Chickens can play an important part in your IPM strategy.
First, what is IPM? And why do you need to strategize? And why now? Well, summer is over and winter is generally when you plan next year’s garden. Part of the planning should include IPM.
IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, is an effective method of pest management. Formal IPM programs use the most current information on pests. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
Home gardeners can benefit from IPM as much as commercial settings. Both have essentially the same goals: manage pests and increase yields. By incorporating an IPM strategy when planning your garden, you’re getting a jump on the problems before they start.
Just realize, you’ll never get rid of all the pests in your garden. And that’s okay. While pests are not our friends, they do have a place in the ecosystem. And chances are anything you do to reduce the pests will impact the beneficial insects and plants as well. That’s why it’s Integrated Pest Management, rather than Integrated Pest Eradication.
There are several strategies you can use in your IPM plan, however, I’m focusing on backyard poultry.
In my opinion, one of the benefits of a backyard flock is the positive impact they have on pest management, especially when you go the “no chemical” route. (Frankly, that’s pretty much a necessity when you have backyard poultry. Otherwise, they’ll ingest the chemicals which is bad for the birds and for you as it ends up in the meat and the eggs.)
And a quick note on the chemicals… one, it’s important to remember to exactly follow the directions on the label. If you don’t, you won’t get the desired result and may end up with a worse problem than what you started with.
Another thing to remember is organic chemical controls can be dangerous, too. Organic does not mean “safe,” even when approved for use in organic settings. As with non-organic chemicals, follow the labels exactly to avoid harming yourself, your family, your critters, or any native wildlife.
My last reason for not recommending chemicals are pollinators. If you are trying to attract pollinators (and I hope you are, for your garden’s sake!), you may you inadvertently harm the pollinators. We need them to help our gardens grow and more of them, not less, is definitely better.
Now back to the fun stuff!
If you let your birds free range, chances are you’ve already seen the advantages of their use in controlling pests. While they eat all bugs, not just the ones you don’t like, you should notice a drop in the pesty bugs. You’ll see a similar effect if you have a chicken tractor and move it around your yard/garden.
To manage pests with penned birds, you can manually pick off the pests, put them in a glass half full of water, and then toss the bug-filled water into the pen. Your birds will quickly learn what you’re doing and that it results in tasty treats! And of course, short free range forays also help.
But what if you want something lower maintenance and not have to worry about plant life? You could try guinea fowl. In my limited experience, I find them a little more difficult to raise than chickens, however, once grown they are more independent and eat the crap out of bugs. They will eat some plants, especially in the early Spring. However, their focus is bugs and they are fun to watch as they chase one through the air.
Christmas is coming! Take care of your girls:
As with chickens, they do need a home to be safe from predators and the weather. And even during the summer their diet of bugs should be supplemented with layer pellets and garden scraps. However, they will clean your property of ticks and fleas as well as other types of pests. They also lay eggs. The eggs are smaller and the guineas may hide them, but they do lay. As I understand it, you can have more than one guinea rooster — they get along together much better than chicken roosters. Currently, I have 3 females, so I can’t personally verify this.
Keets! (Baby guinea fowl)
Guinea fowl tend to be noisier than chickens, especially in their first year of life when everything is new. Their call is loud and raucous and they are a wonderful watch-dog type of animal to have on your property, especially if you don’t have neighbors. They quiet down considerably their second year but if something unnerves them, you’ll definitely know! They also talk a lot so you’ll almost always hear something from them. A plus with guinea hens is this little trilling sound they make when laying an egg. I really need to record it. It’s absolutely lovely.
So while you’re huddled next to the fireplace sipping on a cup of hot chocolate, take a look at your property layout and your bird management and figure out what works best for you. Use your poultry to create a better garden and don’t be afraid to try a couple of things. Then enjoy pest-reduced garden!
(If you want to learn more, sign up for the UNH Cooperative Extension newsletter by clicking here.)