Ticked Me Off


Tick Off of Me

I found this tick crawling up my leg. It had not bitten me yet, and never will.
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Burns Me Up

We don’t have a lot of ticks. Part of that is simply our snowy cold winters. But they are out there, beyond the circle of chickens. Our hens love ticks and seem to completely suppress the the tick population in the ~1,000′ radius of their roosts where they patrol hunting for food every day.

We keep a lot of hens. The purpose is not eggs but rather organic pest control. I want them to work for a living so I don’t feed them candy, that is to say commercial hen feed. Instead they must forage every day. The result is they eat lots of pasture greenery and tons of flies, ticks, mice and what ever else they can catch out on the pastures. As a side benefit the poultry produce tens of thousands of fresh pastured chicken and duck eggs which we cook to double the available protein and feed to the younger pigs where we get the most leverage.


Tick Toast

Despite the chickens though there are ticks, out beyond the chicken patrol lines. This is part of the proof that the chickens work as a control. I picked up this little ugly walking through the north field’s long grass. There is a lot of food out there. Ticks like to climb up stems of grass and then latch onto unsuspecting passing victims.

Most everyone knows about Lyme disease. There are many other diseases that ticks pass on according to the CDC web page. In the news is a nasty new one called the Heartland Virus which is being transmitted by ticks.[1, 2, 3, 4]

My solution is to increase our chicken patrols. Over the next few years we’ll gradually raise our hen population from the 300 or so chickens we have now to about 1,000 to 3,000 birds spread out so they center around coops around our farm. I find that the chickens patrol up to about 1,000′ from their roost in a pattern shaped by the terrain. Using several mobile roosts I can move them around our farm to places over the year which will let them give us full coverage of the 70 acres we use for pasture.

We don’t keep hens for sale of the meat or the eggs. Chickens are support staff on our farm. Around these parts I can’t get enough money for the eggs to make it worth dealing with the regulatory hassle plus marketing – I’ve tried.

Besides organic pest control there is another reason for having more chickens. The hens produce a bounty of pastured eggs without any commercial grain based hen feed. These eggs help supplement our young pigs’s diet as they transition from mother’s milk to fully on pasture. One more little way that the pieces fit together in a sustainable system of pastured pork.

Note, if you’re from PETA and can’t stand to see ticks torched then I recommend you eat more ticks so I don’t have to post photos like this. Don’t worry, the tick didn’t suffer – it died instantly in the >600°F flame.

Outdoors: 70°F/50°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/64°F

Daily Spark: For the serious sky jumpers: Fa-Lon-Way Tea

Peeps Eating Ticks and Anthropods

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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14 Responses to Ticked Me Off

  1. Very interesting plan to use chickens as pest control!

    So if they are free ranging you must lose a certain percentage every year to predators? What do you do to cut down on those losses? Do you close up each coop every night? Seems fine for one or two, but if you have a bunch scattered around the land I’d think it could get tedious.

    • A few do get lost to both age and predators every year. Mostly our dogs stop predators, dead. We don’t lock the chickens, ducks or geese in as the dogs are there to protect them. We also have electric fences that de-mark the boundaries for the predators. The dogs patrol and mark the boundaries with scent and voice. One can tell which predator the dogs are after as they have different words for each kind of threat.

  2. Malena says:

    How about guinea fowl? We’ve kept them for years and rarely find a tick in the areas they patrol. They are a bit loud though…

    • We had guineas for several years. They’re very noisy, constantly, and they lay only a few small eggs. Chichens lay hundreds of large eggs per year each and are much quieter. Both of them do a good job if insect patrol. Chickens do a better job of smoothing the soil. Chickens won.

  3. Sweetgum says:

    What do the chickens eat during the winter? Plus, do you have a preference as to a self-sufficient breed?
    (I always learn so much from your experience; thank you!)

    • In the winter we feed our chickens pastured pork – the trimmings from our weekly butchering.

      We have Ameraucana, RI Red, NH Red, Buff Orpington, White Orpington, Speckled Sussex and one blue hen who looks like a rooster but lays eggs so I know she’s a hen… I like the Ameraucana and Reds best for laying, the Buff Orpington’s best for setting.

  4. skeptic7 says:

    What sort of chicken housing do you do in the summer? Do you put a chicken coop near each group of pigs? You had shown your chicken coops in this blog years ago but those seem far too small for 300 hens.

  5. Bob says:

    Walter,

    In addition to your chickens eating the ticks, I wonder if they don’t also help greatly with that problem by getting rid of most of the mice in that area. I understand that mice are known hosts of ticks. Also, your dogs probably help by keeping deer, also tick hosts, away from your pastures.

    Our Ontario acreage has a major tick problem and, as soon as possible after moving there, we plan to be acquiring chickens, ducks (and maybe guinea fowl). Guard dogs will need to follow shortly, I am sure.

    All the best to you and your family in 2o15! (you can tell the entertainment and educational value of your blog from the fact my wife and I are sitting here by the fire on New Year’s eve reading and discussing it!)

    • Yes, they definitely catch mice and snakes as well. The dogs are also hunters of mice and other small pests as well as predators and our two ferrets hunt mice too. At this point the ferrets have free access to go in and out of our cottage to the great outdoors so they can hunt any time they like.

      Happy New Years!

  6. Bob says:

    I wonder how you get the chickens to lay duck eggs!

    as you say, “As a side benefit the chickens produce tens of thousands of fresh pastured chicken and duck eggs”

    Actually, I really liked this article’s information about the role of chickens controlling the pest population. I never heard anything like this before. I knew they ate insects, but never thought of them contributing this much.

  7. Kelsey says:

    I’ve never heard of using chickens as tick control, interesting method. But whatever works!

    • They’re as effective as guineas, which is to say very effective, and much quieter plus they produce better meat, larger eggs and a lot more eggs than guineas. We had guineas for years but they’re too loud.

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