I thought I would give an update on our recent additions. Our chickens are growing fast and will be coming up on a milestone; they will be 8 weeks old next week. This is a big change for backyard chickens; they are no longer little puffs of fuzz, but feathered pre-teens. We have been growing and changing along with them and establishing a nurturing, natural environment and routine for them to thrive in. We finally named our little cohort with names from American Horror Story: Coven…our prima donna easter egger is named Fiona, Our barred rock is named Marie, and our two buff orpingtons are named Delphine and Myrtle.
Food: When the chickens were born, they were born on a completely organic farm which chooses not to vaccinate for Coccidiosis. This disease is the most common cause of death in baby chicks. Coccidiosis (aka: cocci) is a common intestinal disease, caused by several species of parasites that thrive in warm, wet conditions such as a brooder and is transmitted in droppings. Since the chicks were going to be in a brooder for 5-6 weeks, I chose to put them on medicated starter feed to prevent this illness. At 7-8 weeks, chicks usually transition to a commercial grower feed. I am migrating them to an organic chick starter/grower that they will be on for the next 8 weeks until they are adult chickens and at point of lay. They will also graduate to their adult feeder. I feel confident in the organic practices we have learned and the herbal supplements that they receive daily will keep them pest and disease free.
I began adding powdered garlic to their feed a couple of weeks ago and have recently begun floating cloves of garlic in water for them to peck at and to supplement their water. The garlic helps repel fleas, ticks and other parasites, controls the odor of the manure and is a natural wormer. It has overall health benefits, resulting in a higher white blood cell count and supporting respiratory health and the immune system. Adding garlic to their diet will result in a better feed conversion ratio (the measure of an animal’s efficiency in converting feed mass into increased body mass).
Every morning before I go out to the coop to refresh their water and check their feeder, I take a trip through the garden, snipping herbs and greens to give them to bolster their health. Their typical morning “salad” consists of varying combinations of the following:
- Oregano. Oregano as a natural wormer and antibiotic. Adding oregano to their diet helps guard against parasites, E. coli, Salmonella, coccidia and other bacteria in our chickens.
- Dill: This also supports respiratory health, chickens are prone to breathing problems which can be exacerbated by unsanitary conditions so along with keeping their coop and run clean, adding dill to their diets helps build a strong respiratory system.
- There are a number of other herbs and flowers that I add that support good digestive and general health in chickens, they include; Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Balm, Other Mint, Rosemary, Basil, Monarda (Bee Balm), Calendula (Pot Marigold)
- For extra greens, I include Varietal Lettuce, Peas and Pea Shoots (which will change as the seasons go on).
I will be drying many of these herbs during the season so I have a store to add to their feed during the winter months.
Water: Access to fresh, clean healthful water is essential for a chicken’s life. Contaminated, overheated water will cause a chicken to stop drinking and aside from interrupting the laying cycle when they are old enough, it can cause a host of other health issues such as intestinal parasites, overheating, etc. From their first days in the brooder, we check and change the water twice a day in their chick sized waterer. Since the moved to the coop, we have also given supplemental water with watermelon or raspberries or garlic and sometimes an ice cube on the hottest days.
We have also added a small amount of apple cider vinegar to the water a couple of times a week. Adding natural apple cider vinegar (organic, with the “mother”) is a way to make the water even more beneficial to chickens. Among its many benefits, it balances the water’s pH, thereby creating an environment that is inhospitable to microbes and bacteria. Studies have shown that the vinegar actually makes the water more palatable to hens and can also be used to encourage a sick or injured hen to drink more.
We will also be graduating to a new watering system over the next week. I purchased the Britetap Chicken waterer and a 2 gallon rubbermade beverage cooler to provide a larger volume of water that will remain cool and sanitary for the chickens. They will learn to peck the nipples for water over time so we will keep both water sources in the run for a period of time.
More updates on the chickens to come, but in the meantime happy gardening…and chicken keeping!