Too often I’ve seen stables with lots of flies and all people do is try to spray their horses. Trapping is one way you can keep bug populations low, but there’s a really low-maintenance, natural way to control bugs around your barn that is mostly overlooked.
I’m talking about chickens!
Most living insects are of interest to foraging chickens. If you’ve spent any time around chickens, you’ll know how they won’t even wait for a manure pile to cool before rushing over to pick out all the bugs.
They also help to keep the tick populations down which is a huge bonus!
Keeping chickens takes a bit of planning and a little care, but if you can manage that you’ll soon see that they have so many benefits.
Plus I love hanging around chickens, listening to their chatter is so calming and their social life is better TV than any telenovela!
Chickens are great if you have a garden.
Chickens (and chicks) will scratch through bedding, manure and even turn over your compost heap to find bugs to eat.
If you end up with a bug infestation in your garden you can get the chickens in there (though they’ll quickly start eating the plants when they run out of bugs) or even catch the bugs by hand to feed to the chickens.
If you have a crop ruined by bugs, feeding it to the chickens will result in few survivors.
And should you bring in spoiled hay to use as mulch or compost with an unknown history, let your chickens clean it of slugs, snails, weed seeds and other unwanted stowaways before using it in the garden.
Chickens are easy keepers.
At a stable, you already have most of what you need to feed your chickens – bugs and horse feed.
The only extra cost is a small amount of supplements to boost their calcium and phosphate intake.
You’ll even notice that the chickens will quickly clean up after horses that are messy eaters. Your horses will be less likely to get sand colic from swallowing a mouthful of sand along with feed that’s fallen onto the floor when your chickens get to it first.
Another benefit of having chickens is that the horses get used to the fluttering birds and are less likely to be spooked by birds when being ridden.
You can also get eggs and even make some additional income from selling chicks (depending on the breed).
Considerations with chickens.
It can be inconvenient if your hens lay eggs in your hay bales. You may not find them until they fall out and make a smelly mess when they break.
This can be avoided (mostly) by having a chicken coop for your flock to sleep in at night.
Another reason to make sure your chickens have a space of their own is that should they roost in the rafters or above the horse stalls, they may poop on your horse and structures.
This is mostly just annoying and all you need to do is wash the poop off.
There is salmonella in the faeces of some chickens and this can pollute water sources.
However, when your chickens have free-range of your property and a coop of their own, they’ll mostly be interested in being where the bugs are.
The risk of salmonella is low in free-ranging stable yard poultry.
Since the chickens consume manure they’re likely to have the same gastrointestinal bacteria as your horses.
To keep stress levels in check, you’ll also want to make sure you have a rooster for your hens. You can keep chickens without a rooster, but it’s a species-specific need for chickens to have a flock complete with a rooster.
You’ll also want to check your local laws in regards to chickens and follow any directives set out there.
It’s always best to start with a small flock and see how you get on. You can always add more hens later!
How to choose chickens for your yard.
There are hundreds of different breeds of chickens that vary in size, shape, colour and personality.
Some lay blue eggs, some don’t. Some get on better in cold climates, other in hot. Some are big, some are small.
You get it.
Choosing the right chickens will save you a lot of time, headache and heartache in the long run.
If you just want backyard chickens for pest control, choose a good companion breed. Bantams are popular backyard chickens.
If you want to sell eggs or chickens for meat as well, take some time to familiarise yourself with the different types of breeds available.
It’s also a good idea to get your chickens from another stable, that way they’ll already be used to horses. Then all you need to do is make sure you introduce your horses (and other yard animals) to the chickens in a way that nobody gets hurt.
Desensitising your other animals to the chickens is important when you’re going to let your chickens have free access in order to eat the bugs.
You can also rescue chickens from commercial operations (chickens that no longer lay enough eggs etc.), so if you’re interested in that I recommend a quick search to find a local rescue to help you out with that.
If you do end up rescuing chickens, you may need to spend some extra time and money making sure they’re healthy and getting all the nutrients they need.
Keep in mind that they’ve been in a commercial operation for a long time and may need time to adjust to a new life.
Two books to get you started.
Chickens are really fun to have around the yard and adding them to any stable is easy because the workload is negligible compared to what you’re already doing.
The best part is that if you love tinkering and always coming up with new stuff to do, chickens are a perfect project!
Here are two great books that will help you get started with your chickens:
How to Speak Chicken: Why Your Chickens Do What They Do & Say What They Say
This is a quirky, irresistible guide packed with firsthand insights into how chickens communicate and interact, use their senses to understand the world around them and establish pecking order and roles within the flock.
Find answers to questions like: do chickens have names for each other? How do their eyes work? How do chickens learn?
The Homesteader’s Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook: Raising a Healthy Flock from Start to Finish
In this book, you’ll learn everything you need to know about raising chickens naturally.
Learn how to prevent and treat ailments with herbal remedies, how to set up your coop and border, purchasing chickens, hatching chicks and so much more.
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