Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Insect Control in Old Days

Mention the good ol' days and most of us think of a time roughly from the end of the Great Depression of the 30s through the Eisenhower Era of the 50s. Baby boomers who really can't remember the good ol' days know about them through the recollections of parents or grandparents.

It seems old days, like vintage wine, get sweeter with age. Maybe it's just because we forget the bad things.

Selective memory aside, the good ol' days were a slower time. More of us lived on the land in those days. Mental images of good ol' days are frequently dominated by an agrarian mystique, the good life down on the farm.

Back in those days farms were, in today's terminology, diversified agricultural enterprises. Plainly stated, that means that every farm was home to all kinds of animals and crops. Horses, cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry roamed the farmsteads of the time.

Chickens and ducks were common avian components of diversified farms. These walking feather dusters provided more than fried chicken dinners or roast duck for the Thanksgiving feast. Essential ingredients in homemade cakes and pies, eggs were also consumed every morning for breakfast without worrying about the cholesterol content.

While not widely recognized or probably even appreciated, chickens and ducks also helped maintain the balance of nature on farms. These creatures are great insect predators. They relish fly larvae, grasshoppers and caterpillars, all of which can be somewhat troublesome to humans. Not only do they catch insects when they see them, chickens search for insect food. Scratching in the soil uncovers many insects, including fly larvae and pupae, which are promptly eaten. In the case of the housefly, what is a meal for a chicken is one less fly for the swatter.

Potato beetles are another favorite insect food of chickens. Letting chickens into the potato patch was a good strategy for reducing populations of these insects. Of course, the beetles missed by the chickens still had to be removed by the farm kids assigned to the "potato bug picking job."

Chickens roaming orchards also will pick up insects infesting fallen fruit. This helps reduce the overwintering population of some insect pests and the potential for subsequent damage.

Chickens probably aren't as effective as some modern insecticides for controlling insects. However, I have never seen an insecticide that can also serve as a morning alarm clock.


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann