Poultry Pest Patrol: Control Insects With Barnyard Fowl

Our readers share reports of the very favorable results they've seen from putting their chickens, guineas, and ducks to work on pest patrol.
By MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers
June/July 2009
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Release your chickens to roam freely on pest patrol and you might be surprised how many bugs they find and eat(Chickens are not vegetarians!). 
PHOTO: JASON HOUSTON/GREEN STOCK MEDIA
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Chickens and other poultry are a wonderful addition to any backyard or homestead. They’re entertaining, easy-to-care-for pets, and they provide flavorful, nutritious eggs. Plus, the nitrogen-rich droppings they produce will help your garden flourish (after some time composting). But poultry have another advantage that’s often overlooked — they can provide outstanding tick and mosquito control and have voracious appetites for slugs, snails and other pests. They even eat mice and snakes sometimes!

We’ve been collecting readers’ Poultry Pest Patrol reports for several years, and your latest reports are presented below. Read more amazing accounts about how poultry can control ticks, mosquitoes and many other pests, or share your own experiences at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Poultry Pest Patrol Page.


Chickens & Etc. to the Rescue

Farewell to Ticks and Flies

Last summer, I pulled at least a dozen ticks every night when I took my dog in the house. Then I got 200 chicks in two batches: the meat birds first, then the egg breeds. Within two weeks of letting the chicks out of the brooder, the ticks were gone, and we had few flies or any other type of bug.

The first set of birds did swimmingly. I trained them to come when called by throwing scratch on the ground. I started using the feed to lead them out to the woods, where I knew there was a lot to eat.

The second batch didn’t fare as well. (The first batch had eaten all the close-in feed and the second batch was too small to go too far.) When I do it again, I’ll have a much larger brooder and brood all the chicks at once.

Evelyn Hansen
central Missouri

All My Heroes Are Chickens

I love my chickens! They control all manner of pests, from grasshoppers to scorpions, centipedes to black widow spiders — even mice! Whenever we clean up the backyard, we invite the chickens. Every trough, board, and boulder that’s flipped over is followed by chickens ready to attack those big, scary, and creepy things. Call me crazy, but my hens are my heroes. And I’m not eggsaggerating!

Tina Yarbrough
central Arizona

Market Garden Organic Pest Control

We have a five-acre market garden coexisting with 36 free-range chickens. (Their beautiful eggs are a fantastic hit at market!) In addition to the pleasure of their company, the chickens provide us with excellent mosquito control and the greenest lawn in the neighborhood. We also see the occasional chicken running from the flock with a small snake dangling from its beak.

Our garden is not fenced and the chickens roam it freely. There will be an occasional peck in a pepper or tomato, but the only real problem has been with Thai hot half-inch peppers — the chickens will totally strip the plants of peppers unless they’re protected.

I’m not quite sure what else they are eating in the garden, but we have few grasshoppers or caterpillars. When we plow or till, the chickens follow behind to feast on the insects that have been turned up.

We also leave a chicken-sized opening in the fence around our 7-foot-by-17-foot compost heap, and the chickens thoroughly work it over for us.

Karen Moore
Adrian, Michigan

Cricket Control

We have a small farm with what seemed like millions of crickets. At times, the garden was black with them — especially in July and August. For a few years, I had been purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of every cricket-killing pesticide we could find, all to no avail.

We decided to try a few chickens and so we ordered 10 20-week-old Rhode Island reds in the spring of 2005. They foraged heartily, and by October the chickens had developed a daily cricket route that scratched out almost every covert cricket on the farm. Our initial concern had been cricket control, but other bugs also have been seriously reduced since 2005.

David Lindsay
Val Caron, Ontario

Foragers for Fly Larvae

We started out on our new farm with about 50 chicks, 25 keets (day-old guinea fowl), and 15 turkey poults. They ate anything that moved. As they grew to free-range size, they fanned out over our 10 acres and continued to eat everything that moved slower than they did. Eventually we had almost no bugs left on the property, and the ticks that infested every shrub and blade of grass were gone.

The guineas were well-behaved, but the chickens were destructive to all my flower beds — and gardening became impossible. We fenced in the chickens to confine them to the barn and pastures (using a lot of goat wire fencing, which we needed for the eventual arrival of the goats), and let the guineas range the yard and unfenced areas. The chickens help with fly control because they scratch through all the llama and goat poop in the barnyard and pastures to eat the fly larvae.

Linda Stevens
Marshall, North Carolina

Natural Tick Control

We moved to a lowland place three years ago and had a major wood tick problem. We removed a number of ticks from our golden retriever, and after applying poison around the baseboard of the bathroom (which I don’t like to do), I collected seven to 10 dead ticks every day.

We had nine Orpington hens in a coop, and brooded a couple dozen Wyandottes in the barn that spring. When it came time to move the chicks to the coop, we allowed the older hens to range while the young chickens adjusted to the coop.

The second spring and summer, they all ranged and provided great tick control. I found a total of only three ticks in the house during that entire time (no poison required). The dog had no ticks. I mentioned this to a neighbor, who said he had no problem with ticks the previous year. Then it dawned on me — his tick control method was coming from chickens and guineas he had ranging freely all the time.


Ducks Manage More Than Pond Pests

Greedy for Grubs

Ducks are tireless consumers of slugs, snails, and a wide array of bothersome — and potentially dangerous — insects and grubs, including (but not limited to) mosquito pupae, Japanese beetle larvae, potato beetles, and grasshoppers. In localities plagued by liver flukes, ducks can eliminate the problem by consuming the snails that are the intermediate host of this troublesome parasite of mammals. With the variety of diseases that mosquitoes can spread among avian and mammalian species, the duck’s ability to control mosquitoes at the non-feeding pupa stage is significant.

Dave Holderread
Holderread Waterfowl Farm & Preservation Center
Corvallis, Oregon

Ducks for Slug Control

Even if ducks did not lay eggs or provide endless amusement, they would be an asset in our garden. They spend their days patrolling for slugs and other small hindrances.

In the spring, summer, and early fall when there are a lot of salad crops being planted, they must be fenced out of the vegetable garden. But if you can give them free rein of the perimeter, they will keep pests from creeping in. Later in the year, when most plants are full-grown, you can give them the run of the place, and they’ll clean it up with great thoroughness. In the orchard they make short work of insects such as plum curculio that fall to the ground.

Barbara Damrosch
Harborside, Maine

Muscovies Will Whack Wasps

Our Muscovy ducks are free-range and do an awesome job at controlling mosquitoes and flies. They also make a quick meal out of snakes, mice, wasps, and hornets. I used to be stung by yellow jackets and bald face hornets three to five times during the year. Since we got the muscovies, I haven’t been stung in years.

Lisa Ohling
Lebanon, Oregon

Organic Pest Controllers from Birth

Our Muscovy ducklings just love mosquitoes. Young ducklings, from the second day of their lives, go after those bloodsuckers all day long. By the evening, the little ducklings are so stuffed they can hardly move.

Our yard is practically mosquito- and tick-free, without using chemicals. Grasshoppers also are a favorite snack — if the mother ducks don’t get them first.

Andy Tomsevics
Isanti, Minnesota

Ducks for Fly and Tick Control

I have three horses boarded on six acres. For years, I had a terrible problem with face flies, deer flies and ticks. We even had the 2-inch-long “horseflies” in huge numbers.

Then, someone gave me six Muscovy ducks. Those little ducklings would hang out in the horse stalls, snapping up every fly they could catch. They made a good-sized dent in the bug population. I haven’t had a tick on me since that year.

Also, we have had the West Nile virus break out in the horse population. I was fortunate to have my ducks on mosquito patrol until I could get my horses vaccinated.

Kathleen Callahan-Jordan
Radcliff, Kentucky

Ducks Dine on Termites

We had a huge termite swarm that collected on a downed pine tree. The Rouen ducks ate termites until they were stuffed. I’ve never seen ducks eat that much before or since.

Besides the usual bugs and small varmints, I’ve seen chickens eat little copperhead snakes.

Pete Medenwaldt
Birmingham, Alabama


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Post a comment below.

 

SUSAN GRAY
4/20/2012 7:30:20 PM
I purchase some adult guinea chickens to help with tick control and they go all over eating bugs...more than my 5 acres. My neighbor called yesterday threatening to call the police on me because they are too loud. Is there any way to keep them on my land? Will I get in trouble with the law for my birds? I tried catching them last night but could only get 4 the rest went up higher in the trees than my ladder and the bucket on the tractor could go. I hate to get rid of them but he also said he is going to shoot them. He gets really nasty when he drinks.

Aamir Ghanchi
3/28/2012 5:50:55 PM
Any luck with scorpions? what kind of bird do I need to have to eradicate them.

nancy_52
9/21/2009 4:36:34 AM
I didn't know that ducks would eat snakes and mice etc. I want to have just a few around the house more or less as pets, but I'm afraid the will eat my goldfish in my very small pond. Do ducks eat fish too? Thanks for any help.

roni
7/19/2009 6:57:31 PM
I have heard many comments about how beneficial ducks can be for pest control, while still keeping a garden intact. We have no natural water features on our property, but keep a child's wading pool with water for our honey bees and chickens. How necessary is a pond for the "happiness" of ducks? As for ticks, when our chickens have the run of the yard we are virtually tick free. Now that they are more or less confined to the orchard and woods, I pick ticks all the time. Thanks. V.

scarecrow_1
6/26/2009 1:08:58 PM
What are some of the best bantam breeds for bug control?

scarecrow_1
6/26/2009 12:04:44 PM
I keep reading that some breeds are better than others for foraging. Is there a bantam breed that is best suited for bug control? What is the best breed for bug control and decent eggs?

Karen_60
6/25/2009 11:58:39 AM
For Jean, the only thing that I can let you know about from what I've heard works is a guard dog. I don't know if this would work in your situation, but I watched on a gardening show (Gardening by the Yard, HGTV) that there's a powder you can sprinkle around to keep animals away-it is basically bobcat urine, and it'll even keep your birds from going certain places you don't want them to. FOr Amy, I wish you could send those frogs to the mainland! We are losing so many frogs to pesticides and chemicals that it's affecting our ecosystem horribly! Its a bigger problem than most know. ~Karen, Ky

Terri_2
6/24/2009 12:41:34 PM
As for predators...... I hang scratched CD's or old DVD's in the trees to keep hawks out. Seems to do a decent job with the unpredictable movement and the flashes of light. Coyotes are another story. I have a large dog that seems to keep them back some. Now I have heard that Llamas and donkeys will chase coyotes. That might be a thought. For snakes keep all houses, wood piles and the like up of the ground several inches. The chickens can at least see the snakes then and get away. 1/4 inch mesh hardware cloth is helpful as well. You will have to dig down to keep snakes and the like from going under it. And nail it down securely over any openings. This should also help keep out racoons and opossums as well.

Terri_2
6/24/2009 12:34:43 PM
I have chickens, turkeys and a peahen. They are good at keeping the bugs down (I still get some) And yes they will eat snakes. Which I don't mind as the snakes here would rather dine on eggs or chicks than put forth the effort to eat mice. In nearly 7 years I haven't had a copperhead on the place. Perhaps due to my not being by a stream or perhaps it is the birds. I have had them try to catch lizards and you have to watch them as they will eat the earthworms too. My turkey poults love weeds esp the clover that appears in the garden from time to time and have yet to eat anything I've planted. Now the chickens do damage stuff with their scratching. Chicken wire on the ground (bed springs ect.) will discourage that till the plants get up. Now if they would only seriously chase the squirrels and rabbits out I could be really lazy!

Darryl_1
6/24/2009 11:15:50 AM
I'm reading some good stories, but why are so many of you commending your chickens for eating snakes? Most snakes that I know of are very beneficial predators of insects themselves. Leave the snakes alone!!

headred_1
6/15/2009 10:38:04 AM
I have ducks in my city backyard, so we don't have problems with predators. In fact, we don't even pen them anymore at night and let them roam the yard at all times. Even the neighborhood cats don't seem to care. My ducks are only 4 months old and have totally taken care of any bugs in the yard. Just in the last week we have noticed that mosquitos in the evening are practically nonexistent and flies, no more! Pretty cool side benefit that I never even thought of. I was just interested in the eggs! www.whatupduck.com

Amy_29
6/11/2009 6:27:18 PM
Did anyone have success with ducks or chickens eating up their frogs?? We on the Big Island of Hawaii are having an infestion problem with the Coqui Frog!! The only catch is the the Coqui is a nocturnal creature-- but if a duck or chicken likes to eat them I would certainly try to train them to stay up nights!!

JEAN_22
6/11/2009 12:03:58 PM
Although we have grown elderly, we still live on a small farm and have for many years. We have tried raising chickens, ducks, geese and so on, however, have been unable to keep them due to the wild critters and coyotes killing them all. we have been completely wiped out of all poultry , and sheep. any advice?








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