Ticks can cause some serious problems around the farm, so it’s only natural that you might be wondering, “do chickens eat ticks?”
Chickens, along with other types of poultry, do eat ticks. Although they aren’t as fond of these pesky pests as other kinds of birds, like guinea hens, they’ll munch on their fair share for sure!
Getting rid of ticks requires a multifaceted approach to pest management on your farm, but rest assured, it can be done! You just need to be proactive and get the whole flock involved in the efforts.
Here’s what you need to know…
Do Chickens Eat Ticks?
If you are a homeowner and thinking about getting chickens solely because you’ve heard that they eat ticks, you might want to reevaluate your decision.
Yes, chickens do eat ticks – but not nearly as many as other species of poultry, like turkeys and particularly guinea fowl.
Chickens will only eat a lion’s share of ticks when other food is not plentiful. Guinea hens, on the other hand, will actively hunt down ticks and other insects to get rid of these pests.
It’s important to note that, if you are using chickens or other kinds of poultry to get rid of ticks, you’ll need to confine them to a more concentrated area.
After all, your property could have hundreds of thousands of ticks on it, depending on the size, and it’s simply not fair to expect a flock of six chickens to do all of your tick management for you!
Something else you need to watch out for is your chickens becoming hosts for the ticks themselves. Although ticks don’t normally go after non-mammal species, they can still hop a ride on your chickens, and travel straight to you or your pets.
If you are raising chickens for the sole purpose of getting rid of ticks, place their chicken coop strategically. Ticks want to live near their hosts so that they can easily access a blood meal.
This might include a wooded or grassy area near water, but it could also be anywhere animals are present.
What Exactly Are Ticks?
Ticks are tiny, blood-sucking pests that can be as small as the head of a pin to as large as a pencil eraser. With eight legs, these arachnids rely on warm-blooded creatures to reproduce and survive. They commonly bite humans and pets and frequently transmit disease, too.
There are several species of ticks in the United States. Not all species carry disease – for example, the American dog tick is usually harmless but can occasionally carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever once you travel further west.
Other species of ticks include the deer tick, the dog tick, the brown tick, and the lone star tick.
Sadly, the number of folks who are picking up diseases from ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes has more than tripled in the last couple of decades.
Tick bite diseases are incredibly common, with communicable diseases that are spread by these pests including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, Heartland virus disease, Powassan disease, and more.
Looking at Lyme disease alone, it is roughly estimated that about 300,000 people get it per year in just the United States (and likely the numbers are even higher than that, since Lyme disease presents confusing symptoms that are often challenging for doctors to diagnose).
As humans continue to encroach into natural habitat and global warming makes the “tick season” longer, populations of these pests are only expected to increase. Ticks frequently live on animals like deer and rodents – the natural predators of which (like foxes and wolves) are in rapid decline because of our habitat encroachment.
Unfortunately, the tick problem is only going to get worse.
How Can Chickens Help Get Rid of Ticks?
Believe it or not, chickens are not meant to be vegetarians. Chickens are natural omnivores, and are happiest when they can spend their days foraging for pests.
If you let a flock of chickens free-range, you will likely see reductions in the amounts of mosquitoes, fleas, and yes, ticks, in your yard.
Per hour, the average chicken can eat about 80 ticks. That’s a great help in keeping you and your family safe from these creepy-crawly pests, but it’s important to note that they won’t get rid of all of them.
Keep your chickens in a confined area where you think ticks might be a particular issue (such as a wooded or grassy spot of your lawn).
If you are worried about allowing your chickens to free-range to feed on the ticks (either because you’re worried they’ll get into the neighbor’s yard, or because you have concerns about predators) consider putting them in chicken tractors.
Chicken tractors are essentially just enclosed chicken coops and runs that you can move with your chickens wherever they want to go. They are meant to be moved on a daily or weekly basis, and protect your birds from all the threats possible.
You may also want to consider keeping your chickens with other livestock species. Multi-species grazing is a great way to improve pasture utilization and to provide a whole host of other benefits on your farm.
In addition, a 1991 study that involved keeping chickens with tick-infested cattle in Kenya showed that chickens ate a large number of ticks off the cattle themselves.
The bottom line? You might be able to prevent ticks from jumping on board some of your mammalian farm residents by using chickens, too.
When you are getting chickens specifically to remove ticks on your property, consider buying breeds that are naturally more adept at foraging. For example, good foraging chicken breeds to consider include:
- Jersey Giant
- Old English Game
- Golden Comet
Should I Get Guineas Instead of Chickens to Get Rid of Ticks?
If you are wondering whether you should choose guineas rather than chickens to get rid of ticks, the answer is, “it depends.”
Guineas are better at eating ticks than chickens, but they’re also wilder. They are more likely to do whatever they want, whenever they want (and that includes roosting and laying eggs where they please, too, despite your best efforts). They are tougher to manage and also a lot noisier than chickens as well.
Plus, if you want to raise chickens for meat or eggs, you won’t really get the same effect when raising guineas. Although these birds can, of course, be raised for those purposes, too, this isn’t done quite as often as it is with chickens.
Chickens Are Not Immune to Ticks
It’s unlikely that ticks will hitch a ride on your chickens, but it can happen. In fact, even in the North, there is some evidence that chickens may be able to contract ticks and other external parasites.
Luckily, the steps for preventing ticks on your chickens are the same as preventing them on other kinds of livestock.
You can use a permethrin spray or powder, which is often used to treat lice and scabies, but it’s a chemical that can be detected in eggs up to three weeks later. A better option is to dust chickens with food-grade diatomaceous earth.
It is effective against dog ticks and may be helpful for other tick species, too. Plus, since it’s an organic method of control, there is no egg or meat withdrawal period.
You can also use natural treatments like lavender oil, citronella oil, and garlic. All of these herbs, particularly when applied to the nesting boxes and coop, can help keep ticks at bay.
Other Animals That Eat Ticks for Tick Control
There are several other animals that eat ticks, some of which you may or may not want to include on your arm.
Guinea hens were already mentioned. Another species of poultry that eats ticks is the turkey. Wild turkeys, better at foraging, are better when it comes to eating ticks, but domestic turkeys will do a bang-up job, too.
Squirrels and rodents are also known to eat ticks. However, these rodents also carry ticks, so there’s not much reason to give them full reign of your property. The same goes for opossums.
However, opossums are much less likely to harbor ticks, so if you see these creatures on your property, leave them be.
All kinds of other critters eat ticks, too, including wild birds, frogs, toads, lizards, and more. Many of these can be quite helpful when it comes to getting rid of your other garden pests, too.
What Other Pests Do Chickens Eat?
When it comes to garden and lawn pests, ticks are far from being the only source of frustration. Chickens are omnivores so they will luckily go after all kinds of pests that plague your backyard space, including termites, ants, aphids, and more.
Other Tips for Effective Tick Control
While picking up a few chickens might help lower your tick numbers every so slightly, there are some better tips you can follow for lasting tick relief.
For starters, mow your lawn regularly. Ticks like long sections of grass, where they will lay in wait for their hosts to stroll by. Remove any piles of leaves or debris, as ticks are fond of these hiding spots, too.
You should also remove bird feeders, and keep your chicken feeder confined to the coop, where ticks will be less likely to get at it.
The main thing to keep in mind if you are considering using chickens to reduce your tick populations is that it is going to take time. If you had hundreds of ticks in your backyard yesterday, introducing chickens today isn’t going to get rid of them overnight.
As with any kind of pest control, it’s important to be patient, and follow some of these other tips for a more integrated pest control approach.
Rebekah is a part-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies.