“Aw, no bugs!” exclaims Betsey Miller after meticulously pouring over a wheelbarrow’s worth of decomposing leaf litter and manure. “The chickens are doing a great job, but it’s still fun for us entomologists to find insects once in a while!”
A pen of praiseworthy red-ranger chickens peck away at the grass a few yards away, devouring beetles, larvae and weeds with single-minded perseverance. Their fiery plumage stands out against an emerald backdrop of spring foliage, like a premonition of rosy fruit to come.
Miller and her colleagues at Oregon State University (Extension and Department of Horticulture) brought the pest-seeking fowl to La Mancha’s Brooklane Organic Apple Orchard in Corvallis to conduct a pilot study on the use of free-range poultry for biodynamic pest control. Here, the birds move through the leafy rows of apple trees inside open-air enclosures known as “chicken tractors,” mowing down unwanted vegetation with the efficiency of weed whackers, hunting every apple maggot out of its earthen den and growing into succulent, free-range broilers in the process.