About Chickenstreet

Breeder of chickens, grower of peat free plants, gardener & writer. Author, blogger, blagger, chickeneer and some say gobby poultry pundit

Northern fowl mite: don’t let it catch you out this winter


A couple of Christmas’s ago I took a call from a poultry keeper who was going through their first winter with chickens. They were looking for advice on how to deal with the constant downpours of rain we’ve been having. We discussed different ways to keep the run as dry as possible and keep the chickens out of standing water and reduce the amount of muck they traipse into the coop, but one thing they said caught my attention: “The birds seem to get soaked every day, they didn’t even look dry when I let them out this morning.”

I asked if the birds emerged from the coop eager for a drink or to get some feed and I was told they just seemed to stand there looking miserable, particularly the cockerel. This suggested something more than just the cold wet weather to me, and as the keeper only lived a few miles away, I offered to pop around to take a look. DB 120306-2

A casual glance at the cockerel would have suggested it was simply wet on its back, but its sunken stance along with a more greasy appearance to the feathers suggested a possible northern fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) infestation. I picked the cockerel up and parted the feathers at the base of the tail and the mite was very much in evidence crawling over the skin (and heading across my fingers).

These mites become far more active during our winter, as they prefer cooler climates. Once they find a suitable host bird they will multiple at an alarming rate. Like the summer pest red mite, these are blood suckers but unlike red mite these little nasties complete their entire lifecycle on the birds and are far more aggressive, feeding around the clock. The greasy look of the feathers is caused by their faecal deposits: they are capable of killing a bird within a matter of days if the infestation isn’t dealt with.

In this instance referral to the local poultry vet was required as the off-the-shelf products may not have acted quickly enough. Regular dusting of your chickens (for example with a pyrethrum-based poultry powder) will help keep northern fowl mite and other external parasites at bay, but dusting wet birds can be difficult, and given the soggy ground conditions the chickens’ normal dust bath may not be available. It is easy to understand how this new keeper was caught out.

The key is to inspect and handle your flock regularly. A lot of the skill in poultry keeping is husbandry by eye, as chickens can have a canny way of disguising ailments until it’s too late. So if you sense something isn’t quite right then check, double check and seek advice. Prompt action could save time, money and above all, the chicken’s life.


Quick Tip – Checking for Red Mite

Just in case you are wondering how to check for red mite


Ok, the web is littered with commentary on red mite and how to deal with it. The crux though in my experience is catching it early. Spot it early on and you have half a chance of defeating it…. let it go unseen and you will rue the day, and so will your chickens.

If you are new to chicken keeping then you may not yet have encountered the poultry keepers Nemesis, the Red Mite. You may however have read all about it and have a good grasp of the pain in the proverbial it can be but unless you have actually witness the cigarette ash like droppings they leave, or that microscopic tickle as they crawl over your arm or through your hair, then you might well not know whether mite is there or not.

So grab a handful of drinking straws, tie them into a bunch and then…

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Let sense prevail… incubators off.

As another breeding season draws to a close I find myself looking back over my hatching records, and the cross section of growers I have on the go. In front of me on the wall is a ‘post-it’ note that states “No Eggs To Be Set After End Of May”. It is in my son’s handwriting, and to be fair it’s there for a good reason and acts as growerssmy annual reminder.

For too many years I’d still have my incubators whirring away in August, September and even early October only to find myself ruing the day I set the eggs. Why? By November and December the resulting hatchlings have outgrown their indoor facilities and need to go outside, but outside its cold, wet and muddy. Hands up if you too have learnt that lesson only to forget it the following year?


As a poultry breeder there is a constant temptation to set eggs.




In some yearOwlbeard-White-Day old 1s I’ve had hatchlings popping out everywhere, and it’s been a bumper season for sales, and so I’ve kept hatching well beyond my common sense threshold. The risk is though, you see it as the poultry equivalent of making hay whilst the sun shines, the trouble is ‘making hay’ is a harvesting event, setting eggs is more like sowing seeds. As a gardener you read the label, it tells you when to sow and when to harvest. You don’t get that warning when breeding poultry, so in many respects the note acts my label.

Leghorn-Brown-Day old 1 (640x451)

He wrote the note I think primarily because he too ends up having to help out and when the weather is poor, pushing a wheelbarrow along a path with 6 inch of mud on it, whilst the wind successful empties the contents of said barrow across the paddock, is a spirit sapping task even for the most happy-go-lucky individual.  I’ve written about it before but the winters at the moment seem to be more mild and more wet, with occasional unpredictable extremes such as having a BBQ in March one year only to be under 3 feet of snow the same month the following year, and as such I’ve shifted my breeding plans at least for the time being. I’ve shorten the window of time for setting eggs, and lengthened the period of time the males are apart from the females…… and I have to say I’ve found it altogether more manageable.

As such sense is prevailing and this rather faded post-it note has served me well. It has also meant I’ve had more time in the summer to just enjoy watching the youngsters growing outdoors on the grass, rather than spending hours indoors covered in dander and dust dealing with day olds. You never know, I might even venture towards a summer holiday one year!


Chicken Nugget – The Dorking

Breed Name: Dorking

Region of origin: United Kingdom Dorking Table Breed

Profile: The Dorking is a very ancient British breed believed to have its ancestry rooted back in Roman Britain where five-toed Dorking like breeds were described in texts from AD 47. It is a very heavy breed but there is no evidence as yet to suggest that, as in the case of other giant chickens, it is in any way related to the huge breeds originating from Asia. Well established in the early nineteenth century it made a significant contribution to the development of other table breeds.


Behaviour and upkeep:  Because of its huge size and its loose feathering, spacious housing is required if the birds are to maintain a good look. They do not need much in terms of outdoor space and are quite content within a fixed run however care must be taken to avoid them becoming fat through lack of exercise. They can become tame if handled calmly but their size should be considered carefully if thinking of having them as pets. The hens tend only to lay during the spring and summer and fertility can present a challenge for anyone wishing to breed from a flock.

Plumage/Colours: Silver grey, Red, White, Dark, Cuckoo


Eyes: Bright red

Comb: Single, large or Rose

Feet & legs: Featherless, five toes


Cock weight

Large Fowl 10-14lb (4.55-6.35kg)

Bantam 40-48oz (1130-1360g)

Hen weight

Large Fowl 8-10lb (3.60-4.55kg)

Bantam 32-40oz (910-1130g)

Egg production – Low to medium

Egg Colour – Tinted

Classification – Heavy; Soft Feather

Chicken Nugget – La Flèche

Region of origin: France

Profile: The combination of the deep red horned comb, strong beak, cavernous nostrils and beetle black plumage coupled with the solid stature of this breed means it well suited to it nick name of “Satan’s Fowl”. It is quite a large chicken which makes a good layer but grows quickly making an excellent table bird well-known in its country of origin.evil2ss

Behaviour and upkeep: These birds benefit from being able to free range as they are excellent foragers and will cover large distances in search of food. This makes them a very economical breed ideally suited to their dual purpose function.  They are also capable of flying quite high despite their size so do need high fences or roofed areas if they are not to be found roosting in trees. Wary by nature they do not tame easily though they are not an aggressive breed.

Plumage/Colours: Black


Eyes: Black/Red, Comb: Double spike, Feet & legs: Clean, dark slate or black


Cock: Large Fowl 8-9lb (3.6 –4.1 kg) Bantam 36oz (1020g)

Hen: Large Fowl 6-7lb (2.7-3.2 kg) Bantam 28oz (800g)

Egg production: Medium to high

Egg Colour: White

Classification: Heavy; Rare

la fleche flocks

Race is on to rehome thousands of chickens (to increase profits?)

“CAN you make sure these chickens do not fall foul of the slaughterhouse and give them a new home?”

Source: Race is on to rehome thousands of chickens (From The Argus)

Yep, yet another pile of misinformation with cracking quotes like “Legally hens cannot be kept on farms for longer than 78 weeks because the quality of the eggs fall and the shells become thinner” and yet rehoming the hen is legal and in it’s also legal to sell the eggs they produce “off gate” to any old Tom, Dick or Harry.

Can someone please show me the law that states a commercial laying hen is illegal and must be slaughtered at 78 weeks of age?

So what’s the truth?

One truth is that the consistency and quality of the eggs being produced will be reduced result in an impact on the profit so the industry regards the hens as ‘spent’ (read, not economically viable)

Another truth is that at 78 weeks of age the hens will be heading into their first full moult. During this period they will not lay and consequently they will cost money to feed whilst delivering no product. That’ll be not economically viable again then I guess.

And then there is the one massive elephant in the room… the very industry tugging your heart strings to rescue the hens from slaughter is the very same industry that consigns them to that fate from day one by the structure of its supply chain.

Oh, but let’s not forget the little bit of maths

9,000 ‘spent hens’ will at best attract 50p per bird when sent for slaughter so according to my maths that will bring in £4,500

If however 9,000 get rehomed at £3 a bird then that brings in £27,000. A tidy profit indeed.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about whether the story exhibits compassion and mercy or contradiction and money.

What goes in must come out – the blindness of backyard poultry keepers?


Smack your chick up?

Smack your chick up?

I’m quite vocal at times about the contrast between commercial poultry rearing and small scale or backyard keeping. I can be quite damning about some the legislation because I’m a great believer that in a large majority of cases one size doesn’t fit all. In fact the concept of one size fitting all seems to stem from the issue that pragmatism and scalability get side-lined. This is either because they are too expensive or are only relevant to ‘the little people’ who, by definition, are irrelevant in the grand scheme of the poultry world!

It follows on then that given my documented opinions I am sometimes challenged by people as to whether my attitude stems from a belief that small scale poultry keepers know better than the big boys and the authorities, or whether I’m just an outspoken idiot. I guess when I put these commentaries out there then it’s only to be expected that someone is going tackle me about them, I mean I’m hardly the Jeremy Clarkson of the poultry world (and have no intention of punching the Editor of Fancy Fowl) but I do realise that if you voice an opinion you are unlikely to find everyone is in agreement.

So. Do we know best? No, we don’t. I for one though do know that when it comes to livestock whatever you put into it needs to either come out again, or you better be very sure it has no consequences staying within the animal, and this is certainly one area where I think a number of small scale keepers and the Fancy can be found at fault.

It’s not so much the food stuffs used in this instance (although obviously there are issues that need to be addressed on that point) but the regime of chemicals and drugs that get administered and applied willy-nilly. There’s many a poultry keeper I’ve spoken to who decided to keep chickens because they had become concerned over the welfare of the livestock used to produce meat and eggs. Some were uneasy about the cocktail of antibiotics and vaccinations that were being administered to the chickens that supplied the high street, and this led them to rear some of their own birds. By the same measure I’ve spoken to and heard of many more backyard poultry keepers who seem to have forgotten that Betty the Hen is in fact ‘livestock’ and therefore falls under a different category to ‘pet’. Being blunt this means the stuff you squirt all over your cat to prevent biting insects can’t be applied to your chickens unless the label specifically says so. This is because ‘cat’ isn’t something you see on the supermarket shelf. By the same measure injecting your chicken with a ‘cure’ that keeps you dog fit and healthy is also a bad call, on account of the fact your dog doesn’t lay eggs for Sundays full cooked breakfast.

And then there are those I encounter within the Fancy who apply all manner of unlicensed products to their birds whilst spraying industrial insecticides throughout their sheds to minimise the risk of disease and pests burdening their show winning flock. When I challenge them a defence of “ah but these are show birds” is offered but this isn’t a defence unless you have no intention of either consuming or selling on stock or eggs. Ultimately if these people release either eggs or birds from their flock then they are running the risk of putting something into the food chain that shouldn’t be there.

As a Kansas State University pharmacologist recently said, “what you don’t know about your chickens could hurt you and others”. People who use, administer and apply ‘off-piste’, under the counter medications and chemicals need to be aware that there are potential drug residues that could sit within the eggs and meat of the bird for an indeterminate amount of time. These people do exist too because if I for one had a pound for every time I heard “I use XYZ and look, my birds are fine, and none of them have dropped dead” then I’d be able to afford a few rounds at the pub for sure.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I might be outspoken about what I consider to be daft when it comes to the application of legislation surrounding what can and cannot be fed to poultry, but this is because I’m trying to apply common sense, pragmatism and scalability. However, when it comes to the control of medications and chemical treatments then there are sound reasons why they should not be used around livestock. This is because of the risk to the food chain, so unless you can genuinely claim to “know best” then be aware you could well be inadvertently dosing our food chain with fluoroquinolones , phenylpyrazoles and all manner of lethal concoctions.  Eat that.