Over the past 3 years we’ve managed to almost completely eliminate ticks in our woods and pastures by using a combination of chickens and sheep. When we first moved here over 10 years ago, we had the typical tick population found around here. You had a good chance of finding one to a few ticks on you after wandering the woods during tick season. After we started running sheep on our property, the tick population climbed to the point where there were certain parts of the property you didn’t go during tick season if you didn’t want to come back with a half dozen adult or seed ticks on you.
Three years ago we added chickens to the mix. Chickens are great for eating ticks, but they don’t wander very far, covering at most 3 of our 26 acres in their travels. Sheep wander far, picking up ticks as they go, and by themselves will increase tick numbers by providing a plentiful food source for ticks to feed and multiply just like a burgeoning deer population does. At this time I would typically find several ticks on every sheep I inspected. Due to potential predator exposure, we mostly overnight our sheep in pastures close to the house, pastures that the chickens patrol during the day. An engorged tick prefers to detach and drop off of its host while the host is sleeping. Makes sense from the tick’s point of view. Laying eggs in a location frequented by a sleeping host makes it more likely that your offspring will find a snoozing host laying down in the grass or leaves for them to climb on board for their first blood meal.
So once we added the chickens to the mix, the sheep went out and collected ticks from the surrounding woods and pastures, then brought them back to chicken territory where the engorged ticks dropped off overnight and were eaten by the chickens the next morning. Over several years this has depopulated the ticks in all of the areas where the sheep roam. Since sheep and deer compete for many of the same food resources, we have far fewer deer bringing ticks onto our property since we started running sheep.
This summer I found a grand total of 2 adult ticks on our persons and no seed ticks. I also didn’t find a single tick on any of the sheep that I inspected this summer.
If you add Guinea fowl, the chickens may feel safe to wander further. Mother Earth News had an article which reported 95% reduction using both species together. Combined with sheep, you may do even better.
Sheep have the advantage over guinea fowl in finding ticks in that the ticks are actively trying to seek them out and climb on board. The guineas are instead having to hunt them down in their various hiding places. The tick is a willing participant in the former method of collecting them, a fleeing fugitive in the latter method. Then the sheep deliver them in an easy to detect, relatively non-mobile form (the engorged tick) to the chickens for them to eat. Since sheep are both browsers and grazers, they go everywhere within their fenced enclosures in search of food, soaking up ticks as they go.
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