Sustainable Organic Gardening

Aromatherapy for chooks

Lining your chooks’ nesting and laying boxes with sweet-smelling herbs may seem a bit ‘out there’ at first, but when you think that many species of wild birds add aromatic plants to their nesting material, the idea may be worth considering for the local flock.

Nest box with rosemary

Herbs used in this way by wild birds usually have strong smelling, volatile, essential oils with one or more beneficial properties such as antibacterial, insecticidal and miticidal. In the chook pen, they can help protect against bacteria, rodents, lice, mites and internal parasites such as worms. Some herbs are calming and help to relieve stress in a broody hen; some are laying stimulants.

Broodies don’t get out to dust bathe often and so are more prone to get mites and parasites; fresh or dried herbs among the nesting material can help protect them from those pests. The newly hatched chicks can eat the herbs and also benefit by rubbing against these herbs in the first few days.

Contaminated nests can pass pathogens into the porous egg and result in infections such as salmonella, so in general, herbs that improve chook pen hygiene are good for chicks and for the eggs that we eat.

Try rosemary, sage, lavender or bergamot for a calming effect; feverfew, catnip, peppermint or wormwood to repel insects and other pests; and oregano for its anti-parasitic qualities. Dandelion greens can stimulate the immune system; coriander is a fungicide; thyme helps respiratory health.

So why not create a poultry potpourri? Throw a couple of handfuls of fresh or dried herbs in laying boxes or grow fresh herbs near the chook shed where the chooks can brush against them – good for your girls and will improve the smell of the pen.

Warning: what not to strew! Pennyroyal. This herb is poisonous to chickens!

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