Food and agriculture

By fair means or fowl: how Chinese herdsmen are planning to stop a locust invasion

Herdsmen in Xinjiang province are given chickens to help with pest control

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2018, 3:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2018, 10:26pm

Locusts heading to northern China for summer have been warned: thousands of hungry chickens are out to eat them.

About 2,200 chickens have been given to herdsmen in Wushi in the country’s northwest region of Xinjiang ahead of peak locust season in May, Yang Zong, an official with the local animal husbandry bureau, said on Monday. 

While it is the first time the county will attempt to use chickens to control the pest, the system has been used previously in northern parts of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, he said.

Most of China’s north may face more serious outbreaks of locusts this summer due to a warmer winter, according to a government forecast. 

A total of 1.12 million hectares (2.8 million acres) is expected to be hit, it said. Grassland around Aksu prefecture, which borders Kyrgyzstan, has been frequently hit with locusts outbreaks.

“Use of pesticides pollutes the environment,” said Yang. The chickens were given to herdsmen in advance of peak outbreak season next month so the birds can adapt to the local environment, including high altitudes, said Yang.

One chicken is able to catch more than 600 locusts a day, with ducks and other birds also being deployed by the regional government to tackle the pests, China Daily reported earlier this month. 

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Last year in Xinjiang, there were outbreaks of Asian migratory locusts including calliptamus italicus and Siberian locust.

Despite their voracious appetite, the chicken army is up against a powerful foe. The birds will only be able to guard about 1 per cent of Wushi’s grassland, according to Yang. 

Xinjiang is China’s top cotton producer.