At this time of year, we are all suffering from the winter blahs to some degree.
Chickens too can get ‘low’, after all there is little fresh green food available, exercise is limited, and daylight is short.
So what can you do to help boost your chicken’s immune system and get them feeling ‘peppy’ for the spring season ahead?
We have come up with 7 natural ways to help your hens beat the winter blues and get into top shape for the egg-laying and chick rearing season!
What is the Chicken’s Immune System?
We often talk about having a good immune system, but what is it and how does it work?
The immune system is not well understood, even in humans; basically it is the mechanism that fights off illness, disease and infection. That is a huge job since micro-organisms are constantly all around us and our chickens!
Many of these organisms are harmless but some are pathogenic (disease causing) and these are the ones our immune system fights.
In order for a chicken to effectively fight these organisms the immune system must be in great shape and have all the things it needs to be effective.
Those things are vitamins, minerals, good nutrition, low stressors and sufficient rest.
There is no quick-fix or single item that will fix everything – be skeptical of such claims. Your flock needs many things to aid the immune system.
Many other things govern the immune response also – genetic factors, age, gut health, inflammatory conditions or poor environment. Some of those things we cannot change, but we can certainly help with good, beneficial food and supplements.
This time of year is a great time to check each hen for any health problems and treat accordingly.
Ensuring your girls have a low stress environment is important, so try to keep things mellow and routine around the coop. Chickens love routine, anything new can be stressful for them – unless it’s edible!
Rest too, is highly important. At this time of year it may seem like all they do is eat or sleep, but that’s ok. They have a busy year ahead of them, once the egg laying and chick rearing season starts up, those hens will have plenty to do and it will take its’ toll on their bodies.
Immune Booster 1: Garlic
Garlic is a powerful aid to the immune system. It is also an antimicrobial, repels parasites and is said to deter intestinal worms all while stimulating the immune system.
You can add 4 cloves of crushed garlic to a gallon of drinking water. If your birds aren’t used to garlic, make sure they are drinking enough water – add another drinker of ordinary water if needed.
Do not use garlic in a metal drinker – garlic will corrode it.
You should change out the cloves every 2-3 days and replace with fresh cloves. You can also use fresh garlic powder if you have it on hand. As with most things too much can be a bad thing – garlic can cause Heinz anemia which causes weakness in chickens.
Immune Booster 2: Herbs
There are many herbs that are recommended to aid in chickens health and digestion. In fact, some commercial chicken concerns have started adding oregano and cinnamon oil to their birds’ diet.
- Oregano – is the clear favorite for a healthful boost. It is said to boost the immune system and helps to guard against certain infections such as salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian influenza and E. coli.
- Cinnamon – is a great all-rounder. It has antibacterial properties, reduces inflammation and is an antioxidant.
- Turmeric – has great antibiotic and anti-infective benefits.
- Ginger – is another anti-infective, anti-viral herb that boosts the immune system.
- Parsley – rich in vitamins A, B, C, E and K plus numerous trace elements, it is said to stimulate egg laying.
The list can be extensive but these herbs above are the most popular.
Although chickens don’t have a great sense of smell, they do possess one. So sprinkling fresh herbs such as lavender in the coop and especially the nest boxes might put them in a calm and happy frame of mind.
Immune Booster 3: Fruit
There are many fruits that are healthy for your chicken: melons, watermelons, grapes, bananas and berries being the most frequently offered.
Citrus fruit is one of those items that the jury hasn’t decided on. Many folks say their flock loves citrus (not lemons) and yet others will tell you it’s bad for them but no details on what happens if they eat it.
Here are some of the fruits you can feed your chickens to boost their immune system:
- Bananas – contain vitamins B6 and B12, plus magnesium, potassium, fiber and protein. If like me you don’t like eating bruised bananas, the girls will help you out!
- Blueberries – Berries too are packed full of healthful nutrients. Vitamins and trace elements such as selenium and phosphorus abound. They aid in digestion and contain antioxidants. I love to watch the girls race after frozen blueberries…it gives them exercise too.
- Strawberries – another superfood for your ladies. Full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and is a powerful immune booster, plus the girls truly love them!
- Raspberries, blackberries – all are enjoyed by the hens. If you have a bramble patch you will find a few intrepid hens in there eating all the berries they can find.
Make sure to also read what not to feed your chickens.
Immune Booster 4: Greens
Fresh green veggies pack loads of vitamins and goodness. As an example – kale contains vitamins A, C, K, B6 plus calcium, potassium, copper and manganese.
Your hens will enjoy some fresh greens as a treat and it doesn’t have to be the ‘regular’ expensive supermarket greens; think dandelions, chickweed, and plantain.
Turn the ladies out to free range and they will head straight for the grass and peck away contentedly.
- Dandelions – contain vitamins A, B, C, E and K and numerous trace elements such as calcium and manganese. It is said to aid digestion; it is an antioxidant and also an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, not too bad for a common weed!
- Plantain – another firm favorite with healthful benefits. It contains vitamins and minerals and the seeds are said to be a natural wormer and detoxifier.
You can also make a healing salve from plantain – there are several recipes out there on the web. Other common weeds that are beneficial to your ladies are clover, chickweed and wild strawberries. Of course, this is just a small sampling of the goodness available for free, right under their beaks!
Immune Booster 5: Tonics
The easiest and cheapest ‘tonic’ for your chickens is apple cider vinegar.
It is great for the digestion and increases calcium absorption especially in the summer months – it is also mildly antiseptic. The recommended dose is 1 tablespoon/1 gallon water. Do not use in metal containers, it will cause them to corrode as it is acidic.
There are also numerous commercial ‘tonics’ and supplements out there too that are beneficial to your flock.
Immune Booster 6: Seeds and Grains
Fermented feed for your ladies is an excellent way to boost their nutrition in the gloomy winter months.
Feed that has been fermented is higher in vitamins B, C and K, contains probiotics which help digestion and increases the availability of the nutrients that were locked inside the grain.
This method of feeding decreases feed consumption and waste all while boosting the immune system!
Another quick and healthful idea for your birds is sprouted seeds. Seeds are very cleverly made. They keep many of the nutrients locked inside and when eaten do not give them up. To unlock the seeds inner goodness, you can soak the seeds in water until they start to sprout – they are then ready for the girls to eat.
If you take that one step further and let the seeds grow, you have fodder for your girls.
Cracked corn is a sure fire crowd pleaser! Give this to the girls in the evening before bedtime otherwise they will fill up on this instead of the more nutritious feed. This will keep their digestive tract busy through the night hours.
Immune Booster 7: Eggs & Dairy
Eggs! They are good for you and they are good for the chickens too! As a treat on cold days, mix them up some scrambled eggs – you can add your dried herbs to the mix too.
Chickens do not process milk products well at all, but you can give small amounts of yoghurt to them added to perhaps some oatmeal or feed mash on an especially cold day. My favorite mash is warm oatmeal with some added birdseed, oregano and 2-3 large dollops of yoghurt. Mix it all together and stand well back before they start flinging oatmeal everywhere!
Don’t forget to give them the eggshells too. Bake the shells in the oven on a low heat for about an hour and make sure the shells are crushed down into teeny, tiny pieces so they aren’t recognizable as eggshells – you don’t want them eating their own fresh eggs!
Giving them back the eggshells helps them to get more calcium into their bodies ready for the laying season.
Do we spoil our hens? Absolutely! They know they are spoiled but pay us back with lots of wonderful eggs and perhaps some chicks too.
They can’t do this without a healthy immune system, so it is important to supplement their usual feed and water through the winter months.
Even if you only add a tonic mix to the water you are helping them to remain healthy through the worst time of the year. Ensuring that your hens are in great shape physically and mentally is extremely important if you want them to perform the daily miracle of an egg.
A fully functioning and robust immune system will help them stay healthy and happy – so keep on spoiling them.
Let us know your favorite immune boosting trick in the comments section below…