Before I begin this post, I want to reiterate something that is present on every page of this website. I am not a veterinarian. Please use common sense and do your research before using alternative remedies with your flock. When in doubt, contact an avian veterinarian before treating your birds. Click here for a great resource for finding an avian vet. The recommendations I am making are based on research and my own personal experience.
Part of the reason I raise chickens (and homestead in general) is because I care about what goes in our bodies. Between eggs and meat, what goes into my chickens goes into my family. I avoid drugs and medications with my chickens the same way I do with my family members. That’s why I prefer to at least try natural remedies first.
Herbal Alternatives for Chickens
The following herbs are great at repelling insects. They can be grown around your coop or dried and hung inside.
Lemon Balm and Mint are great at repelling rodents. You can use them like you would the insect-repelling herbs, or you can make satchels to store in grain bins and bags.
Nest boxes can benefit from herbs as well. Dandelion, dill, lavender, lemon balm, and rose hips act as relaxants. A relaxed hen is less likely to become egg bound. Borage, comfrey, fennel, marigold, marjoram, mint, nasturtium, parsley, sage, and thyme have been long thought to increase egg production. When using herbs inside the coop, make sure they are first thoroughly dried. Moist and fresh herbs mixed in with organic bedding may cause molding.
Wives tales abound regarding herbs for internal parasites. I cover the specific studies that have been done in Chicken Hot Topics: Controversial Husbandry Practices, but many herbal remedies have gone untested. Hyssop, nasturtium, sage, spearmint, tansy, and thyme have commonly been fed to chickens to ward off internal parasites. I prefer to keep them separate from the feed, opposed to mixed-in, because I believe the chicken is smart enough to know what it needs and when.
Essential Oils for Chickens
Clove oil diluted at 2% in a carrier oil (such as olive) can be used to prevent feather picking. This works well if your bird is picking her own feathers or if others are picking at her. Just remember, if a hen is picking her own feathers, there is most likely an underlying cause. Treat the problem before dealing with the side effect.
These oils (approximately 15 drops each) when “mixed” with 16 oz water and sprayed throughout the coop can keep insects at bay. Oils won’t actually mix with water, but the water helps disburse it evenly. Because chickens have sensitive respiratory systems, it is best to spray when everyone has finished laying for the day and is out and about outside of the coop. Make sure the coop has been aired out before allowing the chickens back in.
When made into a salve with coconut oil, lavender oil is great at healing and protecting open wounds and sore. Dilute to 1% before applying and be sure to avoid the eyes, mouth, and nostrils.
Neem oil disturbs the life cycle of scaly mites. Apply at a 1-2% dilution with soybean oil, linseed oil, or vegetable oil on affected chickens. Follow up with a thick coating of Vaseline.
Nutmeg is a natural pain reliever, but it must be used with caution when dealing with chickens. Apply it only on closed wounds and in tiny amounts (1% or less in a carrier oil). A friend of mine has used this method of pain relief with hens that have passed broken eggs and she swears by it.
I have not personally used oregano oil because I am not comfortable dosing my birds internally with essential oils, but oregano oil has been used for generations as an antibiotic/antiviral. It is commonly mixed in the chicken’s water supply. If it makes you feel more comfortable, there is a commercial product on the market called RopaPoultry Oregano Oil Supplement that comes with exact dosing instructions. In addition to oregano oil, it contains various other oils that are suppose to act as a natural antibiotic.
*** UPDATE: I have begun using 1 drop of oregano oil per serving of fermented feed and I have been happy with the results. ***
Tea Tree & Oregano Oils
Favus, is a chronic skin condition caused by fungus. It often presents itself as scaly and crusty patches on the chicken’s comb. 1% tea tree oil and 2% oregano oil in coconut oil rubbed on the affected area once or twice a day has shown to clear up favus.
Thieves oil in an Epsom salt soak can do wonders when dealing with bumble-foot. I fill a dish pan with warm water, sprinkle in some salt, and add 3-4 drops of essential oil.
VetRx is a commercial product that contains balsam, camphor, and rosemary in a corn oil base. It is used by natural poultry keepers to treat colds, roup, scaly mites, and eye worm. It is also helpful when battling respiratory infections.
Use caution when applying essential oils directly on your birds. NEVER apply an oil without diluting it first. ALWAYS use therapeutic-grade oils.
Other Natural Remedies for Chickens
Diarrhea? Try offering wheat bran soaked in buttermilk.
Sour crop? Withhold food and water for 24 hours. Give a tablespoon of coconut oil or olive oil via an eyedropper. Wait 12 hours and then offer scrambled egg mixed with plain yogurt.
Wry neck? Try Turmeric Tea in the same dose you would drink yourself.
Frostbite on combs and wattles? First, ventilate properly! Frostbite is easily avoided in coops with proper ventilation. If your chicken has frostbite, gently rub on a coating of coconut oil.
Again, consult a professional and research before taking your chickens’ health in your hands. Most natural alternatives work far better as preventatives than they do as cures. What natural remedies have worked for you and your chickens? Share in the comments below.