Bug guide

Julie Moore takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Your Chickens - - Contents -

The good, the bad and the ugly

It’s a per­fect sum­mer’s day, a cloud­less sky, with warm sun­shine beat­ing down on your gar­den, a gen­tle breeze is blow­ing and the birds are singing. What could be more bu­colic than sit­ting in the shade of a tree watch­ing your hens scam­per­ing af­ter grasshop­pers and dart­ing af­ter but­ter­flies?

Chick­ens, be­ing op­por­tunis­tic om­ni­vores, are well-known for their abil­ity to re­duce in­sect pop­u­la­tions. Their love of be­ing in the open air and sun­shine, ex­er­cis­ing and sat­is­fy­ing their cu­rios­ity for­ag­ing for tasty morsels will sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ish the num­ber of bugs and pests in your gar­den. But not all in­sects make for a healthy and nu­tri­tional snack for your flock. Here’s the low­down on the good, the bad and the ugly.

Black­fly, cater­pil­lars, ear­wigs, cod­dling moth, grasshop­pers, ticks, mil­li­pedes, aphids, spi­ders and ter­mites are all within the reach of a chicken beak and make for a tasty snack. Chick­ens will hap­pily de­vour nests of lar­vae of ter­mites, vine wee­vil and bee­tles while slug, snail and flying ant eggs are dis­patched with rel­ish.

Since many in­sect pests tend to spend the ma­jor­ity of their life­cy­cle in the top few cen­time­tres of soil, chick­ens are the per­fect hunters for these crea­tures. Chick­ens love to peck and scratch in any soft soil left open to them, so why not let them scratch to cur­tail your gar­den pests?

With these nat­u­ral ex­ter­mi­na­tors at work in your gar­den, there’s no need to use pes­ti­cides. Us­ing chem­i­cals can be harm­ful or even fa­tal to your flock and other wildlife.

You’ll quickly re­alise that chick­ens aren’t picky and give no thought as to whether a newly found morsel is a pest, nat­u­ral preda­tor or ben­e­fi­cial in­sect!

Of course, you may not be so pleased to see your hens suck up earth­worms in the fash­ion of eat­ing spaghetti while at other times of the year you’re left scratch­ing your head as your flock com­pletely ig­nore the earth­worms. My flock tend to be very picky over earth­worms dur­ing the win­ter months whereas for the re­main­der of the year, earth­worms are hoovered up with gusto.

Per­haps chick­ens have a sixth sense and know when some­thing isn’t as good as it should be. You see, earth­worms, snails, cen­tipedes and house­flies are a dou­ble-edged sword — whilst chick­ens love to eat them, on the neg­a­tive side, they can be in­ter­me­di­ary hosts of hair, gape and tape­worm eggs.

Chick­ens can pick up worms in­di­rectly through an in­ter­me­di­ary host. In this sce­nario, worm eggs are ex­pelled from an in­fected bird ei­ther through their fae­ces (hair and tape­worm) or, in the case of gape­worm which is found in the res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem, coughed up. At this stage, the worm eggs aren’t in­fec­tive. In­ter­me­di­ary hosts (earth­worms, snails, cen­tipedes and house­flies) will eat the worm eggs. Your chick­ens then eat the in­ter­me­di­ary host, along with the worm eggs that the host has in­gested and your hens be­come in­fected. The lar­vae hatch in­side your hen and the cycle repeats it­self.

You can take steps to help pre­vent worms in your flock by em­ploy­ing good hus­bandry and en­sur­ing that:

G The lit­ter in the coop is changed reg­u­larly;

G Wet and muddy con­di­tions are avoided as worms thrive in swampy en­vi­ron­ments; G The grass that your chick­ens use is kept mowed short. Freshly mowed grass ex­poses dor­mant worm eggs to UV rays which will kill the eggs. If you can, ro­tate the pas­ture to help pre­vent a build-up of worm eggs. Flies thrive in warm, moist en­vi­ron­ments. Tak­ing these sim­ple steps can help re­duce the over­all fly pop­u­la­tion

around the coop and limit the risks of dis­ease that they carry:

G Re­move overnight drop­pings promptly — flies are at­tracted to fresh, wet poop;

G Use sand as lit­ter — sand coats drop­pings, dry­ing them out and min­imis­ing the odour si­mul­ta­ne­ously;

G En­sure there is no stand­ing wa­ter in the run which serves as a breed­ing ground for flies;

G Clean-up af­ter snack time — don’t leave sweet rem­nants of fruit be­hind that will at­tract flies; G Hang home­made fly strips sev­eral feet off the ground (so that your chick­ens don’t get stuck to them). While plant­ing in­sect-re­pelling aro­matic herbs such as laven­der, rose­mary, basil and mint around your coop will make it look at­trac­tive, the herbs won’t en­sure that your coop is in­sect-free. The es­sen­tial oils in these herbs act as na­ture’s bug re­pel­lent; flies and mos­qui­toes tend to avoid them. How­ever, the con­cen­tra­tion of oils isn’t suf­fi­cient to of­fer a com­plete in­sect-free zone — you may find that there are fewer in­sects, but not a to­tal erad­i­ca­tion.

Mos­qui­toes are the bane of chick­ens and poul­try keep­ers alike. These bit­ing crea­tures can in­fect chick­ens with the Avian Pox virus, spread­ing the virus from an in­fected bird to an un­in­fected bird. Trans­mis­sion oc­curs when the mos­quito feeds on an in­fected bird that has the virus cir­cu­lat­ing in its blood or when a mos­quito feeds on se­cre­tions from a pox le­sion and then feeds on an un­in­fected bird. The virus can also be trans­mit­ted to other chick­ens in the flock in­di­rectly through an in­fected bird’s feather de­bris, skin dan­der, fallen dried scabs, scab se­cre­tions and blood.

The in­fec­tion leads to the for­ma­tion of wart-like growths on the non­feath­ered parts of the head, most com­monly the comb, wat­tles, face and eye­lids as well as the legs — this is the more com­mon ‘dry form’ or, oc­ca­sion­ally it can lead to ul­cer­ous le­sions in the mouth and throat (‘wet form’). It’s a highly con­ta­gious virus and spreads slowly within the flock.

As Avian Pox is a virus, there are no an­tibi­otics to treat an out­break. You should iso­late an in­fected bird be­fore the virus has a chance to spread.

If your flock has suc­cumbed to the virus, you should clean wa­ter­ers daily dur­ing an out­break. Throw away any re­main­ing wa­ter once your hens are shut in the coop for the night. One of the best things a poul­try keeper can do to re­duce mos­quito pop­u­la­tions is elim­i­nate any stand­ing wa­ter which is where mos­qui­toes breed. Stand­ing wa­ter is more com­mon than you may first be­lieve: bird baths, ponds without fish, hol­low trees, pad­dling pools, blocked gut­ters, any open con­tainer that can hold wa­ter — even a dis­carded sweet wrap­per man­ages to trap enough wa­ter to hold mos­quito eggs. Clean the coop and run thor­oughly with the ob­jec­tive of re­mov­ing any scabs that have fallen off as these are still con­ta­gious.

Slugs can be bad guys too. In some cases they can kill a chicken if the hen doesn’t kill the slug be­fore swal­low­ing it — I’ve wit­nessed a young pul­let choke to death af­ter eat­ing a large slug.

Slime is used by slugs to pro­tect them against preda­tors. When a preda­tor catches a slug, the slug cre­ates an even thicker slime that makes it dif­fi­cult for their cap­tor to ac­tu­ally swal­low and es­sen­tially chokes their at­tacker to death.

You may have no­ticed your hens wip­ing their beaks a lot af­ter eat­ing a slug — they’re sim­ply try­ing to get rid of the slime.

Al­low­ing your chick­ens to for­age around your gar­den has many ben­e­fits. They’ll ea­gerly dine on the nu­tri­tious smor­gas­bord of bugs and in­sects on of­fer in your gar­den and help re­duce the bug pop­u­la­tion nat­u­rally.

Chick­ens, be­ing op­por­tunis­tic om­ni­vores, are well-known for their abil­ity to re­duce in­sect pop­u­la­tions.

Chick­ens aren’t picky and give no thought as to whether a newly found morsel is a pest, nat­u­ral preda­tor or ben­e­fi­cial in­sect.

Aphids are all within reach of a chicken beak and make for a tasty snack.

Whilst plant­ing in­sect-re­pelling aro­matic herbs such as laven­der and rose­mary around your coop will make it look at­trac­tive, the herbs won’t en­sure that your coop is in­sect-free.

Help re­duce the fly pop­u­la­tion by hang­ing home­made fly strips sev­eral feet off the ground.

The early signs of wart-like growths of Avian Pox (dry form).

Re­move overnight drop­pings from the coop promptly.

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