How Farmers Are Fighting Ticks With Feathery Fowl

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CC BY 2.0. Lindsay Holmwood

Chickens and guineas are "tick-eating machines," according to many poultry enthusiasts.

Chickens and other fowl may be the miracle solution to controlling ticks on your property. While scientific studies do not back this up, many farmers and urban chicken-owners say they’ve had great luck using their feathery friends to reduce populations of these nasty pests.

Tick outbreaks are on the rise and with that comes the fear of Lyme disease, a debilitating pathogen that is transmitted through a tick bite into the human bloodstream. Described by Rodale’s Organic Life:

“Symptoms start out as a red skin rash, fever, headache, and fatigue. Without proper Lyme disease treatment, the disease can linger on for years with a wide range of side effects from sore joints and memory problems to panic attacks and acid reflux, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.”

Enter chickens and guinea fowl, the backyard warriors against the tick plague. Because these domesticated birds are aggressive foragers, if given free range of a backyard, they will go to town devouring every tick, grub, and flea in sight. Mother Earth News conducted an informal study in 2015 and found that:

  • 71 percent [of study participants] had an existing tick problem before they got poultry
  • 78 percent kept poultry that helped control or eliminate ticks within the birds’ feeding range
  • 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

    Farmers interviewed by the Wall Street Journal found the same – that employing flocks of tick-eating poultry made a real difference in the overall number of ticks seen. Said Alex Devoy, a college student who works on a farm in New Jersey: “The number of tick bites on farmworkers is much less than that of last year, when we didn’t have the guineas free-ranging.” A dairy farmer in Pennsylvania said that ticks proliferated when his guinea flock dwindled, spurring him to get another 15 birds to fight back.

    Chickens and guinea are not the same, however; the former tends to tear up lawns and gardens more so than the latter, although chickens are much friendlier than guineas, which can be quite aggressive "guard birds."

    guinea fowl

    Chadica -- Guinea fowl range/CC BY 2.0

    Some people, such as Timothy Driscoll, professor at West Virginia University, who studies tick-borne microbes, disagree with the poultry tactic for fighting ticks, pointing out that chickens do not eat the poppy seed-sized nymph ticks, which are actually a much greater risk to humans than adult ticks. When it comes to natural solutions, Driscoll told WSJ that opossums are the “real deal” when it comes to eating ticks; but “unfortunately, they tend to wander into roadways and get killed.”

    While Driscoll is likely right, having put in the research, there doesn’t seem to be an argument against keeping chickens for bug control. Why not use these lovely birds to reduce pest populations, while enjoying fresh eggs daily? Chickens and guineas are easy pets, if given clean shelter, fresh water, and a regular (simple) routine.

    That being said, having chickens should not replace other tick-fighting measures, such as keeping grass short, creating unattractive barriers for ticks between forested areas and lawns, i.e. woodchips or gravel, stacking woodpiles neatly, and implementing regular skin checks.