Off-label Use of a Chicken*


[Extremely] Preliminary research results from the University of Maryland indicate
chickens may be of interest in the fight against Halyomorpha halys, the brown
marmorated stink bug. 

There are good stink bugs and bad stink bugs. The brown marmorated stink bug is a bad one. A relatively new introduced pest, it is piercing, sucking, and generally ruining vegetable and fruit crops (as well as some ornamentals) across a good part of the U.S.  There are apparently few natural predators for this imported species and they reproduce like mad, thus the potential for this to become a very serious economic issue. USDA funding has appeared, and scientists are working against the clock on every angle of the problem.

Dr. Stanton Gill, Extension Specialist in IPM for Nurseries and Greenhouses at the UM Central Maryland Research and Education Center, is among them. He is not only a great entomologist, but a total hoot, just like several other bug people I know.  He’s doing plenty of conventional research as well as loads of critical Extension service spread out over several states. As an orchard and nursery owner, he also has a personal stake in the issue.

I had the pleasure of hearing about Dr. Gill’s latest work at a recent nursery association meeting. He related the severity of the problem as well as several stink bug-related research projects he’s involved with, but the one that really caught my attention was his work with chickens.

On a tip from a gardener/hen owner, Dr. Gill decided to explore further. In a nutshell: the stink bomb hidden in the thorax of Halyomopha species is a terrific defense mechanism against bird and reptile predators. But chickens seem to be immune (and unconcerned about their breath). Actually, not a big surprise – I’ve caught my hens eating some pretty amazing/disgusting things.  His preliminary study consisted of a few borrowed hens in a couple of nice little fresh-air pens, free to scratch about. A request to some battle-weary local gardeners yielded tupperware containers full of brown marmorated stink bugs. Through some feeding trials, he found… a hen’s capacity for stink bugs knows no bounds.

The hens had access to their regular feed, but gobbled up all the stink bugs offered. I can’t recall the exact quantity, but it was A LOT.

Stink – it’s what’s for dinner.
Action photo courtesy of Dr. Stanton Gill, University of Maryland

The hens would only go for the stink bugs if they were active.  Dr. G. put some in the freezer (stink bugs, that is), rendering them immobile, and the girls turned their beaks up. Once thawed and moving (!!!), they became dinner.

Finally, he worked with a food scientist to answer what should now be a burning question – did the eggs taste funny?  Blind taste tests found that participants preferred the eggs produced by the stink bug-eating hens versus controls. I believe further studies may be in the works, as well as some publications relating his findings.

* Ha, ha, I kid!!! This post is neither an endorsement nor recommendation of the research described within. There is no MSDS available. No REI. No PPE guidelines. No EPA approval. No acronyms at all, actually. You’re on your own.

8 thoughts on “Off-label Use of a Chicken*”

  1. I love it! Eggs from stink bug fed hens could be the newest gourmet trend at all the hottest restaurants!

  2. Ray, chickens are, as you noted, incredible diggers PLUS they like lettuce, tomatoes, etc. as much as we do. So they’ll eat the stinkbugs AND the produce. I pointed this out as a fatal to Stanton’s hypothesis (ha!) and suggested guineas (in my experience,not the sharpest tools in the shed) because they don’t get into the veg like the hens do. Hope to get some keats myself this spring! We have tons of titmice (after feeding $$$ of seed this winter) hope the little ingrates stick around to help with the stink bugs! Thanks for the linky.

  3. Hmmmmm…this may be the reason we had very little stinkbugs on our property last year (while everyone else was inundated but I don’t have to tell you that!). We raise free range chickens for meat and eggs.

  4. Stink bugs have been a scourge to my peaches, strawberries, and blueberries. Solution: I need chickens. BMSB’s = chicken scratch. Also, little known fact, they can be boiled, baked, and then ground and used as a cilantro substitute.

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