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Best low cost solutions for ticks

March 29, 2012 by Karl

Tick berry berry berry berry berry

Due to the extremely mild winter  this year (2011-12), ticks have come out early and are likely to thrive over the next year or two.  Not only are ticks ugly and scary to find crawling on or attached to your body, but they can transmit some serious diseases through their saliva, most notably Lyme disease.  This is a big and growing danger not only  in the Northeastern United States where Lyme disease was first discovered in 1975, but it is a growing problem all around the world.  This article will give you some very real and practical advice on how to protect yourself from ticks and the Lyme disease they transmit.  You will find out the best ways to keep ticks off your property, how to keep them off your body, what to do if you find one on your body, as well as some basic information on Lyme disease and a few other valuable resources.

Ticks love tall grassy fields.  This is their playground as they go through their three stages of development.  They start off as an egg which hatches into a larva, then progress to a nymph, and then an adult.  During each of these stages of life after hatching, the tick needs a food source in order to move to the next level of development.  Their only food source is the blood that they suck from their host.  The full life cycle of a deer tick is about two years, while other species can last for several years.

Starting off as a larva, the tick is extremely tiny.  At this stage, the tick only has six legs as opposed to the eight in its next two stages of life.  The larva will find a small host, usually a field mouse, for its first meal.  Before this first meal, these ticks are not believed to carry any disease.  It is understood that mice are the ultimate carriers of Lyme disease, but ticks are the only means of transmitting that disease from mouse to humans.

After three days or so of feeding on its initial host, the larva drops off and molts, after which it becomes an eight legged nymph.  It is the nymph and adult stages where these parasites are usually found on humans and their pets.  The nymphs go through a similar feeding and molting process before becoming adult, where they feed, mate, and lay eggs before dying.

Depending on your source information, the common understanding is that Lyme disease can only be transmitted by deer ticks.  Some sources say that any tick can transmit the disease from mouse to human.  Which ever is the case, I think all ticks should be treated as carriers, especially since most humans don’t know how to distinguish between the species and their stages of life.

Keeping ticks off of your property is paramount in controlling Lyme disease.  I live in a rural part of Southeastern Pennsylvania with woods and fields directly behind our property.  Our first attempt in keeping the ticks at bay was to let guinea hens roam our property.  This ended up being a complete waste of money.  They didn’t do anything to the ticks, but they certainly kept the local predator population well fed as the hens disappeared one by one, until we were left with none, and just as many ticks as ever.

In the winter of 2010 I was listening to Mike McGrath of You-Bet-Your-Garden talk about how to control ticks.  He gave a great recommendation for using Damminix Tick Tubes to control ticks.  These are little cardboard tubes which contain cotton balls saturated with Permethrin, a deadly poison to ticks but almost completely harmless to  humans.  These cotton balls are taken by mice back to their nests, and effectively wipe out the ticks.  I ordered a box of tubes from the above site last spring, and placed them around my yard.  They worked AMAZINGLY!  In previous years, our daughter had a tick on her every time she came in from spending more than 10 minutes in the yard.  After placing these tubes, we didn’t find a single tick on her all last year.  The difference was night and day.

These tubes are expensive to buy, but easy and inexpensive to make.  All you need are some used toilet paper rolls, a bag of cotton balls, and some Permethrin at a concentration of 5% to 10%.  You can buy this here.  Put the Permethrin in a spray bottle and spray it into the bag of cotton balls.  Seal the bag and let it sit overnight.  The next day let the contents air dry before filling the toilet paper tubes with four to five cotton balls each.  Use rubber gloves to keep your hands from contacting the Permethrin as a precaution.   Once filled, place these tubes on the ground at the edge of your property about 15 to 20 feet apart.  Place them in any outdoor place that might be a good hiding space for a mouse.  Within a week you will start to see the cotton balls disappear.  This is how you know they are working.  Late March or early April are the best times to put these tubes out, but they can be effective anytime that mice need bedding (all year around).

You can use a more diluted solution of .5% Permethrin  (very diluted) to spray on your clothing.  This will kill any ticks that may have missed the tick tube trick and try to hitch a ride for a free meal.  You only need to spray your clothing once for it to be effective for up to six times through the laundry or six months without washing.  Spray your clothes and let them dry before wearing them.

If you do find a tick on you and it has not embedded its head in your skin, consider yourself lucky and flush it down the toilet as quickly as possible.

If it has embedded itself in your skin, you need to get it removed as quickly as possible.  The best device for doing this is called a Tick Twister Pro.  It is a miniature plastic crowbar that fits between the tick and your skin and allows you to twist the tick out of its embedded home.  If you don’t have a tick twister, the next best thing to use are tweezers, but it is important to get the tweezers as close to the skin as possible.  This method can cause the tick to vomit into your body, and transmit any disease to you in the process if not done properly. I have read in many places that the best way to remove an embedded tick is to place oil or petroleum jelly such as Vaseline over the tick and it will come out on its own to find air.  I have never seen this work, though I have tried on many occasions.  It may work if you want to let the tick sit there for two or three hours, but I don’t want to let it sit there that long myself.  Call me impatient.

If you find ANY tick embedded in your body, you should start looking for signs of Lyme disease within the next few days and weeks.  If you experience any of the symptoms below, contact your health care provider IMMEDIATELY, and don’t always listen to what he or she says.  Lyme disease has become a very political issue within the Western medical establishment. Unfortunately the patients pay the price for the politics involved.  More about this below.

Symptoms of Lyme disease:

  •  Bulls eye rash on your body.  This is a red ring, or a series of red rings that radiate outward on your skin over a few days. Only a small percentage of people with Lyme will have this rash, and it should not be  used as the only sign that you have Lyme disease.
  • Headache and stiff neck a few days after being exposed.
  • Fever and chills a few days after being exposed.
  • Muscle and joint pain (particularly in one or both knees).
  • Lack of energy, which can become debilitating in a few weeks if not treated.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.


The above list shows the most common symptoms, but it should not be considered the only list of symptoms.  There are many more lesser-known symptoms that are much debated in the medical community.

The medical community is divided over the symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease.  Many doctors who have worked with patients in the specific field of Lyme disease have come to the conclusion that there are many more symptoms than what are listed above.  They have also come to the conclusion that Lyme disease is much more of an epidemic than is accepted by the main stream.  Insurance companies see Lyme disease as a potentially overwhelming threat to their profit margin, and have pushed the mainstream medical community into believing that much of the science is still in debate.  Many doctors who work with this disease on a daily basis have lost their licenses over the debate.

Your doctor may or may not know what they are talking about in regard to Lyme, due to ignorance, persuasion, or fear.  If you think you may have Lyme disease, do your own research on the subject and trust your gut.  There are plenty of sources available.  If you know someone who has had Lyme disease, this is your best source.  They can tell you the full story of the process, especially if it took them a few years to figure it out for themselves.

I recommend a movie and a book.  The movie “Under Our Skin” is available on Netflix for instant view, it may be available at your local library, or you can rent or buy it here.  The information is a little old, but it does a good job of describing the Lyme disease debate.  The best book I have found on the subject is Healing Lyme which gives a very good overview of the disease, its cures, and the political debate going on in the medical community.

There are currently no approved tests (as of 2011) to verify the presence of Lyme disease in the body.  Current tests only check for the presence of the antibodies in the body that fight Lyme bacteria.  That’s like deciding if you have gas in the car based solely on whether it starts, but there is no gauge to verify how much.  In today’s medical world, with the health and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people in the balance, this is the best we have.

There is so much more to say about this subject.  If you have questions, post a comment, and I will answer with what I know.


  1. Treva says:

    Check out this link for a very well-done and detailed explanation of diagnosing Lyme.

    Make sure you work with a Lyme literate doctor!!!!

  2. This is very helpful. Thank you! I’m saving my toilet paper tubes!

  3. Raven says:

    Nice post! I was particularly interested in the brief part about guinea hens. We are currently thinking about getting guinea fowl for their eggs and for keeping bugs (esp. ticks) down at our homestead. Can you give me more information about how it went? Did they help at all (before predators got them) with bugs? Do you know if it is common for predators to get them so quickly? Any info you can give would be great! 🙂

    • Karl says:


      The guinea hens for us were a complete disaster. First off, they are loud…… extremely loud. Second, they prefer to roost in high places. In our case they loved our roof. Our roof was covered with poop. Third, they didn’t do ANYTHING for the ticks, and very little (if anything) for the bugs. They were a poor investment for our property. I have read other reports of people having great luck with them, but I have never actually met one. I hope this helps! Good luck with your decision.


    • Harold says:

      We had great luck with guineas. Had 6-10. Went from pulling ticks off every day to no ticks in 3 years! Then the foxes, racoons, hawks, and other predators found the buffet and we now have to keep them fenced and covered. We are getting ticks again, 5 bites in 2 weeks. The key is to keep them in the coop until they are big before letting them free range, then continue feeding in the evening so you can close the gate overnight. Bury the fence a foot and cover the top of the chicken run. Eggs are great but on the small side. They are noisy, but they are funny to watch!

  4. Brenda says:

    I just found your website and appreciate your helpful preventative measures.

    You and your readers might be interested in a blog which I discovered a couple of years ago. This woman contracted Lyme disease in Washington state. She writes about her attempts to manage this debilitating disease.

  5. Rebecca J says:

    Hi! I found you on Frugally Sustainable.
    Ticks completely gross me out! The first time my oldest daughter got one on her I freaked and took her to a clinic to have the nurse take it off (not covered by insurance by the way – boo!). I recently got one myself for the first time and almost threw up from the sight of it. I grabbed my tweezers and yanked that thing right off (keeping a watch for signs of Lyme disease now).
    This is good info. I quickly googled it and permethrin (sp?) seems to be synthetic. Do you know if it’s biodegradable? Can it get into rivers etc?

    • Karl says:


      Ticks gross me out too! These tubes are seriously effective. Try them out!

      As for the permethrin, I really don’t know about any issues with environmental impact. I suppose everything, no matter how mild it is, is going to have some minor impact on the environment. Simply by killing one tick between your fingers you impact the environment. That tick will no longer be able to hang out with his friends, or reproduce. This impacts the environment. It’s the old “butterfly flaps his wings” thing. We need to be informed as much as possible, and make choices that make sense to our own convictions. For me, I have no issues taking out ticks with permethrin to make my life more comfortable.

      I hope this helps!


  6. HI,

    I found you on Frugally Sustainable. Ticks are disgusting, my friend contracted Lyme disease last year, it was awful for her. Permethrin is a neurotoxin, a commonly used synthetic chemical. I wish that you had a suggestion for a more natural tick-deterrant. Permethrin is highly toxic to cats and anything that stays on your clothes for 6 washes can’t be good! Here’s a link about it:

  7. Kerri says:

    We too lost all of our guineas in the first two weeks we let ours out. Ugh. However we’ve had extremely good luck with just our chickens. It takes them about two weeks to get control of them when the ticks first emerge for the season, but after that we haven’t gotten any ticks on us (and there are 9 of us). i can’t say the same for our animals though. Thankfully my girls are not squemish and they pull them off the animals when found.

    As a possible protection against Lymes, you could try the homeopathic remedy Ledum. Please note I am not a doctor or health professional, this is based on reading and talking with a homeopath. You can put one pellet of Ledum 30X in a small bottle (a 2oz glass bottle with a dropper works well), fill with water and let the pellet disolve. You can try taking this in different ways. Before taking the remedy you will need to hit the bottle against your hand 10 times. You can then take one to 3 drops under the tongue. You can take the remedy 3 times a day for 3 days in the beginning of each month. Or I know some people just give a dose to their kids before they go outside. Personally i can never seem to keep up with remembering the beginning of the month thing so i just wait till one of my kids gets a tick bite and then I give them the remedy 3 times a day for 3 days. I can’t say 100% that this works (Although I KNOW that homeopathy works wonders!!!!), but after using this method for the past 4 years (again with 7-9 of us…the added numbers are for new babies that have joined our family), and many a tick bite (those first two weeks of tick season they are *everywhere*!!!!), we’ve seen no sign of Lyme’s Disease. Again, personal experience, but it won’t hurt anyone to try and the remedy is cheap (maybe 5 to 7 dollars) and that bottle should last you years and years to come. As a side note, as crazy as it sounds, wrap your remedy bottle (the bottle that has the pellet disolved in water) in tin foil, or put the bottle in a tin box (these can be found at the dollar store during Christmas time for cheap, cheap).

    Ok, sorry for writing soooo much, but I know how hard it is to find natural, non toxic ways to keep my family healthy and safe, and would love to help any one in their search for a solution.


    • Karl says:


      Thanks for your experience. I must say that Lyme disease is nothing to play around with. The fact that no one in your family has gotten it yet could simply be because the ticks in your area are not infected. We met with a Lyme disease doctor who has been working with nothing but Lyme patients for over 20 years. He started off with the natural remedies (and even tried homeopathy), and they just weren’t aggressive enough to take care of the disease. My family has been involved with homeopathy for generations, and I know it has many positive results. I suppose it can’t hurt to try using Ledum as a protection against GETTING Lyme. However, I truly believe that homeopathy is the wrong direction with Lyme disease, and would not recommend homeopathy to anyone who has started exhibiting the signs of the disease.

      Blessings to you too!


  8. Christy says:

    I wanted to post our results. Our kids came in with ticks on the a few times early this spring so I quickly started gathering toilet paper tubes to try this. We have 5 acres, lots of trees and lots of wood piles, so I wasn’t sure how well this would work for us, but I decided to just put the tubes around the perimeter of the area of the yard that the kids are in the most. We used about 30 tubes or so in all and we had NO TICKS at all the rest of the year and this was supposed to be a really bad year for ticks because of the warm winter! So we are definitely doing this again next year. Thank you so much!!!!

  9. Christy says:

    Speaking of homeopathy…..are you related to the homeopathic company Boericke and Tafle?

    • Karl says:

      Yes Christy, It was started by a great great uncle and owned by the family for a generation or two before being sold. It no longer has any family ties.

  10. Tamy says:

    Just found your website and really enjoy the articles. Especially glad to hear about the Tick Twister Pro. I have Search And Rescue K9s and belong to a team of other handlers with about 10 other dogs. After each wilderness training or search, we routinely check our dogs for ticks, cactus needles, barbed wire nicks, etc. So this will fit into our packs nicely. Thanks so much.

  11. cas says:

    About ticks that are in the skin already. I have found that nail polish remover that contains acetone is effective. Dip cotton bud in nail polish remover solution and saturate the tick thoroughly. Keep dabbing on, wait about one minute or so to take effect, then remove tick slowly and carefully with tweezers, (at this point it should be losing its grip on you) ensuring mouth parts are removed with body. Wash area after to rinse off nail polish remover.

    • Karl says:

      I would NOT recommend anything that contains acetone to be placed directly on the skin…. especially in a spot where a tick has opened the skin and exposed this toxic acetone to the blood.

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