Insects and parasites are not only pesky, but they can also pose health hazards to horses.Unfortunately, horses produce an ideal breeding ground for parasites through manure.Stable managers know keeping paddocks clean and limiting manure buildup is necessary to limiting the horse’s opportunity to ingest parasites.
In addition to traditional methods of controlling parasite populations, introducing poultry to a stable provides a natural method for controlling the quantity of insect and parasite larvae.
“Ducks, guinea hens and chickens all eat ticks, insects and grubs,” said Richard Brzozowksi with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “They eat weed seeds, too.”
Unlike horses, birds are not negatively affected by internal parasites, instead these bugs are a food source for poultry.
To reap the most benefit, the birds should be free to roam during the day to scour paddocks for manure.The birds should be trained to return to a coup at night for protection from predators.If you prefer not to give the birds free rein, electric poultry netting can keep them contained to specific areas.
Tips for integrating poultry into your stable:
·Know what your goal is. Is it simply parasite control or are you interested in raising hens for eggs or meat birds for processing?
·Decide what species you would like.A lot of farms, particularly horse farms, choose ducks.Turkeys are another option, but they require more time to reach market weight.
·Buy from a reputable buyer or mail order hatchery to avoid disease.Do not buy birds from auction barns and do not mix birds purchased from different farms.
·Provide two to three square feet per bird inside a coop and up to three to four square feet per turkey.
·Be prepared for dead stock.There are some that will die from diseases brought to the property by wild birds.
Since your property already has horses on it, you are likely zoned for poultry, but it is good to call the town hall or town office to confirm.
Most likely, it will take horses time to adjust to the birds, especially guinea hens known for being boisterous.“Guinea hens are the best fliers out of the bunch,” Brzozowksi said. “You may need to clip one wing to keep them from flying and spooking the horses.”Clipping one wing keeps the bird off balance so it cannot take flight. No flesh is removed and there is no blood or pain for the bird.
“Poultry can be a very good partner when it comes to keeping insects down,” he concluded.
Editor's note: Having poultry around your farm can also help "de-spook" your horses. After having chickens on our farm for several years, we learned that wild birds or turkeys flying up during trail rides no longer got the exaggerated spook response in our horses as it did on horses being ridden by our friends. However, keep in mind until your horses get used to the unexpected flight and noise of the poultry around the barn and fields, horses might spook at the movement and noise, so be "chicken aware" during the early days.