Keep Ticks Off Your Kids Without Harmful Chemicals

Tick season is approaching. Do your part to keep these nasty pests off your children and out of your landscape.

by Tessa Zundel
PHOTO: Tessa Zundel/Flickr

There are a number of powerful tick repellents on the market today—there’s even clothing with repellent incorporated into the fabric!—but when thinking about how we can help our kids stay tick-free, not all parents are comfortable using bug sprays with ingredients like DEET. Like every other “natural management” topic, the answer to naturally managing ticks on your farm kids is to look at your farm environment as a whole and deal with the big picture.

Controlling Ticks

To avoid anyone having to deal with ticks in the first place, the easiest thing to do is to prevent them from making a home on your farm. If you have populations already in place, there are some measures you can take to reduce the number of ticks present.

Mow Frequently

Keep long grasses cut down throughout the growing season as much as possible. If you’re homesteading in a more urban setting, this can particularly help keep ticks off your pets.

Minimize Deer Populations

Try to keep your house and farm’s perimeter planted with herbs and other deer-repelling plants. The fewer tick-carrying deer that frequent your area, the better.

Raise Poultry

Free-ranging guineas, ducks and chickens can make a huge dent in existing tick populations. Guineas are overwhelmingly recommended for tick control on online forums I frequent, though they do have some drawback, the biggest one being that they’re extremely vocal—worse than any teenage girl you’ve ever known.

Welcome Possums

Possums are also tick-eating machines. If you don’t have small livestock on your farm, allowing possums to visit may be helpful to you. This wouldn’t be a first choice for most livestock owners, but I throw it out there for those whose situation might allow for it.

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Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth

You can judiciously use diatomaceous earth to control ticks in areas where you know your children play often; however, be aware that DE can kill honey bees and other pollinators, too, so you need to disperse it on a non-windy day and. Also, it must be reapplied after a rain.

Bring In Pest Control

For those live in areas where ticks live and fall from trees, some people have reported good results with hiring a pest company to spray the trees to get the tick populations under control. Follow up this initial action with a natural method, like guineas, to keep tick populations in check. The process of going “natural” for some of us is a gradual give and take. Do what works for you.


Where possible, hardscape your exterior living spaces, like play areas, patios, pool and deck areas. Figure 33 in this thorough (read: really long and full of good information) article by the Missouri Extension shows a possible design for creating a tick-free zone in your yard.

Use A Lint Roller

After coming in from a walk you can use a lint roller to remove any ticks sitting on the surface of your kids’ clothing. Smash them or drown them in alcohol. If someone has been bitten, you can then transfer the tick to some clear packing tape in order to preserve it to show a doctor.

Repelling Ticks

Even with good control practices in place, we’ll never be able to kill every single tick and some of us will continue to struggle with tick populations on our land. We want for our kids to be able to enjoy the season without dousing them in sprays and creams, but in many areas of the country, it’s necessary to take steps to repel ticks from biting.

Suit Up

Wearing long pants, long sleeves and boots is a good first line of defense against ticks. In the summer, be sure to have your children wear breathable fabrics, like cotton and linen mixes, as polyesters will be too warm.

Use Natural Tick-Repelling Sprays

Before your children go out to play or do chores, spray them down a natural tick-repelling formulas buy or make . The most basic recipes contain 10-15 drops of essential oils in a cup of vinegar. Shake in a spray bottle and apply to outer layers of clothing, shoes and exposed skin. Essential oils that may be helpful to you include:

  • lemongrass
  • geranium
  • lemon
  • cedar
  • lavender

Many essential-oil companies have bug repelling formulas you can look for, as well. Some even provide pre-made sprays, lotions or wipes.

Grow Tick-Repelling Plants

Grow herbs with tick-repelling properties around your garden and home to keep populations at a minimum in areas where people most-often frequent. Some favorites include:

You can pick leaves and flowers from these plants to rub into your clothing and skin, or even tuck a few into the cuffs of your pants when you go out to do chores. Harvest them in large quantities to make your own tick-repelling salves and lotions.

Use Less-Aggressive Chemical Sprays

If you’re not ready for herbal repellants but still don’t want DEET on your kids, you can opt for something like Sawyer Brand’s Fisherman’s Formula bug spray, which uses Picaridin. This is not a chemical-free solution, but according to studies, you end up using less of the Picaridin than you would DEET for longer coverage, so the trade-off may be worth it to you.

Removing Ticks & Treating Bites

Despite your hard work, if you live in tick country you will most likely have at least one child who ends up getting bitten by a tick. If your child develops a rash or skin discoloration, especially with swelling or any adverse symptoms, like a fever, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare professional. Ticks can carry all manner of disease and some, like Lyme disease, will require immediate attention. Even if your child shows no sign of distress, there are simple and smart things you can learn to do when someone gets a tick bite.

  • Properly remove the tick. Never try to smother or burn a tick, because as the CDC points out, your goal is to remove it as quickly as possible. Using tweezers pull directly up in an even motion, without squeezing or breaking the tick. You can then flush the tick or drown it in alcohol.
  • Use the right tools. We use tweezers for ticks that have yet to or have just recently latched on. For those that are more deeply embedded, we use a tick twisting tool. They can be purchased online in various shapes and sizes, but the beauty of them is that you unwind the tick, counter clockwise, thereby removing it without squeezing or breaking off the head. The tool allows the motion to be swift and clean.
  • Boost the immune system. Regardless of whether or not you feel medical attention is required for your child after a tick bite, there are some simple, easy-to-access herbal remedies to generally aid in health and well-being. Elderberry is the most palatable for children and is both easy to find commercially or tincture yourself. Echinacea is also a quality immune-boosting herb that will help your child’s body to fight any infection. Remember, if you’re concerned about your child’s health, consult your healthcare provider.
  • Sooth the skin. Rub coconut oil, which is both antiviral and antibiotic, into the area where your child received the bite. You can also have your children ingest a teaspoon of coconut oil a day for a week or so to help strengthen their immune systems.

Constant vigilance is required during tick season, especially with very young children who are lower to the ground and often found hugging your livestock guard dog and rolling around in the dirt. With nightly checks and the use of repellents, you can help keep your children safe from ticks and the diseases they carry.

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