Grasshopper Patrol

aka Chicken PopcornThey are voracious. With whirring wings and chomping jaws, a cloud (the official name for a group of grasshoppers) can decimate a beautiful, productive garden or crop in a matter of minutes. There was a reason they were one of the plagues on Egypt… they are some nasty little critters.

Enter Gallus Gallus Domesticus… the backyard hen. How many grasshoppers can one hen eat in a day? Opinions vary but they must taste like popcorn (crunchy, slightly salty) because hens do go flat bonkers over the leaping, crawling, creepy-legged little bugs.

You may find that your young hens don’t precisely know what to DO when confronted with their first meal-on-stick-legs. That’s because most chickens now are incubated in mechanical incubators rather than hatched under a fluffy hen’s bum before following her around the yard learning what to eat, how to scratch, etc. That’s ok – instinct will prevail and you can be a Surrogate Mama Hen if even for just a day…

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Bugs-Are-People-Too folk, here’s the drill. Semi-squish a grasshopper, so that it’s still moving a bit but isn’t able to fly/leap to freedom. (I know, I know.) This is best done while capturing a hopper beneath your foot. Supposedly grasshoppers are less active earlier in the morning while the dew’s still on the rose, as they are heat-lovers and the cold makes them stiff. (Even if you can relate, choose not to.) Bring the disabled hopper to your young hens, place it on the ground in front of them, and forming your fingers into a point mimicking the head of mama hen, tap around on the ground and up to the grasshopper. This teaches the young ‘uns that they should follow suit, and the happy circumstance of a grasshopper on a chicken’s palate is the end result. Just because I enjoy doing it, I like to say, “Cheep cheep cheep” at the same time… so they associate both the movement and the sound with food. This works with introducing other types of bugs, snails, slugs, worms, etc as well as garden and kitchen scraps being handed over to the nice chickens. The best thing is, it doesn’t take them long to figure it out and they’ll be eating everything on their own.

The “cheep cheep cheep” thing also gets your chickens used to your voice, and you will forever become their favorite person, as you are the food-bearer.

So since the official ordinance states that chickens are to be kept in clean, enclosed, and predator-proof coops, how will these hens help out with a grasshopper problem unless an unwary hopper happens to leap straight into their pen? Enter the Chicken Tractor, or as they call them over the pond, Chicken Arks (the English tend to have a slightly cuter way of looking at things than do Americans). These are movable, portable pens that can be set down in one part of the yard for a few days before being moved to another… the chickens will scour into the grass for bugs and bug eggs and the like, will apply a light application of fertilizer, and will happily enjoy some salad along with their meat-and-potatoes (or bug and hen feed) courses.

Another real help in the grasshopper patrol issue is young children. Teach kids to catch the hoppers and they will gleefully feed hens, as well as get quite well exercised themselves as they run hither and yon. In this age of obese Americans, from children to adults, it gets kids off the couch and into the yard, running their little hearts strong at the same time that they contribute to the circle of life. This should be a public service announcement on PBS!

Tasty Treat for Hens

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Emily on August 4, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Great article TJ! Every word is true in our house – catching bugs for the hens is a nightly ritual for us 🙂

    Reply

  2. Posted by Lucy on September 30, 2015 at 9:00 am

    This is an old post, I know, but I thought I’d comment anyway. This year, we are having a veritable plague of the yellow, checked grasshoppers (my husband calls them “Chevrons”) here. These are the grasshoppers that first eat all the leaves off your trees and then they eat the bark off your trees! So . . . enter lil ol’ me and my very bright headlamp. I catch about 80 to 100 grasshoppers a night, stick them in the frig till morning, and then feed my four Dominikers “grasshopper popcicles” the next day. So that means they eat about 20-25 grasshoppers a piece. They could probably eat more, but that’s about all I have time to catch. I find it amusing that two of my girls don’t particularly like grasshoppers for breakfast. They’ll pig out later in the day, but they aren’t too enthused about them early in the morning.

    As for teaching you chicks to eat grasshoppers, here’s what I did (and it was very entertaining): After their little systems were ready for something besides crumbles, I would go out and gather small grasshoppers. Then I would turn them all lose in their box, which was the incubator. The first time I did this, there was a terrified rush away from all these hopping creatures, but then suddenly instinct kicked in, and the chicks took off after the grasshoppers like mad. It was hilarious to watch! Problem with unfamiliarlity with grasshoppers solved!

    Reply

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