by Sara Stewart Martinelli
Keeping hens at home has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and as we see more towns recognizing that people should have the right to keep their own chickens, more and more people are learning how fun and fulfilling it can be. The hens are full of personality, and of course, the most rewarding thing is the incredibly fresh eggs that these ladies bless us with daily. Just a few birds can keep a family of four with enough eggs for breakfast and baking.
Keeping hens is relatively easy, especially with today’s modern balanced chicken feeds. A good healthy pellet, some oyster shell, and some scratch grains serve to keep the hens fed and happy. If they are allowed free run of the garden, the hens will supplement their diets with all the insects they can find. Keeping their coop clean and dry will help them stay healthy and vibrant.
But, there are some ways in which adding some herbs to your hen’s life can benefit her health. Both in her diet and in her environment, adding some herbs can increase her vitality and egg production, while cutting back on environmental pests and bacteria.
Dried vs Fresh
Herbs can be expensive, so choose some herbs that can grow easily and well in your area. Plant them near, but not inside your coop, and then you’ll have access to the fresh sprigs when you need them. Any excess herbs you can dry and store for use in the winter.
To supplement the herbs that you grow yourself, we recommend purchasing dried, organic herbs in bulk from a reputable herb dealer. Our favorites are Mountain Rose Herbs and Monterrey Bay Herbs.
In the Hen House:
There’s any number of herbs that can be used in the hen house to make it smell more fragrant, and to repel insects, mites, and rodents. In addition to the aroma therapeutic benefits, the herbs offer the hens a little boost of nutrition and variety.
Nesting Box Herbs – Fresh
It’s been shown that wild birds often place herbs in their nests, perhaps to protect the baby birds from bacteria in the environment and to repel insects and other pests. These herbs can also help the make the coop smell better! Fresh herbs can be placed in the nests to offer the hens a little healthy snack. Try any of these:
Lavender – repels insects and mites, has antibacterial properties, and makes the coop smell great!
Calendula – The hens will snack on the calendula petals, and it makes the egg yolks more orange and rich.
Mint – Keeps away mice and rodents, and the hens won’t generally eat it due to its high aromatic oil content.
Dandelion – Use both the leaves and the flowers, which are high in vitamins and minerals. Helps control internal parasites
Chamomile – Smells great, repels lice, fleas and mites.
Comfrey – High in vitamins A, B12, calcium, potassium and protein. Feed fresh as a green.
Nesting Box Herbs – Dried Mix
Creating a mix of dried herbs to sprinkle in the nests is a great way to freshen the coop and repel pests during the months when the fresh herbs are not available, (which, truly, is most of the time). The blend can be stored in a five-gallon bucket for ease of use, and it will become an easy thing to add when cleaning the nests. Add only a small amount, about 1/8th of a cup, to each nest. Take a look at our pre-packaged nest herbs, HERE
4 cups calendula
4 cups lavender
4 cups dandelion leaf
4 cups borage leaf
4 cups thyme
4 cups lemon balm
4 cups peppermint leaf
Chicken Waterer Freshener
One of the most gross things about the coop is the waterers. No matter what we try, the water is always disgusting and dirty, even with cleaning and freshening it daily. A quick and easy fix is to add a clove of garlic to the water for every gallon. The garlic is a strong, natural antibacterial. Not only will it help to reduce bacteria in the water, but it’s a natural immune booster for the ladies too.
Garlic –1 crushed clove to 1 gallon of water.
Coop Freshener Sprinkle with DE
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is made from the tiny fossilized remains of little aquatic organisms called Diatoms. These diatoms have skeletons that are made of silica which is razor sharp on a microscopic level. It is often used in products and can be safely added to the barnyard as a good way to control insects, and mites, in the chicken coop. The DE causes the insects to dry out because it absorbs the oils of the insect’s exoskeleton. The tiny sharp edges of the DE are also abrasive to the little bugs.
There have recently been concerns raised about the safety of DE because of its potential to cause lung and respiratory irritation. However, DE has been used for decades safely and effectively and studies have shown that it is safe when used as directed. Naturally, use common sense when handling it and don’t purposefully breathe in large quantities, just like you would breathe in any type of dust or powder. If you have pre-existing respiratory troubles, it might be best to wear a mask when handling DE.
So why use it? It can greatly reduce the risk of mites, lice, fleas and other yucky bugs in the chicken coop.
My herbal DE Coop Spread
6 cups Diatomaceous Earth
4 cup Peppermint
3 cup Chamomile
3 cup Lemon balm
3 cup Calendula
- Blend all herbs in a grinder and add in a large bowl. Mix together.
- In a bucket, add the DE and the herbs. Carefully mix together – do wear a mask for this mixing part to eliminate the risk of breathing in ANY of the powdered ingredients.
- Sprinkle about ½ cup per evert 500 square feet of chicken coop.
Herbal Chicken Treats strung on a string
Here’s a fun way to get some healthy herbs into your ladies, as well as give them something to do. These fun treats also have the added benefit of decorating your coop, so use some fun cookie cutter to cut a variety of shapes. Be sure to hang these treat ornaments where your birds can reach them, but where they will be up out of the dirt and off the floor of the coop.
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 – 3 tablespoon dried herbs (use nettles, comfrey, alfalfa, chamomile, etc – whatever herbs you have)
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 cup cooked pumpkin or squash
1 Tbsp molasses
Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. If the mixture is a little too dry, add a tiny bit of water. If it’s too wet, add a few more oats.
Roll the dough out on floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.
Cut with cookie cutters. Use different shapes for fun but be sure that most of the shape is simple and large. Avoid intricate shapes with lots of little parts.
Transfer the treat to a cookie sheet sprayed very lightly with cooking spray.
Put a hole in each treat with a chopstick. Be sure that the hole is large enough to string your choice of string through it after it’s done cooking.
Bake the treats at 350° for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely.
Gently string the treat with the string, and then hang in the coop as a special treat for the hens.
Well, spring has finally arrived here at Three Leaf Farm! Our honeybees are beginning to wake up and actively search for food around the farm. By far, the most abundant flower right now is Dandelion – an non-native medicinal flower that has become widespread across all of North America. Among these bright yellow delights are a few other early spring flowers, such as Daffodil, Tulip, Crocus, and Wild Mustard.
Our head beekeeper and farm manager, Jax Martinelli is thrilled to see how healthy his honeybees are after a long harsh winter. He is the main force behind the Bee Sanctuary here at the farm, and fortunately for us, is a wealth of knowledge on beekeeping.
A common misconception to novice beekeepers and other farm folks, is that Honeybees are native to this continent. In reality these honeybees come from Europe and can oftentimes displace native bees. Native means that a species, whether plant or insect, has evolved on this landscape and has coexisted with the flora and fauna of this ecosystem. It is extremely important that we recognize which species are native and non-native, as human interference can sometimes cause native species to become endangered or even go extinct.
Our honeybees tend to prefer non-native flowers such as Dandelion, Calendula, Poppy, and Borage – of which there is an abundance here at the farm. Look forward to more posts from us about supporting your honeybee hives, but for now it is all about the natives.
For this reason, we emphasize maintaining healthy populations of native wildflowers to ensure that our local pollinators have enough food and shelter to continue thriving. Here in Boulder County, we are a part of the Colorado Front Range. Below is a list of perennial plants that you can add to your garden to support populations of local pollinators. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have about this topic. Enjoy!
By Sara Stewart Martinelli
This post was originally posted on the blog of the Boulder County Horse Association
Many of us are searching for ways to increase the use of natural products in our lives. Sometimes we forget that some of the simplest and most basic household products offer a wide range of uses in our favorite sanctuary: The Barn.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most useful things to stash in the barn and can be used for a multitude of purposes. Horses also seem to love the taste, though some take a little longer to embrace it. It’s high in potassium and minerals, so adding a little to feed or water is beneficial and offers a nutritional boost. When added to water it also destroys harmful bacteria, and can help improve the flavor of the water, enticing your horse to drink more. Internally, it helps to improve digestive function. Externally, it can be used on all kinds of skin conditions, including scurf and dry patches. It will neutralize bacteria on the skin and coat and will bring out the natural shine of your horse’s coat. It can also be used as a natural fly spay. (Try infusing it with one of the herbs in the section below). On the hoof, it can help prevent and minimize thrush.
How to use it: the recommended dosage is about 1 cup in a 50-gallon water tank, or about ¼ cup in feed a day. For skin and coat conditions, dilute the vinegar in a ratio of 1:1 with water and apply directly to the affected area.
Flax seed is high in omega 3 oils, which is one of the few vegetable sources of this essential fatty acid that cannot be synthesized in the body. Adding flax to your horse’s diet can improve a wide range of health issues, including reducing inflammation in joints and connective tissues, skin, coat and hoof issues, general stamina, condition, and athleticism, and reducing excitability.
It’s believed that it can improve the recovery time from injury or exercises by allowing faster removal of toxic metabolites. Flax helps to regulate thyroid function and is highly nutritive. It is high in mucilage and soluble fiber, so it helps to hydrate the digestive tract and can help to prevent impaction colic. Essential fatty acids have been shown to improve respiratory conditions and help to fortify the skin, coat, and hooves
Many sources will tell you that you need to freshly grind flax seeds daily to ensure freshness and complete absorption. However, research done shows that although some seeds are still seen in manure when fed whole, the majority of them are completely used in the digestive tract. New manufacturing methods now offer flax that is ground in a way to reduce its propensity to go rancid, and it can be purchased in bulk livestock grade to reduce cost.
How to use it? Flax should be gradually introduced into the horse’s diet over the course of a week or two, allowing the digestive tract to adapt to the newly added fat. Start with about ¼ cup per feeding, and gradually increase this over a two-week period until you are feeding up to ½ cup per feeding (maximum 1 cup per day). Check with your veterinarian for accurate amounts to feed and to ensure that flax is suitable for your horse.
Herbs for Fly Control
There are a number of herbs and flowers that can be planted around the barn to help keep flies to a minimum. Lavender (Lavendula ssp), Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and Marigolds (Tagetes ssp) are just some of the plants that can be used to provide both beauty and insect control. In addition to planting them near the barn and pastures, cuttings of these can be cut, tied together, and hung throughout the barn as attractive fly repellents. (Keep out of reach of horses, though. The horses will eat them, and although not toxic, if they eat the bundles, then you won’t be able to repel flies!) Dried, powdered herbs can be sprinkled in the stalls to help control flies and mosquitos.
Baking soda is a great option for all the scents and odors that happen in the barn. Use it as a natural stall deodorizer by sprinkling on the ground lightly when you muck. For added power, include some dried, powdered herbs from the section above for both scent and fly control.
Baking soda can also be made into a paste with a little water to use as cleaner for stall doors, walls, and feeders, as well as metal horse bits. To clean grooming tools, add 1 cup of baking soda in a bucket of water, and soak your tools overnight. Rinse well in the morning. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize horse blankets in the laundry. Add about a cup to the laundry water. An open box of baking soda can be placed in tack trunks to keep away odors.
Finally, a little paste made of baking soda is a great remedy for bugs bites for both horses and humans, and will help with both itching and inflammation.
Coconut oil has been shown to be safe for use for horses both internally and externally. Coconut oil has many benefits and is a perfect thing to be kept in the barn for everyday use. It has many antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, so it’s a great, quick salve for minor scrapes and bites. It can be used directly on the mane and tail to provide deep conditioning (although avoid use right before needing to braid, it can make the hair so silky that the braids don’t stick). Use coconut oil as a hoof conditioner too – you can rub it directly on the hooves to moisturize dry, cracked hooves. Dry skin patches can be treated with coconut oil, and it can be useful in cases of rain rot as well as bacterial or fungal infections on the skin. Internally, coconut oil is an energy dense supplement and are believed to provide energy without affecting behavior. It can be used to support immune function and regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism. It may help to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, and many horses like the taste so it entices them to eat.
How to use it: if you choose to add coconut oil to your horses feed ration, start small. Mix ¼ cup into their grain, and gradually increase to ½ cup per day over a week or so. Coconut oil tends to be very stable at room temperature, so unlike flax, it will resist going rancid for several months. There are also commercially made, powdered coconut oil supplements available for horses too. Remember, check with your veterinarian before adding any supplement to your horse’s diet.
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bariraci Levy, Faber and Faber, Inc., London, 1952
Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses, by Mary L. Brennan, DVM, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Vermont, 2001
A Healthy Horse the Natural Way: A Horse Owner’s Guide to Using Herbs, Massage, Homeopathy, and Other Natural Therapies by Catherine Bird, The Lyons Press, 2002
Horse Care: Natural and Herbal Remedies for Horses by Dr. A Nyland, 2015
A Modern Horse Herbal by Hillary Page Self, Kenilworth Press, 2004
by Sara Stewart Martinelli
Searching for a good boarding facility for your horse can be overwhelming. Not only do prices usually range on a wide scale, but so do the amenities, services, and quality of the facilities. Before you even begin your search, determine what you need in the way of care and amenities. Make a list of the things that are most important to you, and determine the areas in which you might be able to settle for less.
We all want the very best for our equine friends, but sometimes our budget doesn’t cooperate with our dreams. The good news is that horses are not bothered by the same aesthetics as we often are. Their needs are much more simple, but there are some areas in which you should not compromise.
Safe Fencing, Stalls, Paddocks –
The first thing to check is the condition of the fencing, stalls, and any other building or area that your horse may be kept. Age doesn’t really matter, but condition does. Check areas for exposed nails, sharp edges on panels, or broken wires in the fencing. Horses will find ways to hurt themselves no matter what we do to protect them, but ensuring that they are safely housed, both in pasture and in the barn, is a must
Experienced, on-site Staff-
You are boarding your horse because you can’t keep him at home, so you need to be able to trust the staff at the facility to care for him. Staff should be readily available to you and willing to talk to you about your horse at any time. You need to be able to trust them to do whatever needs to be done in an emergency, and to always put the best interests of your horse first. Additional services, like blanketing, putting on fly masks, exercising and turnout are often available at higher end facilities, and you need to be sure that the staff is experience and capable at handling horses.
Good Quality Hay and Feed –
Ask to see the hay before you agree to board somewhere. Take a little time to ensure the hay is high quality, not dusty, and stored properly. Ask where the hay comes from, and how often they take delivery. You should see a nice stock of hay – avoid facilities where they are clearly only purchasing enough hay to get by. This could be a sign of financial trouble. If there is pasture turnout and your horse will be getting a portion of his nutrition from fresh grazing, you need to walk the pasture and inspect what’s growing. If your horse eats a grain ration, or additional supplements, ask in advance how the facility handles that. Some facilities will custom feed your horse whatever you ask, while others will require you to measure and bag up meal size baggies so they don’t have to do that.
Facility Maintenance –
Cleanliness of the Barn, Aisle, Stalls, and Tack Room – in addition to checking the buildings, barn aisle, pastures, and fences for safety, you should also look with a critical eye to see how the facility is maintained on a daily basis. Is it clean? Are the stalls cleaned daily? Does the tack room, and tack, look tidy and well-kept? Do things look organized and easy to find, like First Aid supplies? Are the barn aisles, grooming areas, wash racks clean, organized, and free of clutter? Observing how the facility is generally maintained can give you a good idea into the general culture of the facility. Remember, things don’t need to be fancy and new to be clean and well organized.
Fly Control –
Although some might consider this a luxury, flies can become quite a problem. Not only are they annoying to both humans and horses, but they can carry disease. A good facility will make efforts to mitigate fly problems and will practice some kinds of fly control. Clean stalls and paddocks are a must, but additional efforts like using Fly Predators or even overhead fly mist dispensers can greatly reduce the fly populations at the facility.
Secure Tack Room and Tack Storage –
“Missing” tack is a notorious problem at even the nicest boarding facilities. People often borrow your supplies, thinking you won’t mind, and then forget to put it back or replace it. Does the facility have a secure tack room where you know your supplies are safe from theft or unwanted borrowing? Is there enough storage for all your tack and supplies on site?
Don’t forget to look at the restrooms. It might not seem like a big deal until you board somewhere where they don’t have these facilities. Really. It’s not fun. Ideally, the restrooms will be clean and functional, but experience has shown that most barn restrooms are just pit stops for people who have mud and horse poop on their boots all the time. Don’t be too critical!
Good Arena Footing –
Depending on your individual needs, a fancy, indoor arena may not be necessary. Whether you are training for upper level Hunter/Jumpers or are just a weekend trail rider, you need a safe place to exercise your horse. If they have an area that is used for this, check that the footing is suitable for your riding style. Even if it’s just a flattened outdoor area with no commercial style footing, you need to make sure the area is generally safe, flat, and not slick. Check the arena, round pen, and any other area that is used as an exercise area. Ask about how it holds up to the rain; does it puddle? How long does it take for it to drain? And, on the opposite end, ask how they facility controls the dust when it’s overly dry?
Drama- Free Culture –
A larger equestrian facility can offer a lively and fun social community, but sometimes that can come with a large dose of drama. If this isn’t your thing, ask around to get a feel for the reputation of the place. Make sure that your personality will fit the culture of the facility. If you are a laid back, casual rider who just enjoys spending time with your horse, then a fancy dressage barn might not suit you. On the flip side, if you are seriously competitive and working toward specific goals, you might not be happy in a more casual facility.
This is so important that maybe it should have been number one. Although often we have to drive relatively long distances to get to a facility, you need to determine if your boarding choice is close enough that you’ll be able to get there as much as you want to. If you think that distance might ever become a reason that you have to skip going to the barn that day, you might want to look for a facility closer. Your horse would much rather spend time with you than have a fancy stall door, and you never want visiting your horse to become a burden.
Choosing a boarding facility to care for your treasured horse is hard, but with a little forethought, planning, and a critical eye, you can make the process a little easier.
Raspberry Leaf (Rubus ssp) – Raspberry leaf has been used during pregnancy for centuries and is known as one of nature’s strongest allies to nourish and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic region, and especially of the uterus. It’s high in Vitamins C, E, A, and B, and is rich in minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorous and potassium. Its been known to increase fertility and prevents miscarriage. It can ease morning sickness and other digestive issues during pregnancy. During foaling and post partum, it can ease labor by strengthen the uterine muscles, helps to increase milk production, and improves the process of expelling the afterbirth.
Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioca) – This rich, nourishing tonic is a valuable to whole body health. Highly rich in vitamins and minerals, the herb increases health to numerous areas of the body in a safe, gentle manner perfect for pregnancy. Like raspberry, it helps to increase fertility. Nettles will nourish both the mare and the foal, and strengthens the blood vessels which prevents hemorrhage after foaling. Nettles also help increase milk production and the nutritive value of the milk.
Dandelion Leaf (Taraxacum officinale) – Dandelion is one of natures most useful weeds, and can be especially useful during pregnancy due to it’s ability to aid the body in eliminating toxins by supporting the liver and kidneys, and also as a mild diuretic that can help prevent edema, water retention, and hypertension. Dandelion is considered one of the five most nutritious vegetables on earth and all parts of the plant are edible.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – One of my all time favorite plants, Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. Lemon balm is a safe and gentle relaxing herb that can help alleviate anxiety and create a feeling of calm content. It’s an excellent addition to a pregnancy blend because in addition to it’s calming properties, it’s also one of nature’s strongest antiviral herbs.
Blue will get a cup of this herb blend in the morning, and a cup at night. I like to add it to a little bit of soaked beet pulp to add moisture to the herbs and make them more delicious, but she seems to love them dry just as much.
The final blend:
1 lb raspberry leaf
1 lb nettle leaf
1/4 lb dandelion leaf
1/4 lb lemon balm
3 cups Olive Oil
1/4 cup rosemary
1/4 cup rosehips
1/4 cup nettles
1/4 cup calendula
1/4 cup comfrey
1/4 cup bladderack
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup lanolin (optional)
1 Tablespoon Tea Tree Oil
1 Tablespoon Lavender Oil
1 Tablespoon Vitamin E Oil
* In a double boiler, heat the olive oil and dried herbs over very low heat for about 2 hours. The heat needs to be low enough that the oil doesn’t sizzle at all – if it does, you are effectively ‘frying’ the herbs. I use a stainless steel bowl for the oil and herbs and I sent it on top of a saucepot of water on super low heat.
* After 2 hours, strain the oil mixture using a screen sieve lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth. You really want to make sure that you get all the plant material out of the oil, as any left could mold and make the whole batch unusable. I like to strain my herbs directly into a glass pyrex pitcher. This allows me to get an accurate measurement of how much oil there is (not a big deal for this recipe, but often very important). It also makes it a lot easier to reheat the oil and eventually pour it into whatever container you are planning to use.
* Paint the entire hoof with the oil from the coronet band all the way to the frog underneath. If the hoof is in bad shape, use the oil 2 – 3 times per week for the first month. Watch carefully to make sure that you are not “over moisturizing” the hoof – you’ll know if you see the hoof starting to become spongy or over soft.
After about a month, hopefully you will see marked improvement in the hoof quality and you can move to a maintenance level of once a week.
My personal maintenance program for hoof health is that every time I pick their hooves, I spray the bottom with my Hoof Spray (a blend of Apple Cider Vinegar, Rosemary, and Distilled Water). Once a week I paint their hooves generously with my Hoof Oil.
Remember that environmental conditions play a big role in hoof health. The climate where you live, whether your horses are on pasture or kept in a stable, age, and diet will all affect the health of your horse’s hooves.e pyrex pitcher full of strained oil directly into a saucepot of hot water and return to low heat. Allow the oil to warm for about 5 minutes, and then add the coconut oil and lanolin. (Lanolin is an animal derived product, so only use it if you want. It comes from the sebaceous glands of wool bearing animals, like sheep. It’s very emollient and helps protect the hoof against the ravages of nature.)
* Once the lanolin and the coconut oil have been fully incorporated, remove the oil from the heat. Take the Pyrex pitcher out of the water (be careful, the glass will be very hot) and allow it to cool for 20 minutes. It’s important to allow it to cool fully before the next step. Essential oils are highly delicate at high temperatures and you’ll evaporate a majority of the volatile oils if you add it to the hot oil.
* Once the blend has been cooled sufficiently, you can add the Tea Tree Oil, the Lavender Oil, and the Vitamin E. Both the Tea Tree and Lavender oils will function as antibacterial agents, and the Vitamin E will serve as a preservative to the oil as well as supplement to the hoof medicine.
To Use: Using a paintbrush, generously paint the hoof with the oil. Be careful not to get too much on the floor, as it might be slippery!