Terry Beebe looks at the effects and treatment of one of the most common yet unobserved mite in the poultry world.

Scaly leg mite live under the scales of a bird's legs. It is quite difficult to see until the infestation has got a good hold. Treatment of the leg mite needs to be given as soon as possible as if left unattended then it gradually gets worse and will eventually affect the bird with lameness. The mite is also very contagious and will easily spread quickly through the rest of your flock. Feathered legged birds, especially Silkies, are especially vunerable and it is shocking that a reader reported an incident of being sold a Silkie with scaly leg, to be told that "oh that's just part of the breed!" No it's not - these birds should be particularly closely examined.

Mites and lice are very common on poultry as an external pest which in many cases is visible to the naked eye but the Scaly leg mite lives out of sight under the scales and skin and you discover them when the damage that this insect causes is visible. The mite are 8 legged and are grey in colour, the body is flat and round shaped.

The total life cycle of this insect is approximately one to two weeks and in this short period of time it hatches, breeds and dies but this is enough time to cause very serious damage to the bird's legs and feet.

The visible signs are that the scales lift and scab causing the legs diameter to increase by as much as double in size. The scabs have a white dusty appearance and stand out from the normally smooth surface of the leg. Although rare it is not unknown for the mite to also attack the comb and wattles which can create a serious problem for the infected bird.

The open wounds caused by the mite burrowing may bleed and may even contract secondary infections to the exposed tissues.

Treatment for the problem has created many remedies over the years most of which are unacceptable with today's rules and regulations, Oil and diesel were used in the past and even creosote which must have been very painful but yet it did work. Today this is not acceptable on welfare grounds and there are more modern methods.

A visit to your Vet will hopefully get you some Ivomec which is given in the form of a dropper to put onto the bird's skin. This attacks the mite through the blood stream and does work. I also use a solution of surgical spirit which I brush well into the scales to try and penetrate were the mite are buried. This is much more difficult than it sounds so I then let the leg dry for a few minutes and then coat the whole leg with Vaseline Petroleum Jelly and rub this well into the legs. The idea of this second treatment is to hopefully help to suffocate any insects you may have missed, it also helps to soften the scales and helps the regrowth process. The treatment will take quite some time to get results and will need repeating several times but eventually the scales will come off and new replacements will grow. Do not pull off the old scales as this will cause bleeding and infection.

The length of time it takes to eradicate the mite does vary from bird to bird and this is due to how badly affected the birds are. There will be a need to repeat the treatment several times to make sure that you kill the mite, the problem is that any insects which are missed will just breed and the they will reappear after just a few weeks.

Once the birds look to be back to there normal condition then it is a good idea to carry on the treatment for an extra couple of weeks to make sure that the mites have been cleared completely and this will prevent a reoccurrence.

There is little that you can do to prevent the problem as it can be introduced from birds purchased and even wild birds such as pigeons and pheasant. (Always check any birds you purchase and if not sure do not introduce them to your own flock). The best method of prevention is cleanliness and the use of some of the products such as Bio Dry which is a dry disinfectant powder which you put under and into the bedding, helps prevent mites and lice and other infections. It is also a good idea to use a good quality disinfectant on the inside of the poultry housing again as a preventative. (Prevention is always better than cure, a very old saying but quite true). By tackling infestations of any kind this does save you both time and money which in today's financial climate is always worth considering!