3/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
HARRINGTON, De. — Chickens can be an important part of a pest management strategy for small farmers.
That was one of the messages from research discussed during Cooptastic, held Saturday, March 2, at the Delaware State Fairgrounds.
Cooptastic is an annual event sponsored by Delaware State University, which offers lectures, vendors and all other things poultry. Alternative coops, organic feed, a poultry fanciers club, a Mid-Atlantic Avian Bowl academic challenge and an egg judging contest were a few of the activities available during the event.
Brigid McCrea, an assistant professor-poultry specialist at Delaware State University, is the organizer of Cooptastic, which is geared toward the owners of small and medium-size flocks. The theme of this year’s event was “Changing Management for Changing Times.”
The pest management discussion was the result of research in which Leghorn chickens were kept in a pole lima bean patch. Pole lima beans are a popular cash crop for small farmers in southern Delaware.
The single comb white Leghorn laying hens were allowed to forage in an area with the lima beans in an effort to see if they would help to control stink bugs, spider mites and bean beetles.
A second bean patch was treated with standard pesticides, but did not have any white Leghorns foraging for insects.
The results were then compared.
Both patches showed similar results for three kinds of stink bugs and for Mexican bean beetles. The patch with the chickens had slightly more bean beetles, but there were generally few bean beetles present, according to Delaware State University student Ashley Shelton.
However, the bean patch patrolled by the watchful birds had fewer two-spotted spider mites than the other patch.
The message, according to Shelton, is that the use of chickens for natural pest management has got potential, at least for certain types of pests.
She said that trials will continue.
Future research is expected to use bush lima beans, because the pole limas can reach eight feet in height, perhaps making it difficult for all but the most acrobatic Leghorns to be good bug catchers.
Shelton, a student of McCrea’s, speculated that the chickens may be better at controlling spider mites because that infestation starts at the bottom of the plants, within easy reach of the birds.
She said the chickens did not eat the lima beans and did no damage to the plants. They were provided with food and water. Netting kept the chickens in and the predators out of the pole or “butter” bean patch.
She said the Leghorns seemed to enjoy lying in the shade and could be seen actively and aggressively pursuing insects.
The research also studied the free-range eggs produced by the Leghorns and found little in the way of differences with other eggs. An exception to that was the darker color of the yolk in the free-range eggs.
A number of bulletin boards asked the 200-plus visitors to take part in polls, with questions like: How do you use your chickens? What other types of poultry do you keep? How likely are you to make one change this year to improve biosecurity?
Saturday’s Cooptastic event also included raffles, a Chinese auction and even a Hen Dress Review. While only one chicken was actually dressed, the silkie chicken in a pink-and-white outfit with lace trim drew a good bit of good-natured attention.<\c> Photos by Michael Short
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The lone participant in the Hen Dress Review, this silkie decked out in pink drew some good-natured ribbing from Cooptastic visitors.
Poultry specialist and Cooptastic organizer Brigid McCrea signs copies of “The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens,” which she co-authored with Andy Schneider. McCrea also conducted the Mid-Atlantic Avian Bowl academic challenge on Saturday won by Peach Blossom 4-H Club members.