Red Mite Research Focuses on Animal Welfare

by Sarah Mikesell
22 June 2020, at 12:00am

Merck Animal Health conducted research in 2019, studying the impact of red mites on the welfare of hens and changes that occur when you control the mites.

Bill Vaughn, marketing lead for the US poultry business with Merck Animal Health, spoke to The Poultry Site's Sarah Mikesell at IPPE in Atlanta.

The research focused on stress indicators in chickens.

“We know that poultry red mites have an impact on the productivity of hens, but this study shows us why that productivity is impacted by the mites. These stress indicators show mites are causing a problem with the hens related to their welfare outcomes,” said Bill Vaughn, marketing lead for the US poultry business with Merck Animal Health. “Things like hens not being able to sleep at night because that's when the red mite does most of its damage. The mites do a lot of feeding of blood from the hens at nighttime and the hens can't sleep. Just like humans, if you can't sleep at night, you are definitely stressed out during the daytime.”

Past research has also shown an impact on poultry workers as well because the mites can get on the skin of workers in a poultry facility and cause stress in poultry workers. In fact, in some operations the workers refuse to work there if the infestation is large enough.

“As a part of the research, we took some nighttime video, so we can actually see what the impact is on the hens at night,” said Vaughn.

Vaughn said the research highlighted the difference between before treatment and after treatment. After treatment, the hens were sleeping much better and not moving around as much compared to before treatment, when they were moving around, scratching and pecking themselves and their neighbors. The hens get less rest at night without the treatment.

“Well, producers are a lot more concerned now than they were 10 to 15 years ago about the welfare outcome of their birds. We already know that they're creating new cage-free environments for the birds. Some of the organic producers are even pasture raised, and this goes right along with it,” said Vaughn. “The hens, while they're in our care, need to be in as good of an environment as we can provide, so they can be happy, healthy and productive. It all goes together.”