Chickens in the garden devour any insect that moves, including grasshoppers, Colorado potato beetles, slugs and more. If you don’t trust chickens to roam among your vegetable and flower beds, feed them captured insects by hand.
This article is part of our Organic Pest Control Series, which includes articles on attracting beneficial insects, controlling specific garden pests, and using organic pesticides.
Chickens in the garden quickly get to work eating any insect that moves. Then they scratch into the soil to eat more insects and larvae. In this way, chickens confined to an enclosure can be employed to clean permanent beds of insects between plantings. You can also set up chickens in the garden so that they patrol the garden’s perimeter, nabbing grasshoppers, Colorado potato beetles, and other insects before they make it into the garden. These and similar strategies help preserve populations of ground beetles and other beneficial garden insects, and avoid unwanted deposits of fresh chicken manure in veggie beds.
Most living insects are of interest to foraging chickens. Even if you do not allow your chickens in the garden, they will eat most live insects gathered by hand, including asparagus beetles, Colorado potato beetles and larvae, grasshoppers, slugs, and Japanese beetles. When you decide to get rid of squash plagued with squash bugs or beans infested with Mexican bean beetles, dumping the plants in the chicken yard will result in few survivors. Chickens are also useful in reducing the number of ticks present in many rural homesteads. Should you bring in spoiled hay to use as mulch, or compost with an unknown history, you can let your chickens remove slugs, snails, weed seeds and other unwanted stowaways before using it in your garden.
Chickens will dig down 2 inches or more when they forage in soft soil, so they can quickly do serious damage to an unprotected vegetable garden. It is usually best to fence them out of the vegetable garden from spring to fall. However, many gardeners find that as long as newly planted beds are protected with row cover or chicken wire, they can allow their birds into the garden for an hour or so before the sun sets. The chickens stay so busy grabbing bugs that they hardly have time to do serious damage.
Allowing chickens to forage around the outside of the garden has many benefits, even if the foraging run is limited to a chicken wire tunnel around the garden’s edge. Handpicked pests can be tossed to the chickens, and few crawling insects will safely cross the chickens’ paths.
Roaming chickens will make frequent checks of garden refuse piles, pecking up every aphid and slug. Confined chickens will eat most live insects that are given to them.
Chickens are the most popular type of home poultry because they provide eggs and meat, and a few hens make quiet backyard residents. However, larger guinea fowl are often considered the most aggressive of insect eaters, and guinea fowl are highly recommended where ticks are of primary concern.
Ducks are slightly more trainable than chickens, and often do a good job plucking up pests when slowly led around the garden. In moist climates, ducks are highly regarded for their slug control talents. Unlike chickens, ducks are not driven to scratch out holes everywhere they go, but they will sample tomatoes and other interesting veggies within their reach.
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