What Are the Best Herbs for Chickens?
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say there’s nothing tastier than fresh, home-grown eggs (or tomatoes, or lettuce, or peppers, or anything home-grown, really…but for this, let’s stick to eggs). And I’m not the only one who thinks so, apparently: there’s been a rise in backyard chicken flocks over the past few years, and the trend seems to be increasing.
I recently read that the number of urban chicken flocks has increased 400% since the outbreak of COVID-19. Interestingly, the people conducting the study expected that those numbers would continue to rise. And it makes sense. Individuals and families are growing increasingly aware of how important it is to have safe, healthy food, and the pandemic helped shine a light on the importance of food security.
If you jumped on the bandwagon and recently got chickens, or if you’re considering getting them in the future (or heck, even if you’ve had them for a long time!), then I’m happy to tell you that there’s a lot you can do to keep your flock happy, healthy, and laying delicious eggs naturally. That means you don’t have to turn to expensive medications, try to find veterinarians to treat problems in your flock, or stress about potentially exposing yourself or your family to eggs from chickens that have been given “treatments” that can potentially be harmful.
Herbs, for example, are a great way to help your flock stay healthy and thriving throughout the year. And by using them, you can actually prevent a lot of potential problems before they turn into full-blown issues. Plus, if you can grow the herbs yourself, the cost is even more minimal. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best herbs for chickens and how you can use them.
A few tips before we get started
- You can use these herbs dried (that’s what I do in winter), but it’s even better if you can find them fresh, or use ones that you grew yourself. If using dried herbs, sprinkle them on your chicken’s food or offer them free-choice in a small dish.
- Unlike conventional medications, you don’t need to wait a certain amount of time before eating your chicken’s eggs (known as a “withdrawal period”). In fact, in my experience, chickens who have access to herbs have better-tasting eggs.
- Studies have shown that laying hens can choose whether to send nutrients to themselves or into their eggs. By providing them with nutrient-rich herbs like the ones we’ll go over, you can make sure that they have enough nutrients to satisfy their own needs and therefore direct plenty of nutrients into their eggs. And that means healthier food for your family.
- You don’t need to get overly concerned about how much of these herbs to give your chickens. They seem to know instinctively what nutrients they need and how much, so you can generally free-feed the herbs listed here.
And now, the herbs!
Garlic: Garlic is a wonderful all-around herb to offer your hens. It can help to repel parasites, including ticks and fleas. It’s also a natural wormer, has a ton of health benefits, and even reduces the odor of the chicken manure. To give garlic, you can add whole cloves (mash them up a tiny bit to help release the goodness) in their water. Alternately, you can offer crushed fresh cloves as a free-choice food, or you can mix some garlic powder into their food. If you offer it as a free-choice food, offer 1 clove per 10-12 birds, and replace it at least weekly. If adding garlic powder to their feed, figure on about 2 ½ cups of garlic powder per 50 pounds of layer feed.
Lavender: This is one of my favorite herbs of all time. The smell is so soothing and relaxing…and your chickens will respond to it the same way! That makes it a great option to sprinkle throughout your coop and in your nest boxes. Like mint, it’s an insecticide, and it can also increase blood circulation.
Lemongrass: Adding lemongrass to your nesting boxes and coop floor will help repel flies. Using this herb (as well as keeping your coop clean and well-ventilated) can help prevent flies from becoming a problem. In addition to just being annoying, flies can also spread fowl pox (which can cause black spots on your hens’ combs).
Marjoram: This is a great herb to add to your nesting boxes. It’s known to help stimulate laying, so it does very well as part of a nesting box blend.
Mint: Fresh mint is an excellent herb to use around your chickens. Liberally spreading fresh mint on your coop floor will make it smell nice. Plus, it will also repel mice, rats, and other rodents. You can also plant some mint around your coop (you may want to put it in a pot or two so it doesn’t take over) to help keep rodents away. You can also add some mint leaves to your nesting boxes to help keep rodents out of there. As if that isn’t enough, mint is also a great insecticide.
Nasturtium: This herb, in addition to being a laying stimulant, is also a natural wormer. Chickens seem to love nasturtium flowers, leaves, and seeds, so it’s a great plant to grow and give to them frequently.
Oregano: This little powerhouse of an herb is excellent to add all over your coop. Because of its medicinal properties, commercial poultry farms are starting to investigate it as an alternative to conventional antibiotics and medications. It can help your chickens deal with a wide variety of issues, including coccidia, E. coli, Salmonella, and infectious bronchitis.
Parsley: Another laying stimulant, this is a great herb to add to nest boxes (my girls also love to eat it straight out of my hand). You can also scatter it on the floor of the coop and grow it for your chickens to eat in their run.
Rose petals: Rose petals, along with rose hips, are a great addition to your nest boxes and coop. They’re antibacterial, help cleanse toxins from the blood, and provide your chickens with a tasty treat.
Yarrow: Birds have delicate respiratory systems, and chickens are no exception to this. Yarrow can help maintain respiratory and sinus health. Rather than sprinkling yarrow on the floor of your coop, try tying bundles of it together. Then, you can hang the bundles in your coop. For an added boost, include rosemary and thyme in your bundles (they can help with breathing). Consider hanging the bundles low enough that your chickens can eat them. That will help support their mucous membranes, lungs, and entire respiratory system.
That’s a good list of herbs to get you started. Feel free to add in other herbs, including lemon balm, sage, fennel, and nettles. You can rotate through a variety of fresh herbs so your chickens get maximal benefits. Just replace them every few days as they start to dry out (or the chickens eat them). That way, your flock will stay happy and healthy throughout the year.
Here is a round-up of products mentioned in the article for your shopping convenience!
- Organic pre-packaged herb blend for chickens
- Garlic powder
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