The famously ravenous appetites of chickens are being put to good use in China.
Officials in the country’s northwest region of Xinjiang have handed out over 2,200 chickens to local herdsmen in the hopes of curbing what's expected to be a bad year for locust swarms.
"Chickens are excellent natural predators of locusts," Yang Zhong, deputy director of a field station with the Wushi Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Bureau, told a China news service. "One chicken can catch over 600 locusts a day and can cover half a hectare (1.2 acre) of grassland," Yang said. "There has been a decline in the locust population in several counties where the measure has been adopted."
A report by China's Pest Management Center in January predicted higher than normal incidents of locust swarms for the northern portion of the country, mostly owing to warmer winter temperatures, according to Bloomberg. Nearly 10,000 acres in Wushi county, where the chicken army is set to be deployed, have already been ravaged by locusts consuming vast swaths of pasture land.
According to Zhong, previous efforts to eradicate locusts in Xinjiang included pesticides that, while effective, also ended up killing off beneficial insects and harming the ecosystem. Alternatively, a flock of only 100 chickens last year in Wushi county was able to effectively limit damage to more than 1,300 acres. There's also the added bonus of chicken manure in the pasture, as well as for families to both consume and sell.
This isn't the first time China has pitted birds against locusts. A Telegraph story from July 2000 described how officials trained an astounding 700,000-strong army of chickens and ducks to pursue and consume locusts at the sound of a whistle. The massive campaign, which included nearly 280,000 people, was a response to the country's worst locust outbreak in a quarter century.
According to Yang, the smaller army of chickens deployed to Xinjiang will have about a month to adapt to the local environment before the first major swarms are expected to hit in May.