The Chicken and Egg Page: Poultry Pest Patrol

By Staff
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Poultry Pest Patrol

Chickens for Fly Control

[From Mother Earth News February/March 2002]

We have raised show rabbits for seven years and have had wonderful experiences with my daughters showing them. The major downside, as with all livestock, is manure management and flies. Parasitic flies reduce the nasty fly population, but have to be bought every year and are expensive. We’ve tried chickens, but even Bantics with clipped wings would flap their way up and roost on the cages. Usually they roost right over the water bottle or dish … and yuck! This year we took a double path to a fly-free, cleaner environment. We put stall mats under the rows of cages (25 to 30 cages) so raking and shoveling were easier, and we had a cleaner floor when we were done with that once-a-month job.

We bought Silkie Bantam chickens who do a very poor job of flying because their feathers are hairy instead of stiff. They do hop and flap a lot and have made it to the top of a closed garbage can with the help of a cage left beside the can. But none have made it to the top of the cage.

I started with five chickens, which were too many, but a marauding raccoon took three, including the rooster. Two hens are just perfect for a 20×20 rabbit house. Once or twice a week they get out and see the world, and I frequently drop them some comfrey greens while feeding the rabbits.

Besides the reduction — probably 80 percent fewer flies compared to last year — my chickens make me happy.

Snohomish, Washington

Mosquito Munchers

[From Mother Earth News June/July 2003]

Why do some folks jokingly call the mosquito the state bird here in Minnesota? Because they’re big, they’re aggressive, and there are lots of them here in the summertime. Most — if not all — people hate them, but our Muscovy ducklings just love them — for feed, that is. 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. They probably take care of thousands of mosquitoes and other small insects.

Our yard is practically mosquito- and tick-free without using any chemicals. Grasshoppers also are a favorite snack, if the mother ducks don’t get them first. The only bugs the ducks don’t care for are the box-elder bugs, except when they see a flying one, mistaking it for a mosquito. I’m keeping the ducklings out of the garden, though, as they like to nibble on young vegetable plants, too.

Isanti, Minnesota

You can order Muscovy ducks from: Sand Hill Preservation; (563) 246-2299;; and Hoffman Hatchery; (717) 365-3694; Also check out our Hatcheries Directory — MOTHER 

More on Muscovys

[From Mother Earth News June/July 2003]

I read the article on chickens and pest control (Mother Earth News February/March 2003), and thought I would drop you a note about my ducks.

I have three horses boarded on 6 acres here in Kentucky. For years I had a terrible problem with face flies, deer flies and ticks. We even had the 2-inch-long “horse flies” in huge numbers; one year, I swatted 15 during an hour-long riding lesson. The bites are terribly painful, and the horses go crazy trying to get away from these bloodthirsty pests.

Then, someone gave me six Muscovy ducks. They did very well the first summer, but that winter coyotes got all but one nesting female. She hatched out 16 ducklings, and the fun began.

Those little ducklings were hungry all the time. They would hang out in the horse stalls, snapping up every fly they could catch. You’ve heard the saying, “Like a duck on a June bug,” haven’t you? It’s an amazing sight to see: Little bitty ducklings hunting bugs like cats after mice. These little guys would position themselves in all the places the flies would lay their eggs, and feast on the incoming flies. They made a good-sized dent in the bug population; I haven’t had a tick on me since that year, and I’m a tick magnet.

We kept a closer eye on this generation, so we didn’t lose any over the winter. It included eight females, who hatched out from 12 to 20 ducklings each the following spring. The coyotes and the cats kept busy, but the females didn’t give up. As a batch of ducklings hatched, they all crowded together, not really caring which hen they followed. My females would take up in pairs, two “moms” for about 20 ducklings, then the rest would start laying again. The last batch hatched in August.

We have a small pond, so the ducks never stray very far. However, the pasture borders on a subdivision. I’ve gone out to feed many an afternoon to see ducks all over the neighborhood. When I start to feed the horses, the ducks will start to fly in, or I will call them with a bell. Usually they are already waiting, as feeding time is 4 p.m. For some reason, my neighbors don’t mind the ducks at all, and will come over to chat with me about what kind of mischief they’ve been up to.

Three things that I didn’t know earlier about Muscovy ducks: They are strong fliers; they like to perch on houses, gates, trees, fences and barn roofs; and they are really quite tame.

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

Radcliff, Kentucky

Chickens’ Bug Feast

[From Mother Earth News June/July 2003]

Any time I am rototilling my garden, I usually let my chickens out of their pen because they follow right behind the tiller, catching any bugs — especially grub worms — that happen to be turned up by the tiller.

When I harvest my corn, I walk among the stalks and push each one over with my foot as I pick the ears. This usually sets the grasshoppers and other bugs to going every which way. The chickens are right there to enjoy this “bug smorgasbord,” too.

Each year, some species of bugs flourish. Last year it was crickets, and this year it’s grasshoppers. I am the only one around here who has no problem with the annual bugs. When I see an invasion of bugs coming, I just let the chickens out, and they enjoy another feast.

If any vegetables or fruits are picked overripe, the chickens will love ’em! Over the years, I have discovered that chickens will eat anything but bones, watermelon rinds and cantaloupe skins.

Grady County, Oklahoma

Guard Guineas

[From Mother Earth News June/July 2003]

We have about 50 guinea fowl. We use them mostly for bug control in the gardens. We originally got five of them for tick control because my 82-year-old dad said it would work. Within six weeks we stopped seeing ticks. The fleas disappeared within a year; our three cats never need any form of flea control. Guineas also gobble down many other bugs; even 2-week-old keets go nuts when you give them a grasshopper to fight over.

These birds also are great for snake control. I have seen them kill everything but a rattlesnake. They just circled it for hours and screamed bloody murder until we took the snake away. Poor little rattler was terrified. We also have never lost even one of our pasture-range chickens to birds of prey. The guineas let out a warning if a hawk is near, and the birds all run for cover. I have witnessed a group of guineas chase two foxes in the pasture. These birds are definitely mischievous, entertaining and much more intelligent than chickens. Here in the Smokies they also were used to sound a warning for the moonshiners, to help protect the stills.

Waynesville, North Carolina

Buy Babies

[From Mother Earth News June/July 2003]

In 1998 my husband and I took over the family farm. We soon discovered the pastures were infested with ticks and other crawling critters. Soon afterward, my husband developed Lyme disease. We were desperate, but we did not want to use poisons, as that would ruin the land for our cattle and our pets.

Someone told us to get some guineas, as they were great for pest control. We purchased some adult guineas, but they continually escaped. Finally, we decided to start with babies. We began to turn them out during the day to forage when they were 5 weeks old. At night, we put them up for their own protection. It took awhile, but we began to see the difference: This past year, our upper 25-acre pasture was tick-free. The guineas truly have been a blessing to us.

We added two geese to our poultry flock this past summer. At night, they all go in to roost together. They have an order as to who goes in first and last. The chickens go in first, then the guineas, then our rooster and, finally, the geese.

Dover, Arkansas

Barred Rocks Rock

[From Mother Earth News June/July 2003]

I have been meaning to write to you on so many subjects since I first got a subscription in 2001. But the subject of poultry pest patrols hit home. We bought our dream property in June 2002 and have been working happily ever since to make it into what we really want. One of the goals was to have chickens. Fresh eggs, the farm atmosphere, roosters crowing in the morning — the whole effect. What we didn’t realize was that we also would have a solution to a major pest problem here in our area: We have millipedes — hundreds of big, long, black ones! They invade our house, even the upstairs!

Well, when our chickens started to free-range several months ago, we noticed that our millipede problem was diminishing. At first we thought it was the winter season that had discouraged the bugs, but now that the weather has warmed, we still are not having the problem we did last year, thanks to our wonderful Barred Rock chickens! So if anyone has the problem that we had with millipede migration, we can attest to an easy solution: chickens. We love ’em and are planning on letting them have chicks this year so we can enjoy more.

Scappoose, Oregon

Guineas vs. Ticks, ‘Hoppers and Snakes

[From Mother Earth News April/May 2003]

I just picked up my first issue of Mother Earth News (December/January 2003) and found it to be an excellent source of information. In fact, I signed up for a subscription along with giving my neighbor and friend a gift subscription.

In reading the “Dear Mother” section, I saw a letter entitled “Grasshoppers & Guzzlers” that was in response to an article from a previous issue regarding grasshopper control with the biological pesticide called Semasphore.

My wife and I live outside of Jamestown, Tennessee, on the northern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. While viewing our property in consideration for purchasing it, we noticed that standing in the grass for two minutes would yield at least five ticks on your person. After purchasing the property and doing a little research, in March of our first year here we ordered a shipment of 15 French guineas from Ideal Poultry for pest control.

Every few years this area is inundated with grasshoppers that eat everything, including metal window screening (they do not seem to like the taste of fiberglass, however). Our first year here happened to be one of those seasons, and there were so many grasshoppers that you could not see my house, except for the roof.

In June, we released the guineas to free range. Within one week, there was not a grasshopper to be found. Within two weeks, we could spend all day outside and not have one tick attached to us. The guineas never harmed the garden and they live amicably with our chickens.

Snakes do not stand a chance with guineas. They usually work as a team to peck the snake apart. There have been instances where a single guinea killed a snake by itself and then played “keep away” with it from the rest of the flock. The guineas have had to contend with a lot of copperheads and a few garter snakes, which average 8- to 10-inches long . The record was a 2 1/2-foot-long king snake. So far, none of the copperheads have killed any guineas.

I would be remiss to not mention that guineas are very vocal and are most definitely for those at some distance from their nearest neighbor. But after witnessing their effectiveness against grasshoppers, ticks and probably a lot more insects than I know, when I hear the guineas call out, I just smile. Their call is a lot less irritating than the destruction caused by the grasshoppers, and the aggravation and danger of ticks.

I just wanted to share this with you in the hope you will decide to pass this information along to your readers in your wonderful magazine, so they, too, can learn how grasshoppers can be controlled without the use of pesticides.

Jamestown, Tennessee

Turkeys vs. Hoppers

[From Mother Earth News December/January 2003]

Just read the “Grasshopper Gala” in the “Dear Mother” section of the October/November 2002 issue. Sounds like a sad tale.

It reminded me of a year a while ago when we lived in Illinois. The grasshoppers got so bad about July, that if you took a walk in the field it was like a fountain going off all around you. I was working in the garden when I noticed the six or eight turkeys we bought in the spring heading down the runway to the pasture. When I caught up with them, I found them happily dining on gourmet grasshoppers. We turned around and headed back to the barn, a quarter mile round-trip. When we got back to the yard, one of the bird’s crops was so full of grasshoppers that it could barely walk — the crop hung almost to the ground. More turkeys would have cleaned up our grasshopper problem.

Turkeys are also good in the garden for bugs, cabbageworms, etc. The only problem we had was you have to keep them out of the garden when the plants are real small. When the plants get a little bigger, the birds walk down the rows looking for bugs and don’t seem to bother the plants. Fun to watch. My turkeys took very little feed and were great scroungers. Also, we had the best, juiciest turkey dinner.

Watertown, Wisconsin

Hens Eat Plenty of Bugs

[From Mother Earth News February/March 2003]

There are lots of grasshoppers around here, but my hens patrol the garden perimeter fence and really reduce the numbers of insects in the garden. Before I got the hens, some crops were totally destroyed by the ‘hoppers. The hens also have helped control scorpions — they peck off the stinger and then work on the rest.

The chickens also have reduced the fire ant population by eating the bugs and seeds the ants would have sustained themselves on. I have no ticks here, but the chickens have reduced one nasty pest that had been around everywhere — termites.

New Braunfels, Texas

Silkies and Barred Rocks Control Rats and Mice

[From Mother Earth News February/March 2003]

We have a 40-acre horse farm. Unfortunately, where there are horse barns there also are rats and mice. The horses leave bits of grain on the ground after they eat, and some undigested grain shows up in their manure. With all of this food, we had a serious rat and mouse problem.

My grandfather set out rat poison, and a trip to the veterinarian and $500 later, I found out that my Jack Russell terrier really likes the taste of it. She is fine, but I refuse to allow any more poison on our farm.

Instead, we got chickens. The birds accompany the horses and clean up all the grains on the ground and in the horses’ manure. Their careful gleaning eliminates the source of food for the mice and rats, and now the pests have all but disappeared.

The benefit I had not counted on when I added chickens to our farm is that now we no longer have a flea problem. The chickens also help control flies and lawn grubs. I love having the chickens. Not only do they control unwanted pests, but they are fun to watch, too. We have experimented with several different breeds, but our favorites are Silkies and Barred Rocks.

Lewisville, Pennsylvania

Chickens, Turkeys and Guineas Control ‘Hoppers

[From Mother Earth News February/March 2003]

When we came to Cross Plains during a long drought, we found that our windmill supplied plenty of water for a garden, so we planted one. Next we knew, thousands of grasshoppers came from every direction and left us with bare stalks.

To beat the ‘hoppers, we built a chicken and turkey run that surrounds our garden. The fencing is 5 feet high and has occasional cross fencing to keep hawks from swooping in and snatching up one of the chickens. Any grasshoppers that approach the garden have to move into this “moat,” where the chickens and turkeys quickly gobble them up.

We also let guineas loose in the garden (they don’t tend to scratch as much or peck the vegetables the way chickens and turkeys do). So far, this one-two punch is working well.

Cross Plains, Texas

Pillbug Problem

[From Mother Earth News February/March 2003]

An outbreak of pillbugs (rolypoly bugs) was eating us alive! Eating up all our tender little lettuce plants, that is. The big greenhouse was filthy with them. So was the hoophouse. Even the new midsized greenhouse was infested with these little wriggling crustaceans.

They were everywhere. Big ones. Little ones. And lots of in-between ones. We had to do something before they ate us out of greenhouse and home. But what? We searched all our books and files for nontoxic controls, to no avail. Old books said to use DDT, lindane or chlordane, all toxic pesticides now banned in the United States. New books said pillbugs usually feed mostly on dead organic matter, but that wasn’t true in our greenhouses.

Finally I remembered a book about using portable coops to let chickens feast in garden beds. Before we replanted the lettuce beds, we penned a half-dozen hens in a bed. The minute they spotted the first pillbug, garden soil flew, hens’ feet became yellow blurs, and the chickens’ heads bobbed up and down like runaway sewing machines.

After about an hour, things calmed down and the chickens were napping on the freshly fluffed soil. There wasn’t a pillbug to be found.

Emmaus, Pennsylvania

A Fowl Approach

[From Flea and Tick Control By Lynn Keiley, Mother Earth News August/September 2002]

Free-range chickens, turkeys and guineas will feed on ticks and other pests, such as grasshoppers, Japanese beetles and mosquitoes. Guineas in particular are relentless insect-eaters. The Guinea Fowl Breeders Association reports 65 percent of its members have noticed radical declines in tick populations after they began keeping guineas. (For information on raising guineas, read Gardening with Guineas, by Jeannette S. Ferguson).

Birds, Poultry, Reptiles and Small Animals

[From Pacifism in Pest Control by Charles F. Jenkins, Mother Earth News May/June 1971]

Larger “animated insecticides” also earn their keep around the garden. Geese, ducks, chickens, toads, snakes, birds, skunks and other of our small feathered, scaled and furry friends do an incredible job. Beatrice Trum Hunter, in her book, Gardening Without Poisons, quotes The Garden Club of America Conservation Committee:

  • A House Wren feeds 500 spiders and caterpillars to its young during one summer afternoon.
  • A Swallow devours 1000 leafhoppers in 12 hours.
  • A pair of Flickers consider 5000 ants a mere snack.
  • A Baltimore Oriole consumes 17 hairy caterpillars a minute.
  • A Brown Thrasher can eat over 6000 insects in a day.

Feeding birds in the wintertime encourages them to stick around and help out in the bug-laden summer … and a bird house or two doesn’t hurt either.