For years we couldn’t have our egg chickens be truly free-ranging because of predator problems, and (the biggest problem) our “livestock guardian dog” loved eating chickens. We tried having a special light-sensitive door that opened and closed automatically, and poultry netting, plastic owls, etc, but it never solved the walking-chicken-dinner problem. This year, we’ve been very careful to train our new puppy, and we’ve finally been able to have chickens wandering around, free-ranging where they will (sometimes in the garden, grrrr….). In the process, an interesting symbiosis has begun between the chickens and the pigs.
When we let them out of their moveable shelters, I expected the chickens to follow the cows in the classic Salatin-style rotation. They do spend some time scratching around the cows, but to my surprise they spend most of the time with the pigs, and follow the pigs on their own. It makes sense, because they clean up any spilled barley or pig food from around the pigs’ food dishes. However, I recently found an even better reason that they are so attracted to foraging around the pigs: pig lice.
We never had pig lice on our farm, until one year when we picked up a terrible batch of feeder pigs. We lost four from the pig “travelling sickness”, and they were all crawling with pig lice. We got them from the same guy we had always gotten good feeder pigs from, and we were surprised at how bad this batch was. It was the batch of piglets that made us decide to keep breeding stock and raise our own feeder pigs, but we never could shake the pig lice after that. Regular applications of dusting sulphur and diatomacious earth helped, but it never solved the problem completely. Our pigs spend a lot of time in muddy wallows, which is supposed to prevent and help pig lice, but it did not get rid of the problem. In reading about it, I discovered that pig lice is very common, and almost everyone with chemical-free pigs has to deal with it.
There was one day I was walking up to get Matilda for milking. It was hot, and the pigs were all lying like large sausages stacked in the shade. The chickens were picking and scratching around them. I observed several chickens walking over our big, fierce boar, and he didn’t even bat an ear. As I watched, I realized the chickens were grooming the pigs and eating up the pig lice!
It’s been about a month that the chickens have been out, and it seems as if our pig lice problem might finally have disappeared. A great solution to a problem, and all without chemicals.