highly effective against parasites such as the poultry red mite – it dries out their membranes and cuts them at a microscopic level.
However, there are downsides to its application. Its greatest problem is fine dust pollution. By its powdery nature Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.) is an irritant to the delicate tissue in our (and chickens’) respiratory tracts, so you should always wear a mask when applying D.E. You also need to clear the coop so that the livestock doesn’t breathe it in either.
Once treatment is complete and the dust has settled, their scurrying around can cause birds to stir up the dust again. The use of D.E. is associated with a higher incidence of scar tissue in chicken lungs. While this doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of their meat and eggs, it could be detrimental to their overall wellbeing. This could be the more important to those keeping chicken as pets rather than commercially.
Studies show that it is only cystalline silica that causes increased levels of cancer, so when using D.E. we recommend choosing a product which is food grade and contains as little crystalline silica as possible.
Is Diatomaceous Earth a finite resource? Some opponents say that D.E. is a finite resource, because of which we should avoid it. Technically this is true, because it takes a long time for diatom remains to fossilise, but on the other hand the rate of use does not compare to, for example, crude oil or minerals used for electrical items and batteries.
Safely use D.E.
Diatomaceous Earth is definitely effective in controlling parasites such as mites and lice, but you need to use it safely. It has also been recommended for adding to dust baths, but as a counter-example is probably not particularly effective as a wormer. For more impartial advice on the safe use of D.E. please read this very good article by Cath Andrews.
What is Ultimite UltiGuard
UltiGuard is a specially formulated liquid that is based on natural vegetable oil. It is one part of the two-pronged Ultimite treatment. Made in Switzerland, it has been used across continental Europe under a different name for many years and is finally available here in the UK.
UltiGuard is also applied externally only, and brushed or smeared onto roosts and into cracks and crevices just like Diatomaceous Earth. Whereas D.E. is a generic product with multiple potential uses, UltiGuard is a specialised poultry red mite control product. It achieves this without using chemicals.
UltiGuard forms a barrier that mites and other small parasistes cannot cross. This stops them from reaching your birds and thus prevents the mites from feeding and reproducing. An important consideration is that your UltiGuard barrier must be continuous. If there are any gaps, mites can still find a way through.
Usable in occupied coops
A key difference between D.E. and Ultimite UltiGuard is that UltiGuard doesn’t produce any dust at all – it is a liquid after all. It is non-irritating and can be applied without a mask and in an occupied coop. It contains no chemicals and simply rinses off with water, should there ever be a need.
However, on its own UltiGuard only stops mites from feeding. It doesn’t actively reduce their numbers, so you need UltiSpray – the second part of the Ultimite treatment – to get rid of them. If you do use both products together, you’ll see very quick results indeed. You spray UltiSpray directly onto the mites and they stop moving instantly.
Diatomaceous Earth Pros
Ultimite UltiGuard Pros
Diatomaceous Earth Cons
Ultimite UltiGuard Cons
So there you have it. While this comparison barely scratches the surface, we can see that both products have their place. When rearing and raising chicken, placing their wellbeing first will ultimately allow you to make the best choices. (Biased as we are) we need to award UltiGuard the edge here, but it only achieves its very best when used together with UltiSpray.
Most poultry red mite treatments only focus on one aspect – either killing the mites directly or doing something to the birds. Ultimite does both with these complementary products.