Suzie Baldwin recommends some favourites from the garden which are great for your chickens’ health
Plants for your hens
Chickens really benefit from having a daily portion of greens as they contain vitamins and minerals, equivalent to our five a day. Raw is best. It is also advantageous to hang your greens, which enables your girls to peck small pieces off as they would do naturally. You don’t need to rush off to the supermarket to give your girls a treat; at the moment our hedgerows and gardens are full of plants (mostly what we call weeds!) that have amazing health benefits. Most can be dried and stored to be used in the winter months. Remember, as with all things in life, small amounts occasionally are much more beneficial than a huge amount in one go then nothing for months! Below are just a few of the many herbs I use to keep my girls in good health. Prevention is always better than cure… or so my nan always said.
Be aware that if you are collecting outside of your garden you need to be sure they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. This is more likely in urban and roadside areas than in woodland and lesstended areas.
This is an amazing weed, although my husband hates it in his lawn! It is considered more nutritious than clover! It is an anthelminitic which means it can kill intestinal worms. My girls have access to these during the warm months and self-medicate themselves. I dry it and store it in air-tight containers for the winter when I use it weekly. It is thought plantain eases the cough reflex and suppresses the production of mucus, so great to use in a tonic if your girls ever have a respiratory problem.
YELLOW DOCK/ CURLY DOCK
I love this weed. The leaves are rich in iron and contain a biochemical that enhances the uptake of iron. It grows profusely during red mite season! I hang this in bunches so the girls can peck away. It is particularly useful if you have a red mite infestation as it is used to address anaemia problems. It can be dried and stored easily. Dock leaves have been used as a liver cleaner, which is where all the contaminants from the environment settle, so occasionally hanging a bunch up for your girls will help give them a detox. Don’t use it in large amounts regularly.
The botanical name for this plant is Taraxacum officinale
meaning ‘official remedy for disorders’. They are packed with vitamins A and B and are a great source of calcium, iron, potassium, fibre and protein. Dandelions have blood purifying properties and increase the flow of urine.They contain vast amounts of potassium that restores the mineral balance in the kidneys as toxins are flushed out. The flowers are safe for the girls to eat and can enhance the colours of their yolks. It can be dried easily and stored ready to use in the winter.
I love nettles. They grow so well and are great for chickens and us. Chickens can benefit from dried nettles during laying season as they give them a natural calcium boost. I hang bunches to dry then use them through the winter as well. Fresh nettles also freeze well and will be appreciated by your girls in the winter months. Their leaves contain a balance of vitamins, protein and minerals and are a great source of iron. Try adding fresh nettle leaves to your girls’ apple cider vinegar and strain after a few weeks. This would work well with dock leaves as well. If hanging fresh nettles for your girls, dip them in hot water for a few minutes to take the sting out. Remember to wear gloves when harvesting them as they do hurt when they sting. They are best collected during the spring before flowering.
These have an impressive amount vitamin C which is great for boosting the girls’ immune system. Vitamin C stimulates the white blood cells and the general health of the respiratory system. Rosehips are collected late summer and autumn. Once the flowers have died it is replaced by the fruit that has a red/orange colour. I chop the rosehips up and add them to my girls’ afternoon scratch feed. I save lots and dry them out to use throughout the winter months. The rose petals can also be given to your girls and contain Vitamins A,C, D and E and some B vitamins. They are a very mild sedative and anti-depressant so good to use if introducing new girls. Suzie Baldwin owns Hollywater Hens in Hampshire and is a frequent media pundit on chickens. http://hollywaterhens.co.uk
ABOVE LEFT: Nettles TOP RIGHT AND LEFT MIDDLE: Dandelions MIDDLE RIGHT: Dock , one of my favourites ABOVE RIGHT: Plantain is a natural worker and grows in abundance