What to Feed Chickens Naturally
Learn the best vitamin mineral supplements for chickens and what to feed chickens naturally to boost immunity.
By Amy Fewell – Chickens are one of the easiest farm animals to raise, but sometimes they can be the most daunting to keep healthy. You can use herbs for chickens to help combat ailments and prevent illnesses, and in fact, it’s one of the best ways to keep your flock healthy and happy.
Offering chickens herbs isn’t a new method or theory. Our ancestors allowed chickens to free range, and when nature is left to its own devices it will typically self-medicate with wild edibles and herbs. Today, with the rise of urban and backyard poultry, many of us don’t have the luxury of free-ranging in wide open spaces. Those of us who do, like myself, may still decide to offer additional herbs to their flock’s feed or water.
Homegrown or organically purchased dried herbs are essential to the chicken’s immune system. In fact, many homesteaders will keep a healing herb list on hand in case of emergencies. As we learn and grow as natural chicken keepers, our lists will grow with us. Chickens will naturally forage for things like plantain, dandelion, and chickweed. These wild herbs have many benefits, wild dandelion benefits being one of the greatest for your flock in the spring.
But what happens when you have common ailments that arise, like internal parasites, respiratory issues, or even the forbidden Avian Flu? Using herbs to prevent these ailments is key, and there are several healing herbs that you can add to your herbal livestock apothecary to easily feed to your chickens on a regular basis. These herbs will help prevent many common issues in chickens. Let’s walk through them!
The Immune Boosting Herb List
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Most commonly known for its immune stimulating properties, astragalus is one of the most beneficial herbs you can offer to your chickens on a regular basis as a preventative herb. In fact, a study done in 2013 states that astragalus helped prevent avian influenza and shortened the duration of the flu as well.
While the study primarily focused on the injection of astragalus, as an herbalist, I know that astragalus as a dietary supplement stimulates the immune system greatly, thus very likely preventing the inhabitation of the influenza virus and preventing most chicken ailments. Astragalus is also anti-inflammatory, helps chickens adapt to stress, and is antibacterial and antiviral.
Give to your chickens a couple of times each week to boost their immune systems, either dried or in a decoction in their waterer. I prefer to offer it in a decoction (like making a tea), and my chickens prefer it that way as well.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is a natural antiparasitic, antibacterial, aids the respiratory system, relieves infection, and is packed full of omega-3s that support brain and heart health. Thyme is also rich in vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as fiber, iron, riboflavin, manganese, and calcium. Thyme will help keep internal parasites at bay as a natural antiparasitic and will help support the immune system while helping keep that digestive tract in check.
Offer daily in their feed, dried or fresh, or freely on pasture or around the chicken run.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is growing in popularity, not just with the backyard chicken keeper, but with commercial chicken keepers as well. Large commercial meat and egg producers have switched to offering oregano and thyme in their chicken feed on a regular basis instead of chemicals and antibiotics.
Oregano is a natural antibiotic, is antibacterial, detoxifies the body, aids in respiratory health, and helps the reproductive system. Offering oregano to your chickens on a regular basis will help fight infections, get rid of toxins, and support the respiratory system against respiratory ailments.
Mix in with your chicken feed daily, fresh or dried.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic stimulates the digestive tract, regulates liver function, boosts the immune system, and fights and treats infections since it is a natural antibacterial. It’s also thought to help deworm chickens and other livestock. Garlic is best used as a preventative against bacterial digestive issues.
There is some controversy around garlic and chickens, as garlic is a natural blood thinner. Studies have been done with high doses of garlic causing issues with chickens, however, adding a couple of cloves of garlic to your chickens once or twice a week will not harm your chickens at all.
Offer weekly in waterer to help boost the immune system and support the digestive tract.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia)
One of the most common herbs to the new herbalist, echinacea is another immune-boosting herb for your chickens — the root, leaves, and flower heads. I tend to just toss them the leaves and flower heads and allow them free choice echinacea.
Echinacea is great for the respiratory system and can help treat fungal overgrowth. It is also a natural antibiotic and is naturally antibacterial.
Offer freely as you wish in season, or dry and offer throughout the year in daily feed rations.
Vitamin Mineral Supplements for Chickens
While herbs for chickens are an incredible way to boost immunity, there are other dietary supplements that can help keep your chickens healthy. While your supplements are busy keeping the body healthy, they give the immune system time to heal and do what it does best — protect!
Here are five of the top supplements you can offer on a regular basis.
Raw apple cider vinegar is full of healthy bacteria and helps keep the body alkaline. While there aren’t too many benefits other than the good bacteria for chickens, it’s still a benefit, nonetheless. It helps keep your chicken’s crop healthy and active and helps aid in digestion. Add one tablespoon per gallon of water every few days.
Cultured dried yeast (or brewer’s yeast) is a necessity for your flock. Not only is it packed full of protein and calcium, which both benefit the egg creating process, it is also one of the greatest sources of beneficial bacteria in your chicken’s crop and digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract helps support the immune system. Cultured dried yeast is packed full of vitamins and minerals that your chickens need as well. Add three to seven times a week in your chicken’s daily feed ration.
Sea kelp continues to increase in popularity with farmers and homesteaders across the world. While it has widely been used for larger livestock, sea kelp is making its way into the wonderful world of chickens. Offering free choice sea kelp can help boost your chicken’s immune system, enhance immune function, increase meat quantity in meat birds, and provides an incredible source of necessary vitamins and minerals. Offer freely to your flock.
Food grade diatomaceous earth is a natural resource to help prevent the infestation of parasites in the chicken’s intestines. Offering this to your chickens in their feed regularly is suggested. Add a couple of times each week in your chicken’s feed ration.
Fish meal is an incredible way to get more protein into your birds’ diet, though it shouldn’t exceed five percent of their diet, otherwise your eggs could taste a little fishy. Fish meal promotes regular laying and healthy skin and feathers. Fish meal is high in essential amino acids, vitamins A, D, and B-complex, and is an incredible source of minerals that your chickens benefit from.
Combine some of all of these supplements and herbs for chickens, and you’ll have the healthiest flock imaginable. That’s not to say issues might not arise now and then — chickens are fragile, after all. But adding these supplements and herbs to your daily or weekly routine in your chicken’s feed or water will truly help boost those immune systems, keep bacteria in check, and offer your chickens a natural way to self-medicate, no matter where they are!
You can mix and mingle the herbs throughout the week, or create your own mix for their feed or waterer. Make a simple decoction for the root herbs (like astragalus or echinacea) by boiling them in water for 10 minutes and then placing the liquid in your chicken’s waterer. Or make an infusion by boiling water and pouring it over more fragile herbs, like thyme and other leafy herbs.
It’s time to get that flock in tip-top shape! Have fun with it, experiment with free choice herbs and supplements, and watch your flock become fluffier, shinier, and healthier right before your eyes. Trust me, your chickens will thank you!