Making sure your brood is fighting fit…
Keeping chickens as healthy as possible is totally worth your while. No-one wants to be dealing with a sick chicken. (Unless you’re like my friend Francesca who takes hers to the vet, because she fancies him….but that’s a whole other story). Sick chickens are miserable chickens, they don’t lay and generally cause havoc with your happy hen house. During the winter chickens have a pretty miserable time, it’s cold and muddy and there’s less things around to peck at. Plus, with the added ban on letting chickens roam at the moment, due to an avian flu outbreak, it’s important you keep your feathered friends as fit and perky as possible.
The Key Three
The first thing is to get on board with the ‘Chicken Triumvirate’ – essentially the three simple, natural things that really help with healthy chickens – cider vinegar, garlic and Diatomaceous Earth powder.
Cider Vinegar: the most important thing to give your chickens, cider vinegar has been used as a health supplement for both humans and chickens for centuries. Unpasteurised cider vinegar has a host of good vitamins, minerals and trace elements in it which will support your chickens’ immune system, and it also helps with digestion, removes mucus from the body and is an antiseptic. You can dilute it in your chickens’ water throughout the year, and up it during times of stress – the general guide is 20ml per litre, but you can roughly guess at a capful or two depending on how big your water container is. Make sure to buy it unpasteurised though – both country and farm shops should stock it, as will health food shops and some better supermarkets.
Garlic: again, a standard healthy food for humans as well as animals, garlic is great for colds and respiratory issues, fantastic for the overall immune system, but can also increase appetite, improve laying and even reduce the lack of sulphur in your hens’ poo. It’s also tipped to be a great added boost to preventing worms. Garlic powder can be added to your chicken’s dried food, and you can also add a crushed clove or two to their water a couple of times a month.
Diatomaceous Earth: This crazy, magical, odd substance is essentially ‘micro skeletons of fossilised remains of deceased diatoms, which are a type of algae found in both sea water and fresh water’. Yup. Means nothing to me either. BUT, it is renowned amongst chicken owners to be a total essential. The ever informative Tim at poultrykeeper.com says: “Diatomaceous Earth is marvellous – I wouldn’t be without it in my poultry supplies.” It can be used for a myriad of things, but for chickens it is fantastic at reducing worms and parasites, promotes better feathering, and is generally a great health boost. To prevent against mites, dust it amongst your chickens’ feathers regularly, you can also sprinkle it around the house and nesting boxes, and even around the food and water containers. You can also use it in your chicken’s food, sprinkling a good scoop into their feeder, or mixed into scraps. You can buy it online, make sure to buy ‘food grade’.
The Little Extras
Once you’ve mastered the above, then there are other little things you can do to keep your chickens feeling good.
Mash – I regularly make a wet mash of household scraps for my chickens – and serve it to them around midday, when they’ve eaten a good fill of their main food. It makes some of the chunkier left over veg more palatable and means they don’t tread everything into the mud. You simply wizz everything up in a food processor and spoon it out over the following few days – I love to add garlic, onions, sweetcorn, greens and cuttings, nuts and seeds, live yoghurt, cheese, some broken up egg shell, oats, grapes, blueberries, apples, carrots and herbs.
Cayenne Pepper – this a funny little one that many people swear by to encourage laying….and it certainly worked for us. Sprinkle a generous spoonful into mash or even just into their feeder. Sit back, and wait for the laying to commence.
Porridge – I know chickens are tough and can live in -20C conditions – but, I still feel for them on a freezing morning. When it’s especially cold I soak some oats in boiling water and milk and take it up to them to give them a warming treat. They love it.
You can read more about how to look after chickens during the winter here.