Backyard Chickens: IPM & Urban Agriculture

More and more Americans are dabbling in backyard farming. Urban agriculture is the practice of growing food in or around a city or town. Planting a vegetable or herb garden is a less intense version of urban agriculture. A more elaborate form of urban agriculture might entail gathering rainwater or raising several species of farm animals. City planners across the country are recommending urban agriculture as a way to reduce our carbon footprint, build community, slim down family budgets and gain a better understanding of just what we eat. R

Keeping backyard chickens is an increasingly popular urban agriculture activity. Urban chicken enthusiasts point out that chickens provide a valuable form of residential pest control by eating many of the bugs that would otherwise reduce garden production. Chickens are happy to eat grasshoppers, earwigs, mosquitoes, crickets, beetles, fly larvae, ticks, fleas, lawn grubs, aphids pill bugs, worms and even more dangerous species such as fire ants and scorpions. Of course, chickens offer several other benefits as well – such as providing a family with valuable protein in the form of eggs.

However, as in all urban agriculture endeavors, it’s important to achieve a good ecological balance when raising chickens; otherwise, the chickens could actually be a cause of residential pest control problems! Rats and mice are happy to devour chicken feed. If you don’t properly arrange, clean and store your chicken feed, you may experience an uptick in rodent populations – definitely not a residential pest control challenge that any homeowner relishes. To maintain a pest-free chicken-raising environment, residential pest control professionals suggest following Integrated Pest Management practices.

Integrated Pest Management Principles for Urban Agriculture

Integrated Pest Management is an eco-friendly commercial and residential pest control approach. In contrast with older “spray and pray” methods of pest control, which involved spraying toxic pesticides across large areas to achieve quick results, Integrated Pest Management aims to eliminate the biological ingredients that pest species require to survive.

For example, when dealing with a rodent control problem, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) devotee would seek to eliminate the food sources that drew rodents to that location in the first place. An IPM follower would also clean out any rat or mouse nesting areas. Beyond physical removal of pests and habitat modification, Integrated Pest Management includes ongoing monitoring, so any pests may be quickly eliminated.

Backyard Chickens: Pest Control Problems and Solutions

From an Integrated Pest Management perspective, backyard chickens bring both advantages and potential problems. The residential pest management benefit of raising chickens is obvious: They eat the common insects that might otherwise pose a pest control problem. Indeed, urban farmers often discover that their garden pest issues are completely resolved once chickens are introduced.

On the other hand, pests are often magnetized to grains and other food sources that are left out in the open. To an ant or mouse, a full bowl of chicken feed looks like a buffet. And once rats, mice and other pests know where you keep the chicken food bowl, they’ll return to it time and time again for a fresh meal. Indeed, if you don’t handle any chicken-related residential pest control problems quickly, that constant source of food could facilitate increased breeding rates among local pests.

The key is to stop pests from finding the chicken food in the first place. Therefore, you should store chicken feed off the ground and away from any human abodes. If you leave that chicken feed leaning against your home, for instance, chances are pests will find the feed and then look for ways into your house, which really represents the mother load for insect and rodent freeloaders. The food bowl should be elevated, as well. Additionally, chicken bedding should be cleaned out at least once a month, and owners should consistently check the storage situation to make sure no pests have discovered the chickens’ grains.

Ultimately, Integrated Pest Management is all about striking a balance between the different ecological elements on one’s property. If properly cared for, chickens can help reduce or eliminate residential pest control challenges. On the other hand, chickens can and attract rodents if owners don’t keep a clean coop with an elevated food store.

Mr. Little

He’s represented Western for nearly a century. But he’s no old fogey. Follow Mr. Little’s blog for pest tips and facts!

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