FUNDING worth almost half a million pounds has been awarded to the Moredun Research Institute to develop a novel way of studying red mites that reduces the number of donor hens required.

The research aims to establish a laboratory colony of red mites and develop a novel feeding method which removes the need to use hens that have been infested by mites.

See also: A guide to effective red mite treatment for poultry producers

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) made the £483,000 grant.

In preliminary work, researchers have found that poultry red mite will feed on goose blood through a disposable synthetic skin-like membrane.

Live geese can donate about 30 times more blood than a hen in a single donation and are cared for under very high welfare standards in a dedicated blood donor flock.

Fewer donor hens

It is estimated that using this system could reduce the need to infest donor hens with red mite by up to 90%. The need to have hens infested with red mite for research purposes over a long period would also be reduced.

Francesca Nunn, who this year received the prestigious International 3Rs Prize from the NC3Rs for work related to this study, said the “exciting” project had a lot of potential.

Red mite colonies

“This is an exciting project that not only has the potential to seriously reduce the numbers of experimental hens use in poultry red mite colony maintenance, but also increase our understanding of the feeding behaviour and population dynamics that will be greatly useful in future control strategies against this important parasite.

“I am thrilled to be working with the NC3Rs once more.”

Refining approach

Alasdair Nisbet, Head of Vaccine and Diagnostic development and Principal Investigator of the study added: “I’m delighted to be able to continue our work on reducing the numbers of hens used for poultry red mite research and refining our approaches in this area in partnership with the NC3Rs.

“We look forward to another three years of a high level of impact in these areas.”

Poultry red mites are parasites which need to feed on the blood of a bird to survive, develop and reproduce.

Infestation of hen houses with poultry red mite is a major animal welfare and economic problem for the egg-producing industry internationally, and multiple groups worldwide are working to develop new control methods.