If you’re getting into backyard chickens, there’s a good chance a large portion of your decision is because you care about the food you’re consuming. Maybe it’s the fact that grocery store eggs can be several weeks old and washed in bleach when you bring them home. Maybe it’s the antibiotics being forced into unhealthy and unhappy chickens’ diets. You want control over your eggs and what’s inside them. That control is something you get when you raise your own backyard chickens. You’ll know what your chickens are consuming and therefore you know what you are consuming. There are no scary surprises to worry about.
Just because your chickens are being raised in your backyard and well cared for doesn’t mean they’re immune to illness. Even the best cared for bird may get the sniffles, or have trouble passing an egg. Every chicken is susceptible to internal and external parasites. The difference between backyard flocks and commercial flocks is that you get to decide the best course of action for treating these issues.
Choosing a Natural Option
More and more backyard chicken keepers are reaching for herbal solutions in place of chemical medications.
My homestead is not 100% organic, but we are pretty close to it. It is always my policy to treat with herbal solutions and homeopathic methods first. That isn’t to say that I won’t use antibiotics or chemical treatments if absolutely necessary. An organic chicken dying of a treatable illness does me and my family no good at all.
These are just a few of the herbs I use with my chickens. Many herbs, such as the ones used in my “nest box blend” work in a preventative manner instead of a treatment.
My Nest Box Blend
A relaxed hen is less likely to become egg bound. In addition to making sure the nest boxes are arranged in a way that offers privacy, I sprinkle in some dried herbs. It’s important that the herbs be dried so they do not mold and cause respiratory issues.
Dandelion, dill, lavender, lemon balm, and rose hips act as relaxants. Borage, comfrey, fennel, marigold, marjoram, mint, nasturtium, parsley, sage, and thyme are wonderful additions as well. If you don’t have all of them on hand, just sprinkle in the ones that you do have.
External Parasite Control with Herbs
Parasites are something that every backyard chicken owner is going to have to deal with. It’s unavoidable. External parasites can be dealt with by growing particular herbs around your coop. The same herbs can be dried and hung inside. We have a few sachets made out of cheese cloth that hang in the coop during the winter. Inside are many of the herbs I grow around the coop during the spring, summer, and fall. You can also make a dream pillow out of cotton and pin them up out of the chickens’ reach.
My sachets and “coop gardens” contain various mints, fennel, feverfew, lavender, pennyroyal, and rosemary. Grow mint in pots so it doesn’t get carried away. Mint is known to repel rodents as well, so it’s nice if you can plant them near the chicken’s feeders.
Herbal Solutions for Internal Parasites
For internal parasites, we feed the chickens a nutritious blend of herbs. We do this in two ways. First, we plant the herbs we want the chickens to nibble on close to the fence. This allows them to reach through and eat it without disrupting the plant. Our sage ends up being very bushy by fall thanks to the chickens pinching off the ends. This benefits us greatly because we use these herbs for culinary uses as well. The second way we offer herbs for consumption is by drying them. We put them in a small hopper-style feeder next to the oyster shell and grit. The chickens will take what they need and leave the rest.
We offer hyssop, nasturtium, sage, spearmint, tansy, and thyme for internal parasites. I’ve made a point of growing oregano where the chickens can reach because it has wonderful antibiotic properties. I’ve had luck growing mints in grow frames inside the run. They have a strong root system and grow like weeds, making them strong enough to stand the abuse from chickens.
If you’re not familiar with growing frames, they are shallow frames with hardware cloth tops that allow chickens (or other animals) to enjoy fresh greens without destroying the plant. Attainable Sustainable has a great tutorial for assembling and maintaining grow frames for chickens.
Decorating with Herbs
What are you waiting for? You can offer your chickens herbal solutions that are aesthetically pleasing. What more can you ask for? Create layers of herbs around your coop just like you would in any garden. Start with taller herbs in the back and add shorter herbs in the front. The neighbors and the chickens will thank you.
Share your herbal solutions for chickens in the comments below. What’s worked for you?