I have grown culinary herbs longer than I have kept chickens and with the addition of chickens to my backyard, it was natural to cut sprigs of herbs to tuck into the chicken coop bedding, hang from the ceiling and toss into nest boxes to freshen things up. If aromatherapy for my chickens is the only benefit to placing herbs in my nesting boxes and coops, I’m fine with that, however, aromatherapy may not be the end of the herbal story.
An article by Herbalist Susan Burek, published in the June/July2011 edition of Backyard Poultry Magazine suggests that many herbs are effective insecticidals. Burek explains that various varieties of herbs can repel or kill insects. An important point she makes throughout the article is that in order to be effective, different herbs must be employed differently: ingested by the birds, distributed throughout the coop, grown around the coop, prepared as an extract and applied to the bird's body, and/or prepared as a liniment and applied to the coop itself.
Another important message in Burek’s article is that herbal pest management should be part of “[a] multi-faceted prevention plan.” Keeping coops clean, keeping chickens healthy in order to be able to fend off pests, and avoiding toxic chemicals as well as natural products such as food grade diatomaceous earth, which upset the natural environmental balance, are all integral parts of that plan.
BUSTED! Marilyn's first eggs were found tucked into this lemon balm nest in my garden.
When my White Orpington hen, (Marilyn) began egg-laying last summer, she made a habit of laying them in my lavender and lemon balm plants. Perhaps she found them soothing to be in and around, perhaps she knows something I still don’t about her chosen locations, but what we do know is that there are aromatic benefits from the essential oils in herbs that affect the mood and stress levels of both people and animals.
Another nest of eggs were found in the lavender in the front of my house.
Whatever the reason for Marilyn’s nest choices, they validate my practice of sprucing up the coop with my freshly grown herbs. Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages of living in New England is our pitifully short growing season and lack of year round access to fresh herbs. One of the disadvantages of my schedule that includes two children, a husband, house, dog, 40+ chickens, a blog, Facebook page and small business, is that I have no spare time for some of the smaller pleasures in life such as cutting and drying herbs to use throughout the winter and spring.
Sage in my garden this winter.
I missed the scent of fresh herbs in the coop this winter, so I decided to purchase dried herbs to concoct my own herbal blend for my chicken coops.
In selecting the herbs for my herbal fusion, I consulted with Master Gardener and Herbalist, Kathie Jones in
to ensure their safe use around my chickens. While this mixture is not intended to be eaten, my flock may eat bits of it and it's important to me to know that all of these herbs are safe if ingested. Forest Hill, MD
I chose the herbs for my chicken coop nest box fusion, based upon their safety, aromatic properties and/or ability to repel some small insects. "Through an insect's acute sense of smell, these strong smelling herbs make it overwhelmingly unpleasant for many insects and so then work as a repellent."1 With my next batch, I’ll dial back the amount of oregano, as I don’t particularly care for the Italian Baked Chicken vibe it evokes in my coop.
I sprinkle the herbal fusion sparingly in nest boxes and coop-a little goes a long way. I use approximately one tablespoon of herbs per nesting box.
Spruce the Coop Herbal Fusion is available in my store, HERE!!
I never use fresh herbs underneath a broody hen; the humidity and warmth of the hen’s body can cause a hastening of decomposition and encourage the growth of mold, endangering the embryos and the health of the hen and any chicks that hatch.
My Chief Broody, Freida, doing what she does best.
In researching the use of herbs in poultry flocks, I read blogs and other online articles essentially claiming that herbs in and around the coop are a parasite eliminator and general health panacea. Some of the same buzz words I found from page to page are: anti-bacterial, insecticide, anti-parasitic, natural wormer, stress reliever, sedative, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, rodent-repellent, laying stimulant and calming. Whew! Really? While there is little doubt that many culinary herbs have some “beneficial properties,” the preparation, application and concentration of the herb are critical pieces of information notably missing in these sweeping generalizations, which make them useless.
Caution must be exercised when reading claims of beneficial properties when there are no directions for how those benefits can be elicited from certain herbs. In other words: the Herb Fairy cannot sprinkle mint leaves in the nest boxes and expect them to produce all of the beneficial effects listed in the buzz words above- she must at least leave a note detailing the proper preparations and applications of the herbs if they are to work their magic in our coops and in/on our chickens. For more information about using herbs as insecticides in various preparations and for general poultry health, do your own research or visit Herbalist Susan Burek at her website or Facebook page, Raising Chickens Naturally.
Notes, sources & further reading:
NOTE: On the subject of diatomaceous earth, Burek states: “Even though DE is not contributing to adding toxic chemicals to our environment, it can still be killing beneficial bugs as much as any chemical pesticide would. As good stewards of the environment, it makes more sense to me to make our poultry's living space an inhospitable place for harmful bugs to choose to live, and let them duke it out in nature for the proper living balance to be achieved.” A Personal Perspective on using DE, Herbalist Susan Burek
NOTE: I do not use dried or fresh herbs in my brooder due to the risk of irritating chicks’ sensitive respiratory systems.