Chickens and Trap Crops - An Integration of Sustainable Approaches to Insect Pest Control in Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $6,462.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Gary Wenig
Rocky Creek Valley Farm

Information Products


  • Agronomic: millet, rye, sorghum (milo)
  • Vegetables: cucurbits
  • Animals: poultry


  • Crop Production: catch crops, cover crops
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management, physical control, trap crops
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Insect pests are a problem for all vegetable producers. For organic or all-natural vegetable producers like RCV Farm, pest control without the use of synthetic chemicals can be a challenge at best. Trap crops have been proven to lure pests away from cash crops but then the issue is how to kill the insects once they are on the trap crop plants. More traditional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods use chemicals to kill pests once they are on the trap crops. This reduces the use of chemicals and associated cost, but does not eliminate the use of chemicals. We propose to integrate a sustainable approach of insect pest control using a combination of trap crops, beneficial insect crops, and chicken in moveable pens to kill the insect pests. We will be testing a new concept of placing the trap crop inside of movable chicken pens. The trap crops being used are a combination of Blue Hubbard squash and Red Kuri squash. These trap crop plants have been found by Lincoln University researchers to be effective at attracting the most important cucurbit insect pests. Our primary pest is the squash bug, one of the most challenging pests to control in the Midwest.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our primary vegetable garden is approximately 2.5 acres encompassed by a 4 ft. wide strip of beneficial insect crops. There will be 4 trap crop plots equally spaced around the 2.5 acre vegetable garden. Each trap crop plot will be a mix of Blue Hubbard and Red Kuri squash. Two trap crop plots will be enclosed in movable 8 ft by 12 ft mobile pens (sometimes referred to as chicken tractors). Our mobile pens are designed to roll over the rather large Blue Hubbard plants. The pens contain laying boxes, water, and shelter and allow the trap crops to grow inside the pen. They are mobile to make pest counts easier and to easily move to the other plots each week. The pest counts on the four plots will provide us with quantifiable data to assess the pest count with chickens compared to without chickens. We can also do a comparison between the cash crop counts and the trap crops. We plan to place approximately 2 to 4 chickens in each mobile pen. This can be adjusted based upon pest counts. Chickens love bugs but, they can cause a large amount of damage to a garden especially soft tissue plants like tomatoes. There is also the issue of fecal matter contamination associated with produce for sale. By confining the chickens in pens with the trap crop plants and keeping them away from the cash crop we will avoid any damage and contamination issues.

    We have estimated that 24 Blue Hubbards and 24 Red Kuris will be sufficient for the vegetable garden. They will be divided into four plots; 6 Blue Hubbards and 6 Red Kuri plants each. The sacrificial plants are not part of our cash crop. They will be continuously re-planted from greenhouse stock and the infected plants destroyed by burning in a continuous cycle throughout the growing season. The mobile pens will be rotated weekly using the four locations so that all plots get equal application of treatments. Similar potential damage by the chickens will be minimized. This will allow us to avoid using any types of insecticides to kill the insect pests; that will be done by the chickens (cultural control).

    Our goal of placing the chickens in the trap crop is for the chickens to kill the bugs before they can lay eggs. However, if eggs do hatch the chickens should quickly consume the infant pests. If this process is successful it could potentially allow organic farmers to be completely pesticide free.

    For an IPM program to be effective it must encompass several components. To make our trap crop program more effective we also incorporate the following beneficial cover crops to provide other soil and pest management related benefits. The more beneficial insects we have the fewer pest insects:
    1. Sorghum Sudangrass hybrid: This cover crop plant provides multiple benefits, adding organic matter to worn-out soils. These tall, fast-growing, heat-loving summer annual grasses can smother weeds, suppress some nematode species and penetrate compacted subsoil. In addition, they may harbor beneficial insects such as seven-spotted lady beetles and lacewings.
    2. Buckwheat: To attract beneficial insects; it can be cut once to stimulate growth and will bloom again after the previous bloom is declining adding to the beneficial insect attraction.
    3. Winter Rye: The cash crop area (approximately 2.5 acres) has already been planted in winter rye. In some areas, such as the cucurbits section, the rye will be crimped for mulch. In the remaining areas it will provide organic matter and nutrient replacement.
    4. Other Beneficial crops: Within our regular production crops we already grow fennel, dill, yarrow, coriander, tansy, Queen Ann’s lace and other cash crops. These crops along with the buckwheat attract beneficial insects such as lady bugs, lacewing, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps and tachinid flies.
    5. Bees: We maintain bee hives to support our sustainable agriculture business.

    3) TIMELINE.
    We hope to implement this program into our 2013 production season. At our expense outside of the grant, we have already prepared a 4 ft. wide trap and beneficial crop barrier around the 2.5 acre vegetable garden. The gardens have been planted with a winter rye cover crop which will be crimped for mulch in the spring. Two weeks prior to vegetable planting we will plant our trap crops around the perimeter. Weather dependent this will be around April 1, 2013. As soon as we are released to purchase materials we will purchase and start the construction of the chicken tractors. We already have about 80 free range chickens some of which will be used in the test. The night time housing for the chickens will not be charged to the grant.

    At RCV Farm we start some planting around April 1. In 2012 we were still producing crops in late October. We will conduct and log pest counts two times per week, projected every Tuesday and Friday. Dr. Jaime C. Piñero and Mr. Jacob Wilson from Lincoln University Cooperative Research and Extension agreed to help us by conducting weekly pest counts and providing professional pest identification and pest life cycle analysis. Susan Jaster, Jim Pierce, Lincoln University Extension Representatives and Marlin Bates, University of MO Extension have agreed to provide us with random visits and assist in the technical components of pest identification and life cycle tracking of pest.

    University data reports the first squash bugs show up in our zone around May 24. Our past experience shows we still had active squash bugs in late September. In 2012 the peak of the population was recorded by Lincoln Univ. at around 20-24 June. Spotted cucumber beetles were already in high numbers by mid-May. Japanese beetles have previously not been a problem at our farm however, we will also watch their numbers closely.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.