Sorry for all the tl;dr
So I've been googling and browsing this forum all day about the multitude of ways of dealing with bird mites, but I think that my best answer would be to ask those who are in/were in the same situation as me!
First of all though I need to point out that I live in Australia, and when I read a lot of solutions on the forum they're for products I'm not aware of/aren't readily available near me. So if you're going to recommend a product please do it in detail (and a link to somewhere I can buy it online would help too!)
My situation: I first noticed what seemed to be lice on my hens (this is going off what I'd seen on a rescued stray cat I now own) about 6 months ago. Little white bugs crawling all over them. I bought the ONLY product for mites on poultry that was available called Pestene (http://www.petalia.com.au/templates/prodsublist.cfm?group_no=6524), which since its safe for cats is a double bonus for me (I have 4 cats - I don't want to use anything that harms them). Active ingredient is sulfur and rotenone.
I have 6 hens who live in a large metal shed (at least thats where they sleep/lay) and are otherwise free range in our yard. One can of 500g Pestene lasts for about 2 dustings, and my lord it's harsh on the nose. Anyway, it seemed to have worked for the immediate problem.
Then a few months later after picking up one of the laying boxes, I noticed my arm was covered in tiny brown bugs. Another dusting ensued. I started getting bites on my body and the feeling of invisible bugs crawling on me... drove me bonkers when trying to sleep. I treated my cats with frontline drops, flea bombed my room, and that seemed to take care of that! (note: my husband doesn't get affected as bad as me... *envy*)
The mites weren't as obvious on the hens as the first "lice" were. When one of my hens went to the vet, all the crap that fell off the hen on to the consulting bench seemed to be mite free too.
Now coming up to the last week of summer, for which the weather has been fluctuating between "bloody hot" and "I'm going to rain for a week", the crawling sensation and the bites are back, but this time I'm also finding the small brown bugs crawling on me a few times a day. Also saw one on my cat.
Cats got another dose of frontline (and revolution - don't know if you have that in the states, nor do I know if it works on bird mites, but I had 2 doses left over from a previous application). My knowledge towards frontline and revolution for cats is that frontline targets biting lice, but not worms, whilst revolution targets worms but not biting lice.
I'll be the first to admit that I clearly haven't dusted the hens frequently enough. That's going to change. From what I've read, the mites won't survive without a bird host.
I'd like to believe that I am now completely knowledgable on how to get rid of bird mites inside the home, as much of a pain as it may be, but my main concern is that if it becomes a real problem the only solution is to stop keeping hens. I REALLY don't want to do that, so I'm going to see how I go with my current battle.
So now comes the questions:
1. My area seems to have large flocks of sparrows, who have been helping themselves to the chicken feed. Currently the feed is kept near the door of the shed and sometimes outside in a feeder. Assuming that the sparrows aren't helping in the mite population, I want to minimize them coming down (plus my cats occassionally will be able to catch them and bring them in - clearly not helping). The best thing I can think of right now is moving the feed to the back of the shed where the sparrows would be less willing to enter (they dont mind entering the entrance of the shed), but is there any other ways I can minimize the sparrows from going for the food? I think with 4 cats and no easily available food, they'd be less willing to come to my yard.
2. I've read about a lot of the products people have been using but the only one I'm familiar with is frontline. Ideally I'm after a product that would work the longest with minimal reapplication, and of course, is safe around cats - for which frontline would be ideal because then I can treat all my animals at the same time - however I hear both good and bad things about frontline being used on hens. I guess this leads to some sub questions:
- Frontline spray is the one I hear most often about. Is it really safe to use on hens/any frontline horror stories? The frontline website states not to use it on anything aside from dogs and cats.
- For anyone who uses it, what kind of dosage do you use/how do you apply it? How often do you use it?
- Any egg witholding period?
- Is it the best option? Is there something better which is safe around cats (note, things like frontline for dogs can kill cats) or has longer lasting results, and is targetted for poultry?
3. In a perfect world I'd like to be able to treat the mites permanently, as weekly dusting (or more) will become quite costly, but I know that given their environment this is a big ask. Minimising the amount of mites in general would be benefitial though, is there ways I can target this without constant use of chemicals/powders?
4. For those who have had mites infiltrate their home and bite them - does treating the hens alone fix this problem? Mainly I'm worried about if I treat the birds, they'll still be bothering me/my cats. I know the mites wont survive without a bird host, but if the birds are still there (but treated) will that still stop the problem?
5. Any tips for existing bites? These bites are super itchy and last forever, and the best thing I could do for them so far is constantly applying antiseptic cream.
If treating the birds will eventually eliminate the mites inside the home, then I can put up with this torture for a while until they die off. But from what I've been reading (based on simply mite control - not living with poultry and mites) the problem is pretty freaking difficult to treat without removing the cause (in those situations - bird nests) as the mites can live for 9 months without a bird host. If treating the hens wont eliminate the problem and I have to treat the home frequently for the rest of their lives, I might go crazy :(