Chickens as vegetable garden bug killers

Joel Salatin advises that you wake up every morning aiming to attack the weak link on your farm. That could be soil fertility, irrigation, labor efficiency, anything. The weak link in our yard has been — for a couple years now — a proliferation of earwigs and pill bugs. They grew in numbers as I spread more and more mulch under trees and around vegetable beds. They eat holes in strawberries, eat holey the leaves of peppers, eggplants, basil, and onions, and they eat the cotyledons of every single germinating seed. There is not even one species that they allow to germinate and grow up. This has necessitated that I grow all vegetables from seedlings purchased at the nursery, and this is the worst consequence of all, not being able to grow from seed.

Enter chickens.

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Another piece of advice from Joel Salatin is to make a liability into an asset. The bugs have been a liability to me and my garden, but to chickens they are delectable food, an asset.

I can’t describe the pleasure I have found lately in watching the chickens devour these bugs. It is inordinate, sadistic, unalloyed, and I don’t apologize for it. It comes from a desire for revenge, true, but it also comes from seeing how happy I’m making the chickens, and just as much it comes from closing a resource loop, if you will. The bugs, which were once only a detraction, a cost, a liability, are now a resource, being put to use as feed for hens that will convert them, ultimately, into food for us in the form of eggs.

I’ve built a mobile pen so I can locate them over a patch of garden, focusing them on finding and eating all of the bugs in that particular 32 square feet, and constraining them from munching on any of the surrounding plants.

mobile chicken pen

Yesterday, I left them over a bed where there had been strawberries. They didn’t eat every bug, but they ate most of them such that these basil seedlings that I put in today — after I moved the pen down the bed — should survive any damage the few remaining pill bugs might cause.

Keeping the pen rotating through the garden consistently ought to reduce the bug population overall enough for me to successfully grow from seed again soon. My future looks like this: I’ll have seeds germinating unmolested, chickens well fed, eggs, and even a further asset of manure. It’s only a shame that I waited so long to add the chickens in order to make use of the earwigs and pill bugs and fortify the yard’s weak link.

UPDATE, July 4: The basil seedlings have grown perfectly without any bug damage at all despite the presence of a few remaining pill bugs and earwigs as mentioned above.

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