Living on a homestead deep in the Ozark Mountains, the subject of ticks and chiggers can often be a daily topic. These pests can make your life miserable and even be life threatening. That’s why we are serious about eliminating them on An American Homestead.
Ticks are dangerous as they can spread a number of diseases to humans. These include lyme disease, rocky mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Q-fever. All of these diseases can be present in the Ozarks and among the tick population. Chiggers don’t spread any known diseases, but leave a very noticeable red itchy welt where they bite. A number of chigger bites around your ankles can make you very miserable and lead you to wonder why on earth anyone would share the same property with them.
We have experienced both these little creatures on our homestead. During our first few weeks here we did a lot of exploring on our new property. My oldest son (age 8) came back to our travel trailer one night. This was before we had our houses finished and he had spent the better part of the day on the upper-most pasture where we now have the main housing area. It was overgrown with tall grasses and weeds. That night, Jaimie picked over 100 ticks off our son. That’s right! Over 100! Yes, she was keeping count.
Well the good news is that we have discovered a guaranteed way to almost eliminate ticks and chiggers on our property. I can assure you that this works! It doesn’t involve crazy chemicals and dangerous sprays. The answer to your tick and chigger problem is the Guinea Fowl!
Tim did a lot of research on Guinea Fowl and their pros and cons. He also discovered how to best house them so they will stick around to do the job you have intended them to do. You see, Guineas will go wild very easily if you’re not careful. If/when that happens, they will not live long in the wild. We have a good amount of predators that will kill Guineas such as coyotes, raccoons, possums, owls and hawks. So they need a secure, safe place to go at night.
So Tim built a really nice Guinea coop that is totally separate from the main chicken coop. We found someone local who raises Guineas and we purchased 15 of them. They weren’t very expensive. Right now, my local craigslist has them for sale between $4.50 – $15 each depending on which seller you go with. That is a small price to pay for the peace of mind they will bring once they are on the hunt.
With the new Guinea coop built, and the birds inside, we locked them up for 3 weeks straight. This is an important part of the process. You see, the Guineas need to become very familiar with their home. They need to understand that this is where they perch and sleep for the night. They need to understand that food is given here. When they are finally unleashed, they will instinctively return to their home for safety and comfort.
Even with their home in place, it will only be a matter of months before the females begin to build nests in the fields and forests. Guinea Hens are notorious for never leaving their nests. Since they nest on the ground, they become easy targets for keen predators who would search them out. The males will start to roost in nearby trees because the females are no longer coming home at night. This means that some of them will also become targets for predators. Building a coop and locking them up initially will give them a number of months of assured safety to come home to until the females begin to nest.
The Plan of Attack!
Now that your Guineas are comfy in their new home and you can be sure they will come home to roost every night, it’s time to launch your all out assault on the population of ticks and chiggers that have been tormenting you and your homestead. Your birds may seem timid at first. Ours didn’t even leave the coop the first day. We opened the doors and none were brave enough to wonder outside. So much for bravery. Luckily, their foe is small. The second day, a few ventured out. The next day a few more. Before we knew it, they were scouring the homestead eating every tick and chigger in sight. They started out staying close by the coop and working their way out. It was almost like a spiral patrol making sure they covered the entire area little by little. Eventually in the months to come, they even made their way to the far reaches of the property, well out of sight of the housing area and their coop. And they returned home each night to Tim who would pour out a little grain on the floor of the coop and close them in.
Ticks will climb up near the top of a blade of grass and then do what is called “questing”. They spread their legs out as far as they can go and just wait. They wait for you or whatever walks by and brush up against their blade of grass and then easily grab on and go for a ride…er quest. But for a Guinea, this just makes finding them rather easy. It’s almost as if all these ticks are offering themselves up to be devoured. And the Guineas are happy to oblige them. Chiggers also live on the grass and are easy pickings for the Guineas with their exceptional eyesight. A chicken will pass right over a chigger, but a guinea won’t. In addition to ticks and chiggers, Guineas will eat fleas, spiders and basically any insect they can get their beaks on.
There are some warnings that come with owning guineas. I’m listing these potential issues below.
- They are loud. No seriously, you may lose your mind at some point. But let me assure you that this will pass in time. Give them at least 4 months to really look over everything on your place and settle in. They are usually sounding an alarm for something that seems out of place to them. This can actually come in handy down the road! At first everything is out of place to a Guinea on a new homestead. But once they have settled in and adjusted, they only sound off when they get separated from the others or they have spotted something they don’t like. (Many times its a snake and a good group of them will kill it – another bonus!) If you live next to a busy road where vehicles are constantly moving around, having guineas may be a bad idea. Any change in atmosphere will set them off.
- They can be haters. If you have chickens or other small animals on your homestead, they can fight and beat up their fellow farm animals. Our guineas and chickens get along fine, but some people have reported problems. I would suggest getting a good rooster. He will probably keep the pecking order in line between everyone. Some choose not to have a rooster, but the rooster’s job is to protect his flock. On our homestead, the pecking order starts with the Donkey. If one of the animals forgets that, she will remind them. 🙂
- Warn the Neighbors. It might not be a good idea to have Guineas if you have close neighbors. If you do, they will eventually visit them and show off their amazing noise making abilities. If however you have a few acres to many acres, guineas might be fine as they will roam around. Did I mention they are loud?
- They are Easy Prey. It’s only a matter of time before your females begin to brood and that means laying eggs in the field or forest where you cannot protect them. Chances are, they will be killed and the eggs destroyed. If the chicks manage to hatch, they too will probably fall prey to predators before reaching adulthood. The males too, knowing that the females aren’t coming home to roost will probably also begin to roost in the trees rather than in the coop. This means that some of them will fall to predators as well. The strong will survive. It’s the circle of life and that circle includes death. We just accept it here on the homestead, but for some that reality can be harsh.
- Some people say they are dumb. Ok, but what farm animal isn’t dumb? I mean yeah, there are some that are smarter than others, but it’s the difference between dumb and dumber. It’s the reason they are the farm animals and you’re the farmer. The Guineas serve a purpose. It’s an IMPORTANT purpose. They are helping to keep my family safe from disease carrying insects and they do a good job at this task. A great job in fact. So despite some of the ways where they fall short, including intelligence, I think we will keep them around.
We are going on our second year of having Guinea Fowl and of the 15 original birds, we have 3 left. Those 3 are the strong that survived the culling and the predators. They roost every night in a tree right above their coop. They have killed snakes, alerted us to predators and wild game (deer), and killed probably a million ticks and chiggers. In fact, this spring while walking the entirety of our 50+ acre homestead looking for mushrooms, I pulled only 3 ticks from my clothes. I’m talking deep thick forest and pastures. I believe that is phenomenal in terms of Guinea Fowl success stories. Starting out with 15 Guineas can really obliterate the tick and chigger population on your homestead. Sure you can purchase sprays and chemicals but the effects will be limited and it’s a continual process. There is a better way to defeat these annoying and dangerous insects that is more in line with how Creation intended it to be.