I’ve got some confessions to make. First of all, I don’t know EVERYTHING there is to know about permaculture or raising chickens naturally (and I will quickly admit, I’m always learning). Secondly, I admit I have favorite topics like creative feeds and working chickens. Lastly, I knew almost nothing about herbal health management in chickens. This is surprising, since my wife is an herbalist, and our go-to health care is God’s green herbs. Now that the idea of using herbs with chickens has caught my attention, I’m wondering how I missed it. Probably because in the ten years I’ve been keeping chickens, I’ve had less than a handful of illnesses or deaths. I’ve always made it a point to select strong breeding lines and practice natural management. After I met Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could take the health of my flock to another level. I imagined I could easily improve production and apply natural remedies, if something went wrong.
Lisa is an accomplished backyard chicken keeper, having years of success managing her natural flock in the beautiful state of Virginia. She is the author of the highly successful book Fresh Eggs Daily and maintains an extremely popular blog under the same title. Lisa’s “gospel” is exceptionally useful as she specializes in the use of herbs for natural health maintenance and remedies. I’ve made a decision to “herbify” my flock, so in this article I’ll be interviewing her and then applying her tactics to my chickens. You’ll learn why herbs are so important and you’ll find out which ones you can use. In addition, I’ll show you how to use them in your chicken house, nest box, run, feed, water, during molting, in the dust bath, and with chicks. For those of you who want to herbify your flock, I’ll include my free “’Herbify’ Your Flock Starter Plan”. The action plan includes instructions, an herbal reference infographic, and plans for creating some of your own solutions. More info on this offer at the bottom of the article.
An Interview with Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily.
I’ve notice that you’ve been using a lot of herbs in your chicken management and am wondering what I might be missing. The nice thing about raising chickens naturally using herbs is that you can pick and choose what works for you. You can choose what parts you want to incorporate – you don’t have to do it all; every little bit helps. There isn’t much scientific study into the use of herbs with poultry, but the health benefits of herbs for humans and various types of animals has been proven, so it stands to reason those benefits translate to chickens as well. In other words, why use herbs with chickens? Herbs are easy and inexpensive to grow and each provides a different set of health benefits – they range from being antitoxins to natural wormers or antibiotics, some repel insects, others calm or help with respiratory or immune system health. I believe in lots of preventives instead of waiting until something is wrong. Since chickens are notorious for hiding symptoms of illness, it’s often hard to spot a sick chicken, hard to find a vet even if you do notice something wrong, and then difficult to diagnose or pinpoint the exact problem. So for me, building strong immune systems in my flock using the herbs is the key, plus the chickens love to eat them. Why do you think more people aren’t using herbs? When I started reading and researching, I realized there really wasn’t much information out there about using herbs with chickens – at least not all in one place. I t was there if you really dug and did some research, but one reason I wrote my book was to collect all these old-timers’ methods and advice into one source for chicken keepers. I think people are just starting to realize just how easy (and beneficial) it is.
What has the use of herbs done for the health and production of your flock? I do believe in the power of herbs. In more than six years, I have not had a single instance of any illness in my flock nor unexplained death. I have not had any issues with internal worms, external parasites, no pecking issues even (which I believe are often due to a protein deficiency or boredom), no egg-bound hens, not even any ‘weird’ eggs. My chickens are beautiful with glossy feathers. Their eggs have nice thick shells. I attribute all of this to my regular addition of fresh and dried herbs to my chickens’ diet and environment. How much does it cost in time, money and energy to implement herbs? Oh my goodness, hardly anything. Many herbs can be started from seeds for just pennies. Many are even perennials (meaning you plant them once, and they come back each year) and others will reseed themselves year after year, or even several times a season. Herbs aren’t picky about the soil they are planted in; many don’t even need much water. They are very hardy and can do just fine on their own with lots of sun and occasional rain. Weeds also have wonderful health benefits, and they’re free. There are also lots of edible flowers I grow and use in my chicken keeping as well. I head to my herb/edible flower garden on the way to the coop and just snip off some blooms and leaves into a basket to bring to the coop with me. The chickens eat some, others I toss in the nesting boxes or on the coop floor. It’s easy and economical. In what areas of chicken management could I use herbs? I use herbs in nearly every area: feed, water, brooder, nesting boxes, dust bath, coop floor. The specific herbs I use vary depending on my application, i.e., calming herbs in the nesting boxes, super healthy disease-busting herbs in the brooder, insect-repelling herbs in the dust bath, nutritious herbs dried in the feed, immune-boosting garlic in the water, cooling mint frozen into ice cubes to beat the summer heat. What herbs should I start out with? I find all the herbs pretty easy to grow, with mint probably being the easiest! I would start with those you might also use in cooking, so they do double duty. Things like dill, basil, parsley, oregano are all good choices to start out with.
What if I only wanted to acquire or grow ten herbs? I think my top ten herbs for chicken keeping would be:
- Basil – antibacterial, mucous membrane health
- Garlic – laying stimulant, anti-fungal, benefits circulation system
- Lavender – stress reliever, increases blood circulation, highly aromatic, insecticide
- Marigolds – stress reliever, increases blood circulation, highly aromatic, insecticide
- Marjoram – laying stimulant, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, improves blood circulation, detoxifier
- Mint – insecticide and rodent repellent, antioxidant, aids in respiratory health, digestive aid, lowers body temperature naturally.
- Nasturtium – laying stimulant, antiseptic, antibiotic, insecticide, wormer
- Oregano – combats coccidia, salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian flu, blackhead and e-Coli, strengthens immune system
- Parsley – high in vitamins, aids in blood vessel development, laying stimulant
- Sage – antioxidant, antiparasitic, general health promoter, thought to combat Salmonella
What, if any, beneficial plants/herbs can I grow in the same area as the chickens? Anything you grow inside the run, they will eat, but you can plant lots of things on the outside of the run to keep the roots safe from their scratching. Rose bushes provide nice shade, and the chickens love to eat the petals that have anti-oxidant properties. Mint planted around the perimeter can help repel mice. Any climbing vine will also provide shade and allow them to nibble on the lower leaves and anything that falls, such as peas, squash, cucumbers, grapes.
Thanks, Lisa, for sharing your expertise with us. Now I’ll take you through the different areas of chicken management and show you where and how you can use certain herbs.
“Herbify” the Chicken Coop
Herbs of Choice and Their Benefit: Mint is a rodent and insect repellant, it helps with disease prevention and parasite control, and encourages feather growth.
Lavender has a calming effect on the chickens, increases blood circulation, and is a highly aromatic insecticide.
Oregano is anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, and has antibiotic properties
Yarrow serves as an anti-bacterial, an anti-inflammatory, clears sinuses and respiratory systems, is a stress reliever, heals wounds, and is an insecticide.
3 Ways to Use Herbs in the Chicken House: 1) Spread fresh herbs on the floor of their coop.
2) Hang fresh herbs in the coop.
3) Make a coop refresh spray out of Lavender and Mint. How to Make A Coop Refresh Spray:
- Divide the herbs (Lavender and Mint) into two jars and crush them a bit with your fingers.
- Add white vinegar to each jar, completely covering the herbs and leaving 1/4” headroom in each jar.
- Set the jars to the side to age for a week or two. Shake every few days.
- When the mixture turns greenish brown, it’s ready to be strained into a spray bottle.
- Spray in the Coop as needed
Coop Spray found in Lisa’s book, “Fresh Eggs Daily” by St. Lynn Press 2013.
Other Herbs you can use in the Chickens Housing:
- Bay Leaves
- Lemon Balm
- Lemon Grass
- Pineapple Sage
- Bee Balm
“Herbify” the Nesting Box Herbs of Choice and Their Benefits: Lavender is calming, increases blood circulation, is highly aromatic, and serves as an insecticide.
Mint is a rodent and insect repellant, prevents disease, works as parasite control, and encourages feather growth.
Lemongrass repels flies, mosquitoes, and other flying insects.
How to use Herbs in the Nest Box: Spread the beneficial herbs in the nest boxes and refresh as needed.
“Herbify” the Run Herbs of Choice and Their Benefits: Lemongrass repels insect pests.
Basil repels insect pests, creates orange yolks and is high in protein, serves as an anti-bacterial, improves mucous membrane health, and is rejuvenating.
Dill is an anti-oxidant, is calming, prevents disease, controls parasites, improves respiratory health, is high in protein, repels harmful insects and is an anti-diarrheal.
Rosemary repels insects, is a pain reliever, improves respiratory health, and is calming.
Mint is a rodent and insect repellant, offers disease prevention, controls parasites, and encourages feather growth. How to Use Herbs in the Run: Surround the run with beneficial herbs Take advantage of lemongrass, basil, dill, rosemary, and mint by planting them close to the run.
“Herbify” the Dust Bath Herbs of Choice and Their Benefits:
- Lavender, mint, and rosemary are natural insecticides.
- Anise, dill, fennel, ginger, and mint are good disease and parasite preventions.
- Dried Wormwood keeps lice and mites away.
- Dried yarrow is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, clears sinuses and respiratory systems, is a stress reliever, heals wounds, and serves as an insecticide.
How to Use Herbs in the Dust Bath Mix any or all of the dry herbs mentioned above into your dust box.
Not sure how to dry herbs? Check out this DIY project from Lisa Steele. How to Dry your herbs like Lisa Steele … Gather Supplies for an Herb Drying Rack:
- three wooden picture frames
- paint (if desired)
- window screen
- 8’ of small chain
- 20 small eye hooks
- small drill bit
- staple gun
What to do:
- Collect three old picture frames.
- Paint the frames (if desired) and let dry.
- Cut screens to fit the backs of the picture frames (make sure to allow for 1/2” overlap).
- Staple screens to the back of the picture frames.
- Pre-drill holes and screw-in eye hooks on the top of the four corners of the frames.
- Pre-drill and screw-in eye hooks on the bottom of the two bottom frames.
- Cut the chain in 8” (13 pieces).
- Attach chains to eye hook by bending open chain link around the eye hook.
- Attach as single chain at the top to hang the unit.
- Hang in a dry location. Herbs take two days to two weeks to dry depending on environment and herb.
- Store in jars or use immediately.
Dry rack plans are from Lisa’s book, Fresh Eggs Daily St. Lynnes Press 2013
“Herbify” the Feed Herbs of Choice and Their Benefits: Garlic repels fleas, ticks and other parasites, controls odor, and is a natural wormer, has overall health benefits, increases feed conversion, supports respiratory health and immune system.
Basil and Lemon Balm are insecticides, create orange egg yolks, and are high in protein. Parsley is a laying stimulant, helps blood vessel development and circulation, encourages feather growth, and is high in protein.
Oregano is anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, and an antibiotic.
Bee Balm, Dill, Oregano and Thyme help respiratory health.
Fennel, Marjoram, Nasturtium, and Parsley are egg laying stimulants.
Cilantro, Sage, Spearmint, and Tarragon are great for general health.
Alfalfa, Basil and Dandelion greens create orange egg yolks. Comfrey aids digestion, is an anti-inflammatory, supports bone and artery growth, has vitamin B12, and is high in protein.
3 Ways to Feed Herbs
- Cut up herbs and make available free choice as a supplement. Garlic would be especially good here.
- Add herbs or any of the other herbs dry or fresh to the daily feed ration.
- During their molt use anise, dill, fennel, garlic, mint, and/or parsley to encourage feather regrowth.
“Herbify” the Water Herbs of Choice and Their Benefits: Garlic repels fleas, ticks, and other parasites; controls odor and is a natural wormer; has overall health benefits; increases feed conversion; supports respiratory health and immune system. Basil and Lemon Balm are insecticides, create orange egg yolks and are high in protein Parsley is a laying stimulant, helps blood vessel development and circulation, encourages feather growth, and is high in protein. Oregano prevents disease, is a natural wormer, serves as an antibiotic, and helps with respiratory health. Dandelion is an antioxidant and an excellent source of calcium.
2 Ways to use Herbs in Your Water
- Brew an herbal tea with basil, lemon balm, parsley, oregano, and/or dandelion (either fresh or dried).
- Add smashed garlic cloves to their water and change out every few days.
“Herbify” the Chicks Herbs of Choice and Their Benefits: Parsley is high in vitamins and helps with blood vessel development and circulation. Bay Leaves are an antiseptic, antioxidant, boost the immune system, and act as an insect repellant.
Cilantro is an anti-oxidant, anti-fungal, it builds strong bones, is high in Vitamin A and K.
Comfrey aids digestion, is an anti-inflammatory, supports bone and artery growth, contains vitamin B12, and is high in protein. Pineapple Sage aid in nervous system development and is highly aromatic.
Nettles, Parsley, Sage, and Spearmint improve overall health. Rosemary, Dill, Parsley and Mint assist feather growth. Basil, Bee Balm, Cinnamon, Clover, Dill, Echinacea, Rosemary, Thyme, and Yarrow are great for respiratory health. Basil, Chervil, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Marjoram, Parsley, Spearmint and Tarragon are herbs with high protein.
2 Ways to Use Herbs With Your Chicks
- Make an “egg custard” by whisking eggs, minced garlic, dandelion greens, a bit of honey, and some water. Fry and let cool then serve to the chicks.
- Add any of the dry or fresh herbs listed above to the chick feed on a regular basis. Chop the herbs to make it a bit easier for them to eat.
“Herbify” Health Remedies I asked Lisa what some of the common chicken ailments are and how they can they be treated with herbs. She gave me the following tips: Chickens are most susceptible to respiratory problems. You can head those off, or treat an ailing chicken, with basil, bee balm, cinnamon, clover, dill, echinacea, rosemary, thyme or yarrow added to their diet. Sage is thought to fend off salmonella and oregano has been studied as a natural antibiotic along with thyme. Internal worms can be fought with nasturtium, garlic, pumpkin seeds, wormwood, chamomile and catnip. As with our health, building a strong immune system is always best. It’s far easier to prevent illness than to treat it. Making herbs a regular part of your flock’s diet helps immensely with their health.
I’m excited to have discovered the use of herbs with chickens, as they make complete sense from a sustainable and permaculture angle. Herbs are easy to grow and are extremely powerful for maintaining and improving health and productivity of the flock. Thanks to Lisa Steele of “Fresh Eggs Daily” for this enlightenment. For a lot more info on this subject and natural backyard chicken keeping, check out her website here.
Want to “Herbify” your flock?
Download my free PDF, “’Herbify’ Your Flock Starter Plan” and receive:
- Worksheet to herbify your coop, nesting boxes, run, dust box, feed, water, and chicks.
- Bonus! Info graph (featured below) of all the beneficial herbs and their applications mentioned in this article.
- Instructions for creating Lisa’s refresh spray.
- Plans for making the herbal drying rack.