Backyard bug problem? Send in the hens to do the dirty work

Hire hungry hens for your garden for a couple of hours to get rid of backyard pests, thanks to a Calgary-area company created out of pandemic boredom.

Hooligan Hens provides a chicken visit in the city as a natural 'pesticide'

Find out how this Albertan started renting out her rural chickens to city folks looking to control their bugs and slugs. 1:27

It's a common fixation for backyard gardeners in Calgary: how to beat what's eating their harvest.

The appearance of critters like slugs, aphids and cabbage moths typically means gardeners have to decide whether to leave them be or attempt some sort of pest control.

Well, there's a new-but-old-school method of ridding a garden of invaders this year: hungry hens.

  • Watch these hens in action in the video at the top of the story.

A southern Alberta company called Hooligan Hens brings chickens to your garden for a couple of hours at a time. The chickens get to work chowing down on critters in their path.

Muriel Pagart, owner of Hooligan Hens, is seen here with a few of her hens who eat backyard garden pests like slugs and cabbage moths. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"If you had chickens running free range all day, it would be really hard on the grass. The poop that they produce is very, very rich and could burn a garden. But if they are only there for a little bit, it's perfect fertilizer," said Muriel Pagart, owner of Hooligan Hens.

"You don't get flies or other animals coming to look for chickens that you would get on a farm … so you get pretty much all of the benefits and none of the detriment."

During the height of public health restrictions due to COVID-19, Pagart, who lives outside the city limits, purchased a couple of day-old hens as a backyard project for her kids.

The chickens will typically pick at a garden for about an hour and half. After that, they tend to tire and get more sluggish. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

An avid gardener, she noticed that during a year that is particularly bad for slugs, her garden was thriving.

Thus, Hooligan Hens was born, an eco-friendly garden pest control business.

Pagart says she has a following of regular customers.

 "[It] definitely works … we watched them eat hundreds of slugs while they were here," said Caroline Sweet, a repeat customer.

 "But we also find them just very soothing to be around."

The first visit by the birds costs $35. After that, it's $25 to host the hungry hens.

Caroline Sweet and her family enjoy the hens for the effectiveness but also for the comfort they provide. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Typically, a visit will run about an hour and a half, to get the best effect.

"After about two hours, they really like just get mellow and they'll go nest in a corner and get lazy," said Pagart.

In Calgary, residents can't keep livestock in the city except as emotional support animals.

Pagart gets around the bylaw by bringing the chickens for a visit and a nibble, but the birds never remain overnight on a client's property.

With files from Elissa Carpenter, Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.


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