Ticks are an unfortunate parasite that we have little choice in dealing with. We can poison them, but that can have serious repercussions on the local ecosystem. We can repel them, which is not even close to 100% effective.
Or we can try to control them by harnessing natures predation.
In other words: keeping chickens to eat ticks. This is also not 100% effective, and oftentimes, the animals we use become hosts for the ticks themselves. But this method does have a minimal effect on the local ecosystem, and is preferred by many for that reason.
Can Chickens Control Tick Populations?
Medical experts have predicted an imminent explosion of tick-borne diseases, mostly due to global warming.
A recent report from the Center For Disease Control (CDC) says that the incidents of tick and mosquito-borne diseases have tripled since 2004. Even in a good year, over 300,000 people in the US contract Lymes Disease annually.
So, can we use chickens to control tick populations?
The short answer is…not really. Chickens are not 100% predators. They are omnivores, and eat bugs, grain, grass, and will even scavenge on dead animals and garbage, given the opportunity. So, they will not seek out ticks exclusively.
A 1991 study determined that an average free-range chicken will consume around 80 to 300 ticks daily. So if you have 12 chickens, you can expect them to eliminate approximately 960 to 3000 ticks per day. Not bad, but it’s not really that big of a dent in an average tick population. You will need to use other methods to compliment your birds’ anti-tick habits.
The Problem With Ticks
Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders and mites. They have eight legs, as opposed to insects, which online have six. They evolved in the late Cretaceous Era, around 120 million years ago, and by 100 million years ago, they had evolved to feed on the blood of vertebrates. When humans evolved, we fell into that category, and have been fair game for these pesky parasites ever since.
There are two main types of ticks, hard-bodied, and soft-bodied. Hard-Bodied ticks have a ‘shell’, and their mouths are at the front of the head. Soft-bodied ticks are much less encountered. They have no ‘shell’ and their mouthparts are on the underside of the body. 90% of the time, the ticks you will be encountering will be hard-bodied breeds.
Ticks feed on blood exclusively, mostly from warm-blooded animals, but there is a species of tick that feeds on just about all land-dwelling vertebrates. They live in all habitable areas of the world. Ticks exist wherever their hosts can travel. Migratory birds ferry ticks everywhere, like their own private airline.
Ticks don’t always bite. Sometimes they just go for a ride. Contrary to popular belief, ticks are physically unable to jump, and they also do not drop from trees onto their hosts. They can sense the proximity of a potential host by its breath, body odor, body heat, and vibrations. The tick will move to a likely spot where the host will pass by, hold on to the vegetation with its two back pairs of legs, extend its front pair of legs, and grab the host as it goes by, then climb to a likely spot where blood vessels are close to the skin.
They like moisture, so they will usually settle down in a moist spot, like where there are folds in the skin. The groin, armpits, and behind ears are favorite spots. These are moist spots that have blood vessels near the skin, where the ticks feeding apparatus can reach.
The ticks feeding equipment consists of a proboscis, basically a hard straw, with accompanying cutting and drilling tools, and hooks to help it hang on to the host while feeding. This is what makes them so hard to remove. Their saliva has anti-clotting proteins to help keep the blood flowing. This can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Complimentary Methods To Control Ticks
There are many commercial powders and sprays to control ticks, like Talstar P. These are supposed to be harmless to pets, chickens, and such. But many can hurt your birds, like Sevin Dust, and others.
Be careful what you use, and be sure it is OK to use around poultry and other animals. Also, be aware that these pesticides will get into the water table, and can kill pests for miles around, sometimes with unintended consequences.
These pesticides do not discriminate between good bugs and bad. They can also kill beneficial things like spiders, ladybugs, wasps, bees, and hornets. These bugs are essential for a healthy ecosystem. Use commercial sprays and powders wisely.
One of the best things you can do to help your chickens get rid of ticks is to keep the lawn mowed short, and remove as much underbrush as possible.
There are many forms of vegetation you can plant that repel ticks, including mint, sunflowers, geraniums, catnip, sage, lemongrass, lavender, pennyroyal, garlic, rosemary, sage, chrysanthemums, marigolds, wormwood, beautyberry, chamomile, and sweet basil. As an added bonus, you’ll have lots of great fresh herbs to cook with…
And lastly, be sure to check your chicks often for ticks, and remove them properly when you find them. Use a Tick Twister to remove them, and don’t just throw them in the trash. They will just climb back out. Flushing them down the toilet is the best way to get rid of them.
While chickens alone will not eliminate the tick issue completely, they will reduce the population considerably. Combining them with the other methods should keep ticks and other pests in check.