I live in Tick City. I used to think about getting a goat; after reading a couple of articles on livestock and tick-vectored illnesses, I think even chickens might be out of the question unless I decide I'm willing to spray heavy-duty stuff thickly and often. My back yard is bare rock and we even get covered with them there if we go out w/o repellent. They're THAT BAD.
DEET causes me a horrible rash and I can't get my kids to stick to a couple sets of "go-outside clothes." So, after asking a lot of questions, this is the solution I've arrived at that works for us:
1) Mow, mow, mow. And rake up the leaves. Not relevant for you, but might be to someone who hits this thread 'cause they're in my shoes.
2) Rose-geranium or geranium oil. It stinks to high heaven, but it works well enough that I've learned to love the smell. You can buy it online or at natural foods stores. It's kind of expensive (about $15 to $20 for a 1-ounce bottle) but by the time I dilute it the bottle lasts me and three kids all year even using it almost every day.
Dilute 1 part geranium oil in 10 parts other oil. I have read soybean oil improves its effectiveness but have never tried it. I use baby oil.
You can mix lemongrass or lemon eucalyptus oil in (I can't find the dilution rate off the top of my head). This is supposed to make it last longer and repel more insects.
You can dilute the oil solution in alcohol or witch hazel if you want something less greasy. You can (again, so I read, but I've never tried it) put this in a spray bottle and use it like DEET spray, but it will sweat off more easily and must be reapplied about every 2 hours.
PATCH-TEST ALL ESSENTIAL OIL SPRAYS BEFORE YOU COVER YOURSELF IN THEM.
Better a rash on your wrist than all over you.
3) Tick check, tick check, tick check.
According to a lot of my reading and my kids' doctor, most tick-vectored illnesses take on the order of 12-36 hours to transmit. Tick check yourself and anyone in your party who can't check themselves every couple of hours. It's a pain-- try tick-picking three kids sometime-- but it works.
ALWAYS get as close to the skin as you possibly can.
If you have some finger nails, they work; if you don't, use tweezers. Grabbing the tick by the body forces blood back into the wound and can make it more likely that you'll catch something scary. And, if you've never broken the head off one and had to dig it out with a needle, just take my word that you really don't want to have that experience.
4) As completely counter-intuitive as this sounds, if you've going to be spending a lot of time in a heavily infested area, wear shorts. It doesn't keep the ticks off, but if they're that thick you're not going to keep them off anyway. Shorts make it easier to just freakin' tick-check yourself every hour or so.
5) De-ticker tape. This was invented, as far as I know, by a guy I talked to for a while on the Mother Earth boards. Roll a piece of duct tape sticky-side out and go over your skin with it. It works really well on the itty-bitty teeny-weeny ticks that are incredibly prevalent around here in the late summer and early fall.
This is my experience. YMMV. Good luck.
I HATE TICKS!!!!!