If you own a flock of chickens and also live in an area where ticks are common, you may be wondering if your birds will eat them? Equally, you may even be wondering whether this would be a good strategy for a more natural form of tick management and control. Either way, will this be okay and safe for your birds or is there anything you will need to be aware of? To help answer such questions, I decided to spend some time researching the topic. I would like to share all that I have been able to find here today.
So, do chickens eat ticks? Chickens do eat ticks. In fact, chickens are not picky eaters and will eat almost anything they are given or come across in their environment. Insects, including ticks, are commonly eaten by chickens and there are benefits for your birds in doing so. It will help support natural foraging behaviors and even provide some protein and nutrition. Chickens have even proven an effective form of tick control management according to comparative studies.
The topic of chickens eating ticks is one of much interest and debate. Being parasites, ticks come with a bad reputation and cause for concern. And rightly so.
Let us now take a closer look at the most common questions along with practical ways to keep your birds and your family safe from the dangers that ticks may bring.
Will Chickens Eat Ticks?
Chickens that are allowed to free roam undoubtedly experience a better life. They have room to roam, can eat grass and can naturally forage on insects and bugs that they come across and into contact with in their environment.
Chickens that widely free roam are known to thrive; due in part for their ability to naturally forage and obtain the foods they want to instinctively consume.
Insects are a rich source of protein, along with a whole host of other vitamins and minerals. Ensuring that your chickens gets their fare share is a great way to ensure your chickens meet their nutritional needs.
Chickens instinctively, and have evolved to, live off the land. They are keen eaters, and as many chicken owners will report – are more likely to eat something than not.
But what about ticks? Well, they are no different.
Chickens are known to eat ticks. There are hundreds of reports from chicken keepers of their birds doing so. In fact, there even entire research studies funded off the back of it.
Take this comparative study (Predation on Livestock Ticks by Chickens) for example. The researchers found that chickens that were allowed to free range ate both engorged and unengorged ticks, with a preference for the latter. In fact, the researchers found that the number of ticks eaten per chicken ranged from 31-331; at an average of 81!
Such results even led to the discussion of the possibility of using chickens as a “viable biological control component in an integrated tick management system in Africa”.
For this reason, many backyard chicken keepers notice a drastic fall in the insect population as a result, including ticks.
However, it is important to remember that chickens should not eat absolutely everything, nor every insect that they could come into contact with.
Equally, you should not assume that your birds can completely remove tick-borne diseases. It is certainly possible to have chickens and still have ticks.
What Are Ticks?
Before we go on any further, its important that we understand what ticks actually are. This way, we can get a better understanding as to whether they are safe for a chicken to eat and be around, and if there is anything in which a keeper would need to be aware of.
Ticks are actually external parasites; who live exclusively off blood. This can be from mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. They are known to be resilient and difficult to remove.
Ticks are common and located around the world, but mostly reside in warm and humid climates because they require a certain amount of moisture in the atmosphere. For this reason, tick activity is known to increase in the spring and summer seasons.
For ticks to be able to survive, their environment needs to have a sufficient population of host species and there needs to be enough humidity for ticks to stay hydrated enough for life.
Ticks are known to transmit a variety of infections caused by pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
Of course, this information can be worrying. Especially with the reputation ticks have acquired.
Thankfully, not all ticks are infected and can transmit. Equally, it has been found that only with attachment and a long feeding session that diseases tend to transfer. For this reason, tick bites do not often lead to infection – especially if ticks are removed within 36 hours (source.)
How Many Ticks Do Chickens Eat?
The amount of ticks chickens will eat will depend on many factors. However, for the most part, it will depend on how many ticks reside in your local area and backyard.
As we now know, ticks can only survive if two requirements are met; a sufficient population of host species (which will be your birds) and a humid environment.
Therefore, depending on where you live will play a large role in how densely populated ticks are to your area.
As we can see from the study referenced earlier, chickens have been known to eat upwards of 300 ticks per bird; however we do not know the time-frame of the study. Still, it appears to be a lot of ticks for one chicken to eat.
Of course, how many ticks your chickens can or will eat also depends on if, where and how you let them free roam. It depends on the diet you feed and how much.
For example, the more your chickens eat from their feeders the less inclined they are likely to be to hunt out other treats when foraging. Sure they will still do so but are likely to be less forthcoming.
How to Help Protect Your Chickens With Tick Control
If you want to support your chickens and help to minimize their exposure to ticks, there are certain things you can proactively do. A multi-angle approach is advised and this will help to protect your birds and family alike.
Here are some of the best ones:
- Move your chicken coop/run, shed away from any forested areas. Move them to sunnier areas which are less suitable for ticks to live. They prefer shadier areas.
- Keep the grass your chickens roam on and around short. Ticks are known to reside in taller grasses. In fact, keep all grass on your property cut short.
- Remove all fallen leaves, and any other debris from trees and plants (like branches). Again, this is where ticks will tend to populate.
- Create a wood-chip barrier between any thick vegetation or tree cover that your chickens spend time on.
- Inquire about the tick populations in your area, and try to identify the tick species that could reside in your backyard.
- Try to ensure that your chicken coop/run does not become too humid. Reducing moisture is a good way to dry out the environment and ensure ticks have less preference for this space.
- Be sure to clean out your chickens coops/runs regularly and often. Remove any waste food quickly and never let it spoil. Ticks can live on rodents, and rodent populations are known to increase around chickens.
- Poop should be quickly picked up and safely disposed of.
- Keep you and your family safe by covering up when you are around your birds. Where long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use tick and flea preventatives on any other pets that you may own – especially outdoor ones like cats.
- Speak with your vet about your approach and way to handle tick populations in your area.
Lastly, consider using acaricides (tick pesticides). These sprays will reduce the number of ticks within a particular and treated area.
However, you must be careful! Its important to check in with your local authorities about legality of usage and the best time to use such products. You’ll also want to refrain using these products away from your birds and where they roam (it can be very dangerous if they ingest the chemicals).
Instead, its usually better to hire a professional whom can undertake tick control on your behalf.
Can Chickens Get Lyme Disease From Eating Ticks?
This is perhaps one of the most asked questions about chicken keeping and the side effects of tick consumption. Will chickens contract, or even pass on Lyme Disease from being around or eating ticks?
And it it cause for concern. Lyme disease can cause a host of negative symptoms in humans (fatigue, stomach aches, headaches and joint pain are the main ones).
It is important to note that chickens can host bacteria; its one of the reasons we do have to be so careful around them and remain vigilant and hygienic at all times. Chicken poop for one can carry E. Coli.
Additionally, ticks are known to live on rodents, whom often are drawn to chickens for the warmth and food they can provide.
So, naturally, should we be concerned about Lyme disease in our birds and even the risk of us contracting it from them?
Thankfully, there have been no reported cases of humans contracting Lyme disease from a chicken.
However, little research has been done on Lyme disease in backyard flocks.
One study found that chickens can carry and transmit lyme to ticks; with chicks being more infectious. However, this is all that appears to be accessible on the subject.
So there is no real conclusive evidence to date; just speculation based on anecdote.
There are some theories that older chickens develop a natural immunity when eating ticks. Others suggest not enough research has been done so nothing has been found.
Yet, it stands to reason that chickens have blood, often live in humid environments, and live around ticks. So it appears to be a possibility.
This does not mean you should necessarily get rid of your flock of chickens. However, owners need to be cognizant of the risks and do all they can to minimize any risk:
- Be sure to wear gloves and fully cover up around your birds,
- Wash your hands regularly and after each contact around your chickens,
- Cook all eggs collected from your chickens.
Chickens do eat ticks. It is in their nature to do so. Depending on where you live and your setup will largely dictate the levels of ticks your chickens come across and can consume.
Whether you should let your chickens eat ticks is a question of much debate. While you cannot completely stop this behavior, especially if you let your birds free roam, you can reduce the chances and liklihood.
In fact, due to the potential links with Lyme disease, it would be a good idea to do so. Keeping your chickens away from shady areas, ensuring that all grass is cut back and debris is removed are some of the best things you can do to protect your flock.
If you were looking to remove ticks in your backyard, acaricides may be an option but this comes with a strong caveat. You should always check with your local authorities first and never spray these products in and around your chickens. Hiring a professional to support tick control is strongly recommended.
From there, be sure to keep up with appropriate hygiene practices – wear gloves, wash your hands and keep your chickens coop regularly cleaned.
What do ticks hate? Ticks are known to have a strong disliking to a number of natural essences and smells. Some of the most widely available ones include: Lemon, Orange, Lavender, Peppermint, Rose Geranium and Cinnamon. You can look to create natural tick repellent with any or a combination of these. Equally, you can look to plant some of these around your backyard.
What is the natural predator of ticks? Ticks have a number of natural predators. The most common ones include birds, spiders and ants. However, these are known to only ever occasionally eat ticks and therefore do not serve as an appropriate or effective way to significantly reduce tick populations.
What bird eats the most ticks? Guinea Fowls are perhaps the most inclined to eat ticks, and are known to be more effective at doing so than chickens. This is because most of their diet consists of bugs (around 90%). Guinea Fowl spend much of their time roaming around for insects/bugs to eat.