August 10, 2017
We live on what we call a tiny farm. It’s just over an acre. It was abandoned before our landlord bought it, spruced it up, and cut down all the brush. When we arrived in April, we discovered that a twenty-foot walk from our carport to the front step attracted lots of ticks! Not the big, easy-to-see dog ticks, but tiny ticks the size of a period! (Yes, some are so small they can fit on the head of a sewing pin, the girls have tried it – they also are fascinating to look at under a microscope because the light goes through them!) Some were slightly bigger. (No, we’ve never taken pictures of them! We are usually inside when we find them and we smash, burn, or flush them, instantly!)
Research taught us these were a variety of deer tick. The small ones are called “seed ticks.” In part of the tick’s life cycle, they are newly emerged in their tick form (small adult form) and need just a little blood to finish growing. So they bite and release. The duration of this bite is between ten minutes and an hour, so sometimes we caught them and got them off. We got very adept at distinguishing tick bites from the bites of other minuscule horrors of Florida, like sand gnats, mosquitoes, fire ants, and yellow flies. We all know that ticks attach themselves once they are full adults. (For this variety, full adult size is about 1/8th of an inch in diameter – the size of a small print “o”.)
I hate ticks. (Who doesn’t?) I don’t like pesticides. (We want to eat food from this yard!)
Luckily, I have chickens!
Chickens are opportunistic omnivores (aka, scavengers). This means while most people envision them eating dry seeds and corn, they actually have a palate that inclines them toward consumption of living organic material such as insects, microscopic organisms, fresh new plant shoots, and anything moving that is small enough to fit in their beak. My chicken flock has always been known to hunt actively for mosquitoes and flies. (Yes, they run along under the flying insect and jump to attack once they perceive catch is possible. Several times they have smashed into a fence or wall while hunting in this manner. Side-effect: human entertainment.)
Roosters (grown-up males) seem to find ant larvae a delicacy and get all excited digging up ant beds and telling the others, “here, some awesome food!” (A few hens join in this feast, but others look at the ant-larvae-loving chickens with “eww, gross” expressions.)
Our laying hens (females) and breeding roosters stay in the covered henyard. Our “biddie-babies” (the girls have made-up terms for every stage; this is newly hatched to 6 weeks) and “baby-toddlers” (6 to 10 weeks) share the brooding pens so they can be protected from rain, draft, and heat in the pre-feathered chick stage (biddie-babies) and to protect them from our area’s population of kites (beautiful, small hawk-like birds who hunt young chickens). The “big toddlers” (10 to 15 weeks) and “teenagers” (15 to 24 weeks) roam near the henyard because they are too big for the kites to carry away.
They will forage all day for insects and leave the free-choice feed completely alone. They stay within about 25 feet of their water source at all times (during or just after a light rain, they may wander a bit farther, but not normally). They LOVE seed ticks!
Within two weeks of our natural pest control plan, we could walk to the carport with zero ticks! Within a month, the strip of back yard where we hang clothes and the kids play was nearly tick-free! It’s been five months and they have cleared an expanded circle that includes parts of the front yard.
(My bulb beds helped grow the circle as they love to eat insects that eat the bulbs and the plants hold dew.)
Slowly, our chickens are conquering the tick population in the rest of the yard!
In closing, if you have a tick problem and don’t mind chickens scratching through your plant beds, maybe consider a pest control plan that rewards you with organic fertilizer… and eggs too!
Thanks for reading!
Type at you next time…