chickens for tick control

Tick Control: How a Flock of Chickens May Be Your Best Bet

Ticks are becoming an increasingly problematic issue across North America, particularly in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. Their growing population in these parts of the country are bringing with them an increased incidence of Lyme disease and the lesser-known Powassan Virus, which can cause encephalitis or meningitis in its most severe forms [1]. It turns out, chickens for tick control could be a solution.

As awareness of the dangers of tick bites increases, more and more people are looking for ways to decrease their risk of getting a tick bite and reduce the potential of coming in contact with the insect in the first place.

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A new tick-control method is increasing in popularity, and it is one that may surprise you: chickens.

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Chickens For Tick Control

Although chickens as a method for tick-control has not been well-studied, there is a growing body of both anecdotal evidence to suggest that these feathery farm animals may be effective at reducing the tick population in your yard.

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Not only that, but chicken-owners have reported that since getting their birds, they have had fewer flies, mosquitos, slugs, spiders, maple bugs, and other pests in addition to ticks. Some have even said that since introducing chickens to their backyard, they have not seen a single one of the blood-sucking insects [2].

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Chickens are aggressive foragers, and when given the opportunity to roam freely in an outdoor space, they will devour pests and insects. In 2015, Mother Earth News conducted an informal survey on chickens and ticks, and collected the following information:

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• 71 percent had an existing tick problem before they got poultry.

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• 78 percent kept poultry that helped control or eliminate ticks within the birds’ feeding range.

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• 46 percent experienced a drop in tick populations within a month after getting poultry; 45 percent saw good control after several months to a year.

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There has been one scientific study that has assessed the effectiveness of chickens in reducing tick populations, which was conducted in the nineties in South Africa. Chickens in the study were allowed to scavenge for three hours among tick-infested cattle, and researchers found that during this time the chickens ingested an average of nearly thirty ticks per bird. This confirmed that chickens are natural predators of livestock ticks [5].

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How to Use Chickens Effectively

Before you get chickens of your own for your backyard, it is important that you think about what type of chickens you are going to get, as well as how to ensure they are as effective as possible. 

Many respondents in the Mother Earth News survey noted that small bantam chickens and game hens were the most effective at controlling the tick population because their size allowed them to get into tighter spaces where larger birds can’t fit [4].

Where you allow your chickens to roam is important, too. Ticks love humidity and tend to stay just above the soil surface, in tall grasses, or under leaf litter and ground cover, so you should make sure that you have your chickens forage in areas. This is particularly important in the early spring because these are the areas where ticks and their larvae will hide during the winter months, and chickens will happily make short work of picking through leaves for a meal [4].

You should also consider the area in which you live, and whether or not there are significant amounts of predators nearby that could be problematic for your chickens. Mark Tashjian was forced to get rid of his birds when he kept losing them to foxes near his home.

“I thought the whole thing was great, and if it weren’t for the foxes, we’d still have them,” he said. “We started to feel like irresponsible chicken stewards — every few months we’d lose a couple. They were great fun, and I wish they were still running around.”

Other Ways to Control Ticks

If it is not feasible (or legal) for you to let a flock of chickens loose in your backyard, there are other ways that you can help manage the tick population at your home and prevent yourself from getting bitten.

Since ticks prefer longer grass, you should always keep the grass on your lawn cut short, especially in areas where you spend more of your time. Removing any leaf litter on your lawn will also reduce their population since those are areas where ticks like to live.

If you must go into an area that is likely to be infested with ticks, you should always wear a tick spray, more specifically a repellent with DEET. Although this type of chemical is not particularly environmentally-friendly, it is the only spray that has been proven to fend off the blood-sucking insects. The best option, of course, is to avoid these areas altogether [2].

What to do if you get Bit

It is important to have a tick-puller or fine-point tweezers available and nearby at all times in case you find an attached tick, You can even purchase tick kits, which are a handy item to have in each one of your vehicles so that you can remove ticks right away.

If you get bit by a tick, you should remove it carefully with tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. You should not twist or squeeze it, but instead, gently pull in an upward motion. You should never handle a tick with bare hands, nor should you use petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, or a hot match to remove it [7].

If you are able, you should place the tick in a sealed container and store it in the freezer. This way if you develop symptoms, the tick can be assessed to see if it is carrying Lyme disease.

Once you have the tick removed and in a container, you should then wash both your hands and the bite with warm soapy water, rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub.

You should contact your doctor if you are unable to remove the tick entirely, if the rash gets bigger, if you develop flu-like symptoms, if you notice signs of infection like redness or oozing, or if you think you were bitten by a deer tick (since that may require antibiotics).

If you notice more severe symptoms, such as a bad headache, difficulty breathing, paralysis, or heart palpitations, you should call 911 immediately [7].

Keep Reading: Here’s How You Make A Hanging Cabbage Treat For Your Chickens To Keep Them Entertained

Sources

  1. ‘Powassan virus’ CDC
  2. ‘Predation of livestock ticks by chickens as a tick-control method in a resource-poor urban environment’ PubMed K Dreyer. Published December, 1997
  3. ‘Tick bites: First aid’ Mayo Clinic
Brittany Hambleton
Freelance Contributor
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!
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