How to Naturally Promote Chicken Health at Home
Last month I was graciously asked to share a few workshops over at our neighbors’, The Barn Iowa, on keeping backyard chickens and homesteading. I had such a great time chatting with other future chicken keepers and meeting new people; answering questions and reassuring others that chicken keeping is not as difficult as it seems is something that makes what I do so special! Though I am still new to keeping chickens and dealing with arising issues amongst the flock like squabbles, injuries, and illness there are a few little tips and tricks that I have learned to keep them healthy. One of the questions that I received while giving one of my workshops was, what should I expect when it comes to vet bills? and while I did giggle a bit in my head, I also realized that this was a very real question. As a backyard chicken owner, what do you do when a chicken becomes severely ill or injured in a way that you cannot heal at home? That decision, friend, is really up to you. For me, now that we own so many chickens it’s hard to say. Thankfully we have not had to come to that point yet, though I know we will. I think, for me at least, I take it one accident at a time. If I can help it, I don’t know if I would take a chicken to the vet… but I won’t say never.
With that thought in mind, there are several things that you can do and use right from your pantry to prevent illness from happening. Did you know? It’s a big part of my online course Finding Your Flock that I love the most: raising chickens in a natural way and prevention methods to keep your flock healthy and happy. Sounds good, right? Being a good chicken keeper means looking out for the signs of a potential problem and solving them before they happen or get worse!
What can you do when it comes to making sure our feathered friends stay happy? There are several chicken-related issues and illnesses that can arise. Some of those include impacted crop, coccidiosis, sour crop, heat stress, vent prolapse, vitamin deficiencies, pests on their skin, internal parasites, and more. The list can seem almost endless. While I have not kept chickens long, by performing a few simple extra tasks around the coop and farm I have not seen any injuries that are health related happen amongst my guys and gals. Now squabbles between flock members, well, that’s a different story!
I have to mention, too, that one of the biggest pieces of knowledge you should have about your chickens is what NOT to feed them! Read my blog post here to learn more about what to watch out for when it comes to tossing out kitchen scraps to the hens!
There are a few great supplements that you can and should feed your flock by the time they are sexually mature. From the time they are allowed to forage for food other than their feed, you should be giving your chickens grit. This is simply coarse sand or gravel which helps your chickens digest the food that gets stuck in their crop. If you plan to feed your birds lots of fresh greens, they will definitely need some grit! Grit comes in two sizes: chick and adult. You'll want to give the right size to your chicks at the appropriate age. In the coop, place this option in a supplemental feeder available at all times. They will eat it as necessary.
When your chickens reach the age of laying, they'll need a calcium supplement. This will help ensure that their eggshells are hard, smooth, and strong. If your hens do not have enough calcium, the shells of their eggs will be weak and crack super easy. You may even get a rubber egg, or an egg without an outer shell! Calcium can be supplemented with oyster shells or the shells from their own eggs. Just make sure that you crush them up finely so they do not realize what they are eating! They may start pecking at their own eggs, and that would be horrible! It’s also a difficult habit to break or so I have heard.
Here are a few other supplements you can give your hens, but they are not necessary at all times!
Apple Cider Vinegar. This can be a great addition to your flock's water to help them digest their food properly and keep a healthy gut. I like to add some ACV to their water once or twice a week, and they don't really seem to notice. The solution is 1 tablespoon ACV to 1 gallon of water. Probiotics are good for everyone! You'll want to make sure that the apple cider vinegar you give them is of the raw variety with the mother.
Diatomaceous Earth. Personally, I do not use this as a dietary supplement, but more as a coop protector and as an addition to their dust bath. If they eat it, well, it won't kill them. Diatomaceous Earth, or DE, is a powder made with fossils of ancient aquatic animals. It is a natural bug repellant that literally tears apart the exoskeleton of insects. This is very useful to sprinkle about the coop to keep mites, spiders, flies, and more out. Some people believe that it is good for the coop to ingest to keep any parasites away. Others think this stuff is terrible! If anything, it's best for them to dust their feathers with it to prevent mites from getting on their skin! If you are feeding them DE, use 1 tablespoon of DE to every 3 cups of feed.
Yogurt. Another controversial treat, natural, unflavored yogurt is filled with probiotics that can benefit your flock. Plus, it's pretty funny to watch a chicken eat a bowl of yogurt! Chickens can eat all dairy products. They are omnivores!
Garlic. Try putting whole garlic cloves in their water! It works as a natural dewormer, keeps insects away, and decreases cholesterol in eggs.
Seeds. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cucumber seeds, squash seeds, and more! They have many vitamins inside as well as help to act as a dewormer for your flock. Healthy poos are a good thing!
Electrolytes. Add some electrolyte powder, like Sav-A-Chick to their drinking water on exceptionally hot days. Chickens don't do well in humid, hot weather, and might need a pick me up. It's also a smart idea to give this to them when they are molting, injured, or ill.
Giving them a happy gut improves so much overall when it comes their health, and I believe it is the same for us as well. Another supplement that I give my hens is a blend of dried herbs that I toss over their food. There are several different blends that you can make. Some of my favorites include lavender, marigolds or calendula, mint, basil, sage, parsley, rosemary, and fennel. These are all great in promoting digestion, repelling insects, and calming nerves when laying in the nesting boxes. You can also drop essential oils over the bedding in their nesting boxes to keep mites or ticks away and even promote laying!
Chicken health is no joke. I always try to do my best to keep sickness at bay so that we can avoid deciding if a vet is worth it or not. Our chickens are an investment! I hope that you find some new tricks to use for your own flock.