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.
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.