The Farm Report: Chickens and Chiggers

Now that our future egg factories are getting bigger, Chareva and I decided we should expand the size of the fenced-in area around the chicken coop.  The chickens will have a larger bug-hunting area, and it’s certainly more sanitary if they’re not making little chicken-poops in the same yard all the time.  The eventual plan is to fence off more area behind the coop and then use temporary fences to create four distinct chicken-yards, moving the birds from to another.

So on Saturday afternoon, we got busy and pounded in more t-posts (which is a great deltoids-triceps workout, by the way) and strung up more fencing.  You can see the before-and-after below.

Since it was a reasonably comfortable and sunny day, I decided to go all paleo-like and stuff and work without a shirt on, hoping to soak up some natural vitamin D.  I probably did, but as you can see from the picture below, I also picked up quite a few chiggers as I was working close the ground, attaching fencing to the t-posts.  Bad move.  In addition to the bites you can see on my arms, I picked up a few on my belly and one on my chest.  Some non-paleo Deep Woods Off probably would have saved me a bit of misery.

Calamine lotion didn’t do much for the constant itching, and neither did an anti-itch cream with hydrocortisone.  I went scouring the internet looking for alternative treatments and found a post by a woman who recalled that when her father was working as a doctor in the 1930s, he treated chigger bites by pricking them with a needle and dabbing iodine into the wound.  So I gave that a shot … and it worked.  Well, I didn’t have to stick myself with a needle since I’d already scratched the bites bloody, but the iodine definitely reduced the itch factor by 90%.  Some of them don’t itch at all anymore.  Apparently, as in many other areas of medicine, the old treatments are still the best treatments.

Our first little flock of guinea fowl ran off some months ago, so we’re trying again with a new flock.  This time the plan is to put up a fence they can’t easily escape and keep them penned in for a few months.  From what Chareva has read, that’s what it takes to get them thinking of the area as their home.  Then we can let them out to go on bug-patrol.  We’ll see if it works.  If not, we’ll end up providing another tasty guinea-fowl meal for the local predators.

On a completely unrelated note, the girls made me a giant card for Father’s Day.  As you can see, they chose their favorite picture of me for the front.


41 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Chickens and Chiggers

  1. Elwin Ransom

    Good luck with all the critters!
    BTW, good idea on the chicken pen rotation. With the high concentration of nitrogen in their waste, it wouldn’t be long until their pen was devoid of vegetation. They put out some high potency fertilizer.

    The long-range plan is to get one of those movable hen-house contraptions and spread that fertilizer all over the place by moving the hen-house.

  2. Marilyn

    The best thing for bug bites used to be Caladryl lotion — a combination of calamine lotion and benadryl that worked like a charm. Of course they’ve “improved” it three times now, so it contains neither calamine or benadryl, and it’s totally useless. 🙁 I have pretty good luck with tea tree oil straight out of the bottle. Get a good strong brand, like Thursday Plantation brand — just the plain tea tree oil — and apply it liberally.

  3. Clint

    Tom….when my family camped when I was a boy in Wisconsin, we all got chiggers every time. The secret to be rid of them was an old West Virginia remedy my mom learned as a girl. One drop of kerosene per red bump (the chiggers are under that red bump, not a bite), and usually one time does the cure. Don’t smoke.

    I read online that chiggers don’t actually burrow into the skin. The kerosene might dry up the wound, though.

  4. Ray

    I don’t think it is my imagination, but I see some definition in those abs. A little more work around the farm and you’ll be buff!

    The belly flattened out quite a bit and now I’m seeing the vague outline of some abs. I doubt I’ll ever have a six-pack — I didn’t even as a skinny kid — but I’ll settle for a narrower waist.

  5. Liz

    Ha, I was in upstate New York, where ticks are far more prevalent. Every time I spray Bug Off, I see “chiggers” on the can, and I never really knew what they were. Now that I know, ugh!!

    You don’t want to get too familiar with them.

  6. Kim

    Adding another remedy for chiggers. I always wipe rubbing alcohol over the areas where the bites are. Works for me anyway. Taking an antihistamine like Loratadine before going outside also greatly reduces the itchiness of all bug bites. I don’t have any side effects from the Loratadine, so I don’t mind taking it.

    You’re looking pretty good there, Tom. Your diet is really agreeing with you.

    Thank you. I feel pretty good these days.

  7. Joe Lindley


    I’m a Texas boy and chiggers are the norm down here in the country. What we’ve always done, which works well, is dab nail polish on the chigger bite – the chigger is still in there “alive”. This kills the chigger and stops the itching.

    When I was a boy at summer camp, they’d line us up in our underwear and do that to all of us!

    Good luck!


    Are you sure they weren’t just perverts?

  8. Firebird7478

    When I was working in land surveying, we use to use Avon’s Skin so Soft. It worked not only as a sunscreen, but also as a bug repellent. And we smelled pretty, too.

    I’m sure it smells better than Deep Woods Off.

  9. Cor Aquilonis

    Joe beat me to it. I’ve used the nail polish trick with success – I have a bottle of clear polish that I keep specifically for chiggers.

    The real trick will be choosing a color that goes well with my skin.

  10. Rebecca Latham

    At a recent family reunion, I found that one third of the people there believed that chiggers do not actually exist at all. I’m guessing you would disagree!

    What, because they can’t see them with their eyes?

  11. Marilyn

    Re: chicken fertilizer. The folks always used ground corn cobs on the floor of the hen house. When they cleaned out the hen house, that mostly-already-composted litter went onto the garden and produced great results.

  12. Galina L.

    I keep a big variety of old remedies at home, and renew my supply when necessary during my visits to Russia, because they still produce a lot of old-fashion medications (ridiculously low priced). For itching from a bite I use a Zindol, which is a mix of menthol, alcohol and a zinc powder. It also great for wound healing and a dermatitis. There are some relatively modern medications that are impossible to buy in the US but legal to bring to the country, like ergot-based anti-migraine pills which were discontinued recently here, or a wonderful Hungarian remedy Noshpa for spasms in a smooth muscular tissue (GI tract is made out of it). It helped my husband tremendously during pains due to spasms in gal-bladder ducts, while his doctor suggested Tylenol. I am sure my husband should at least try a gluten-free diet, but some men are stubborn.

    I’d say most men are stubborn.

    Sounds as if a medical tourism trip may be in order to stock up.

  13. Rae

    The farm is looking great there, Tom. I currently live in Chattanooga, myself but my family and I are planning on moving to the Orlando area. After reading about your farm we are seriously considering purchasing a small farm and using some of the ideas you have talked about here, chickens and guinea fowl, and a frisbee golf coarse for exercise. Thanks for sharing with us!

    I highly recommend the frisbee golf. Great family fun and pretty good exercise if you sprint after them periodically.

  14. cTo

    Your ladies look very happy and healthy!

    (The chickens, not the girls, although they’re probably flourishing as well! 😉 )

  15. Don in Arkansas

    A little guinea knowledge. If you can get one of your hens to adopt your guinea chicks, they will stay around and follow her in and out of the coop. You may have to put them in a smaller cage/area for a week or so but it usually works. Even better if you can get guinea eggs and get one of your hens to hatch them, you’re set. If you have hawks, owls, and other predators your guineas may not have run away. Coyotes love them.

    They ran away, but I doubt they got far. We have coyotes and hawks in the area.

  16. Carole

    My mom did the nail polish thing when I was a kid in Texas. It worked, for whatever reason, but now that we know what awful stuff is in nail polish, I’m not sure I could recommend that as a cure! :/ For safe but temporary relief, you can ice the bites.

    Prevention, though, I can help with: sulphur. Stinks? Yes. Works? Yes. Totally worth the (additional? lol) stink as you work. You can — or at least we could when I was little! — get a little tub of powdered sulphur. My mom would put the open tub in an old sock and dust it over the ankles of our socks/pants, and around our sleeves at the wrists. I don’t know whether it’s detrimental when applied directly to skin, though; you might hafta get your Vit D outside of chigger territory!

    Hope they heal up soon…that kind of itch is maddening!

    I’ll put up with the sulphur smell if it does the trick.

  17. hausfrau

    So you keep your birds fenced all the time? do you have coyotes where you live? i have a sneeky little b@#$%^d that’s taken off with 21 cornish meat birds, a turkey, a rooster and a few laying hens. Still trying to figure out how to trap him since we’ve never seen him (necessity for shooting it). At least we don’t have chiggers in oregon, that i can tell.

    We hear coyotes at night. We also have a net over the chicken-yard so hawks don’t swoop down and take them away.

  18. Lori

    I’ve read that some people get meat allergy (allergy to alpha-gal) after a tick bite. I’d go to bed and cry if that happened to me.

    That would be a fate almost as bad as death.

  19. Marla

    I always have a tube of topical generic benadryl (diphenhydramine hydrocloride) handy when I work outside. We have the nasty fire ants here, but the skin’s reaction is similar. You want to dampen your body’s histamine reaction, so hydrocortisols are not the best.

  20. deMuralist

    I am afraid that I have not found deep woods off to keep the chiggers away. I have discovered that a very hard to find product called Nupercainal stops the itch. (this stuff is good for a variety of things) It is a topical analgesic. I am afraid that this past, relatively warm, winter will ensure that we have to deal with these more than normal this year.

    We only had one light dusting of snow. I was hoping for a big snow, since we have a big ol’ hill in one pasture that would make for great sledding. It didn’t occur to me a good hard snow would reduce the tick and chigger population.

  21. DebbieC.

    Ah chiggers! The pleasures of the south. I had the fun of discovering them recently here in Florida when I got ambitious and decided to out and weed my garden. Yikes, little beastly red pustules all over my knuckles and wrists. I wish I’d know about the iodine trick. I have a bottle of Lugol’s 5% iodine solution. I was trying Benedryl anti-itch cream and tea tree oil, neither of which helped in the slightest. I just kept scratching them raw and bloody. I still have little scar-like lesions but I think they will fade soon. Now I weed gingerly, and wearing big garden gloves.

    I will definitely cover up my arms next time.

  22. Larry AJ

    Keep in mind that guinea can fly much better than chickens. A neighbor has chickens and added some guinea fowl this spring. Only one is left as, like yours, the others took off. I was visiting one day and while there the remaining guinea hen jumped up and flew to the top of the enclosure that keeps varmints out and acts as a shade against the sun. It is something like seven feet high, higher than I have ever seen a chicken fly – they mostly run fast and might get 2 or 3 feet high for a bit.

    I should also warn you about mice! They are EVERYWHERE! This fall they will try to get in the house to get warm. Any hole bigger than a dime will be an open door. They also like to nest in cars. If a car is parked and left undriven for much more than a week, they will make themselves at home. They will chew up the headliner, stuffing in the seats and insulation to make nests. The nests can be in the head liner, seat, corners of the trunk and heater – this happened to me at my suburban home one fall. I got in to go to work after a vacation and turned on the heater fan. Suddenly this white “stuff” (like cotton) started coming out of the window defroster vents. MOUSE nest being blown apart by the fan.

    We already had a mouse blow out our power this winter by getting itself electrocuted in the main switch box. We also had a weekend where were went through six mousetraps. That was after discovering that country apparently mice can’t be caught in those humane traps.

  23. Underground

    Actually, it works quite well if you leave your arms bare. Chiggers are soft bodied, so they squish easily. Just periodically while you’re out rub your arms or other exposed areas with your hands to kill the chiggers off.

    You may still get a few here and there, but that gets the majority of them. They love to get up under clothes, so it’s actually easier to prevent them in the first place if you’re not covered up.

    I’m out wading through brushy areas in shorts and sandals all the time in the summer here in TN and this works.

  24. Ed Terry

    In Oklahoma, prisoners who escaped from the state pen and hid in the woods would sometimes turn themselves back in because prison was preferable to chiggers in the woods.

    After being covered in bites twice now (got a bunch of them on my legs two years ago), I believe it.

  25. Erik

    Best, cheapest, lowest-toxicity bug bite treatment you will find:

    Most of us never look at all the plantain underfoot but it’s only here because the early colonists brought it over and planted it so they’d have a good supply of medicine. I can attest that just chewing it to a paste and applying to the site is effective for bug bites, poison ivy, eczema reduction, and wound healing, but making a tincture may be more convenient in the long run.

  26. Tammy

    Tom – Thanks for the Farm Reports, my friends in in southern Maryland have a similar small farm set up. They have chickens, goats, one donkey and every year they raise a couple pigs. This year though, they’ve added turkeys to their complement. I was going to make the same comment as Ray did above – are those abs I see in the background?? Keep up the great work !!

    We’ve got wild turkeys on the land pretty frequently, so I hope we can bag one someday without raising it first.

    I’d call them “almost abs.” My belly is nearly flat these days, but I’ve never had much definition, even in my skinny-boy youth.

  27. Lauren

    My grandparents used to keep a little brown bottle of what looked like nail polish around the house for chigger bites. It was specifically for chiggers. I can’t find it anywhere online. Anyone know what this might be? I remember it working really well when I got attacked after working in the garden.

  28. Robert

    Hi Tom, thanks for the update! I hope the guinea fowl work out better than last time.

    How are the pups doing? I imagine they look even less like puppies compared to the last update.


    They look like dogs now. They’ll still get bigger, but they don’t have puppy faces anymore. They also produce rather impressive barks when some other critter approaches their domain.

  29. Ailu

    My husband and I are avid backpackers, and we have tried everything to replace DEET. Tried Avon’s supposably amazing lotion and got eaten alive… as well as other “natural products”. But we finally landed upon one, that we believe works as good as DEET, if not better. It’s Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. Hard to find in stores, I found it online from reviews about it.

    It really proved it’s test a couple of years ago. We were in the deep woods early spring with another couple who despite the DEET, were getting bitten, but us and our dogs, who I sprayed ahead of time with this stuff, were spared. Dunno if it will work for chiggers, but it sure repels the mosquitos. Yes, you smell a little bit like a Hall’s cough drop, but hey, it’s way better then smelling like a citronella stick. 🙂

    I’ll give that a try. I tried some “all natural” insect repellent last summer and still got eaten alive by mosquitoes during one of my evening walks.

  30. Wyatt

    I’m tempted to photoshop some tats on those arms…

    If you do, send them to me so I can indulge my fantasy of being a bad-boy type.

  31. Piper

    Whenever I see your chicken updates, I think about the doc Fresh because one of the farmers they focus on has the setup I want someday (gotta buy the farm first, though…)–good to see you are planning on movable pens at some point 🙂

    I’ll have to look for that one.

  32. Laura

    I have an infestation of chiggers in my anus! I cannot get rid of them and need a way to kill the boogers. They sit within the groin and eat their lunch. The only thing that has worked so far is sitting in a tub of hot water, which kills only the ones, which did not make it back into their hidey hole. Nail polish stings like hell and is unusable for this. What can I use that will KILL them. I am past worrying about the itch. That I have been able to control. Thank You all for any help.

  33. christine

    So, evidently covers are not one of the types of bugs that these type of fowl eat? We are hoping to get a few chickens or possibly guinea-mainly to let loose in the garden. ..but I’m thinking that’s where I found the lovely chiggers myself. ..what is the smallest size bug these birds will eat? Fleas? ?


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