The effect of northern fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) infestation on hen physiology, physical condition, and egg quality

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The northern fowl mite (NFM), Ornithonyssus sylviarum, is the most common ectoparasite of laying hens in North America. Infestation can cause a reduction in egg production, egg weights, and feed conversion efficiency. However, there is a lack of information on the effects of NFM on hen physiology, physical condition, and egg quality. Singly caged beak-trimmed White Leghorn hens (N = 32) were infested with mites at 25 wk of age. The condition of each hen was assessed at wk 0 (infestation) and wk 5 and 7 post-infestation to determine comb temperatures and feather, skin, and comb condition. Heterophil-lymphocyte (H/L) ratios and body weight (BW) were evaluated at wk 0 and wk 1, 3, 5, and 7 post-infestation. Egg weight, egg specific gravity, yolk color, Haugh unit (HU), and eggshell thickness were determined prior to infestation (wk −1) and at 1, 3, 5, and 7 wk post-infestation. The H/L ratio (P < 0.0001), HU (P < 0.0001), and egg specific gravity (P = 0.001) were lowest, and the egg yolk color was lightest (P = 0.087) at wk 5, the peak of infestation. At wk 5 and 7, more than 65% of the hens had red skin and more than 75% had scabs on the vent; in addition more than 84% had grey-black vent feathers. There were no effects of infestation on comb color, comb temperature, feather cover, BW, or eggshell thickness. It was concluded that infestation with NFM has negative effects on interior egg quality and hen integument. A decrease in H/L ratio was also observed at the peak of infestation. However, the effects of NFM on the immune system are unclear, and H/L ratio might not be a good stress measure in hens highly infested with NFM.

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