Proof That Ticks Are For The Birds

After being bit repeatedly by ticks after moving to my current home 6 1/2 years ago, I ultimately decided to get chickens in order to help mitigate the tick problem I had been suffering with for several years.

As it happened, I was working as a preschool teacher and the other class in my school had hatched some chicks with the kids and the chicks now needed a good home.

I had a shed I used to store rakes and shovels in that was full of extra space I could easily convert to a coop.

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Of course, nobody wanted to take those 6 adorable little fluff balls home with them so it quickly became a done deal. I was about to become the proud new owner of a very small flock of chickens.

I had no idea they were about to save my life.

I brought the birds home and we got them set up in the coop. When we were home during the day, we would happily let the young birds out to free range about the yard and we quickly became quite taken with their silly antics while they searched for every scrap of food they could in the yard. Preferring to forage for bugs rather than eat their chicken crumbles right from the beginning.

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The difference was amazing. After only a week or so of these young birds spending some time out in the yard each day for about a week, we began to notice a reduction in the ticks. Rogue ticks crawling walls became rare instead of normal. Almost immediately we could see there were far fewer ticks on the dogs and cats when they went outside.

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When I brought these cuties home, I expected that to be my family’s little flock of tick eaters. I didn’t realize my family was about to become a family of poultry farmers. My oldest daughter fell in love with the idea of raising her own poultry for 4H. My partner and I, seeing the reduction in our tick population just from our few young birds, quickly decided we needed more. We expanded and soon, we never even saw a tick here on our property. I went from literally being bit 10-20 times each spring and fall to not getting bit at all. It was amazing.

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Unfortunately, I had made the decision to get these voracious tick eaters too late. My body was already at war with the multiple tick borne diseases I had already contracted before I got the chickens. I continued to get sicker and sicker and to struggle to find any physicians willing to help.

We had chickens for well over a year before a new sort of trouble began to brew. It turned out, our town zoning did not allow for chickens in any backyards under 3 acres (though in a very strange twist, those of us with less than 3 acres were welcome to keep a horse, a donkey, a pig or a cow, but not a single bird of any sort). This absolutely floored us. (This was the beginning of a battle that is a story for another day and continues to be ongoing). But it also began a search to find proof that chickens were the amazing tick eating machines we had found them to be. Proof that we needed these birds to keep control of the huge tick population that plagued our home without them.

I was so dismayed when I began to look for evidence to back up what I had witnessed in my own yard and discovered there simply wasn’t any. I had watched in amazement as a few small birds quickly began to eliminate our tick problem. Now I might lose them. I had known that chickens and guinea hens were voracious tick eaters I just didn’t expect them to be quite as good as it as they turned out to be. But I had learned of this from other chicken owners and from forum posts. I couldn’t find a single scrap of actual hard evidence I could take to my town to help save my feathered tick eating friends.

I could find plenty of evidence that wild turkeys actually leave more ticks in people’s backyards than they eat and miraculously, proof that opossums eat a large number of ticks as well. Anecdotal evidence abounded. There is an abundance of posts by chicken owners everywhere saying chickens fixed their tick problem too. But nothing concrete. It became a very discouraging process.  Finally, after over a year of searching, a distant cousin who has done much research in international locations responded to a rant I posted on facebook about how sad I was to face losing my tick eaters because I couldn’t find the proof. This amazing cousin? She found me the hard evidence. A study from South Africa that proved chickens ate massive numbers of ticks.

I cried tears of joy and then I began to read in amazement.

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South Africa 1997
Searching for an effective pest control method to help rural farmers eradicate ticks bringing disease to cattle, Scientists allowed chickens to forage inside a cattle pen during milking. The pens were full of cattle infested with ticks. Chickens were allowed to roam among the cattle and snack on whatever ticks they wanted for a 3 hour period. The contents of the chicken’s stomachs were then examined, counted and recorded.
The results were simply incredible.

The average number of ticks consumed per chicken in a 3 hour period ranged from 28-81 ticks per chicken. With one chicken eating a most impressive 128 ticks! Chickens really are tick eating machines, and the proof is there in this study and some others it cites.

For instance they quote a previous study from 1993 by Petney and Kok who state attached ticks in their own similar chicken study are “exposed, defenseless and of high nutritional value, and are therefore ideal prey items.” This too goes with what we witnessed in our own backyard. Chickens are all about high nutritional value protein packed delicious bugs. In fact, they have voracious appetites and can spend entire days scratching and pecking and consuming any and all bugs they can find like small feathered hoovers. They may occasional take a brief pause on a hot summer day to lay in the cool dirt in the shade of a bush for a nap. And they abandon their constant quest for high protein tasty bugs well before dusk every evening and return to their perches for the night. Other than these brief breaks, they are constantly out searching far and wide for bugs and eating all they can.  Even grooming time is tick eating time as chickens are meticulous groomers of themselves and each other. If any ticks slip by their defenses and attach to them? The other birds will find it fast while grooming each other and peck up the tasty treat faster than you can imagine.

They concluded that chickens are natural predators of ticks and that their study demonstrates that “propsects are good for tick predation by chickens as a positive contribution to low cost environmentally safe tick control.” (Dryer, 1997)

Kenya 1991
The study above led me to a couple of other helpful ones as well. This is actually an earlier study. From Kenya.
It is much like the chicken version of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Researchers placed engorged and unengorged ticks in plastic feeding trays and placed the trays in front of those always hungry chickens for 30 minutes. They then measured and recorded the results.
The average number of ticks consumed ranged from 3 to 331 with an average of 81 ticks consumed per chicken in 30 minutes.

This study’s abstract is short and sweet. “Chickens were shown to be natural predators of ticks”.

In the end, the Kenya study found 16 chickens scavenged a total of 1, 722 ticks in 30 minutes. That is an incredibly effective tick control measure.

Kenya 1992
This study was harder to find. I was able to find that the study concluded that “the relatively large number of ticks consumed by each chicken during either a 3 hour or 4 hour release period is an indication that a good reduction of ticks can be achieved through tick predation by chickens.

This study found that “the art of scavenging for ticks is not inherited, but acquired by chickens, irrespective of breed.” It elaborates that “local chickens bred in backyards learn the art as chicks when they accompany their mothers for scavenging.” (Hassan, 1992)

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Again, I couldn’t find the entire article to know more specific details about this one. But I certainly agree that they learn how to forage for ticks from their mothers at an early age.

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Hopefully the evidence from these studies will help me save my chickens from the zoning laws and serve to insure my chickens will always be out there free ranging the yard,  eating ticks like feathered canister vacuums.

My other hope is that this information can help me to spread awareness of the very real fact that chickens are incredible tick eating machines. In the face of an epidemic infecting at least 300,000 new people ever year, it is critical that people be allowed to take whatever measures they need to in order to prevent themselves and their loved ones from tick bites.  Chickens are incredibly effective at eradicating ticks in the backyard and anyone who lives in a tick infested environment should consider this effective measure of protecting themselves. Municipalities should stop zoning out poultry in unreasonable ways and let people protect themselves from a very real dangerous threat.

Resources: (forgive me, my Lyme brain makes it hard for me to remember how to properly cite the references above. Hopefully this will be enough for anyone who wants to check my facts to find the studies.

Dryer, 1997. “Predation of Livestock Ticks By Chickens As a Tick Control Measure In a Resource Poor Urban Environment.”

Hassan, 1991. “Predation of Livestock Ticks By Chickens.”

Hassan, 1992. “Influence Of Exposure Period and Management Methods On The Effectiveness of Chickens as Predators of Tick Infested Cattle.”

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