Herbs for Hens: When, Where & Why

July 10, 2018


Almost since the beginning of my chicken keeping journey, I've been incorporating herbs into my routine. I've read countless articles and scientific journals on the subject and spent even more hours just watching my chickens. 

Watching what they eat, what they don't, where they choose to take their dust baths. And I quickly became convinced that making a wide variety of herbs available to my chickens is what keeps them so healthy. 

In fact, my first book Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Hens Naturally was written based on that premise.



As a result of my own personal experience and observations, coupled with my research about the benefits of the different types of herbs, I tend to use specific herbs in the various aspects of my chicken keeping. Some I add to their feed, some to their dust bath area, others in the nesting boxes or planted around the coop.  

I prefer fresh over dried (but do dry herbs each fall to use through the winter), and stick with the culinary herbs which are all perfectly safe and edible for us and for our chickens.


It's not a science by any means, there are no steadfast "rules" about which you should add to the feed, or which you should toss into your nesting boxes, but since I'm asked all the time which herbs I use where, I thought I would jot down a quick guide for you to refer to. 

That's not to say that you can't use them in a completely different way. And you'll actually notice that I use some herbs in a few different ways. 

Each and every culinary herb has some kind of benefit for your chickens, and my guess is that they know what to do with each and every one. So as long as you offer them, your girls will handle the rest! 

Herbs for Hens: The When, Where and Why



Herbs in the Feed and Water

Vitamin- and nutrient-rich herbs

I normally add these herbs dried to my chicken feed, but will toss them fresh into our duck's water and notice the chickens will fish them out of the water and eat them as well. 

These are the herbs that you will likely notice your chickens nibbling on during free range time if they have access to your herb garden. They're some of the most nutritious plants in your herb garden. 

I try to offer my chickens a variety of fresh herbs free-choice each day during the growing season and then a dried herb mixture in their feed on a weekly basis through the off season.

basil - calendula - cilantro - dill - marjoram - nasturtium 
 oregano - parsley - sage - tarragon


Herbs for the Molt

Protein and nutrient-rich herbs

In the fall when your chickens start molting, dropping their old feathers and growing in new ones, they can benefit from a bit more protein. 

There are some herbs that are great sources of protein that I like to be sure to offer to my poor molting hens.
basil - dill - marjoram - mint - oregano - parsley - tarragon 


Herbs for First Aid

Antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-toxic herbs

Some herbs have special powers! They are known for their superb first aid properties and would be the ones I would offer to a chicken that seemed a bit "off" or didn't seem to be feeling well. 

Again, fresh free-choice would be my choice to let the ailing hen choose how much of what she felt she needed in order to heal herself.

bee balm - calendula - dandelion - Echinacea - oregano 
roses - sage - tarragon - thyme - violets - yarrow



Herbs for the Littles

Nutritious herbs for young, growing bodies

I introduce my baby chicks to herbs right from hatch. That not only gets them used to the taste, but also provides all kinds of benefits so they grow up healthy. 

If you don't think herbs are good for baby chicks, you haven't heard a broody hen's cluck grow in excitement when she's presented a dish of fresh chopped herbs for her and her brood. 

basil - calendula - cilantro - dandelion - dill - marjoram - mint
oregano - parsley - sage - tarragon - thyme


Herbs for the Nesting Boxes

Aromatic, calming, insect-repelling herbs

Nesting box herbs are more than just pretty, they can also help to calm and relax laying and sitting hens.  My chickens often lay their eggs in my herbs when they're out free ranging, and wild birds will line their nests with herbs, flowers and other wild plants for their benefits to the baby birds. 

And it's thought that in the wild, birds lay their eggs in aromatic plants to help disguise their scent from predators.

I choose herbs that smell nice and have calming properties for my nesting areas. As an added bonus, your sitting hens can snack on the herbs if they want to! 

And since most insects don't like strong herbal scents, they might think twice before moving in!
 
bee balm - calendula - cat mint - chamomile - lavender - lemon balm
lemon grass - mint - nasturtium - pineapple sage - rose petals



Herbs for the Dust Bath

Insect-repelling herbs

For years I've watched my chickens take their dust baths in the garden.  I've watched closely which herb patches they seem to favor. 
Turns out, they go for those herbs that are helpful in repelling insects, mites in particular. 

So to help them out, I like to plant some of these herbs right in and around their dust bath area. I also toss them fresh into their dust bath in the run so my girls can rub against the herbs while they're bathing.

dill - chamomile - lavender - mint - rosemary - thyme - yarrow




Herbs for the Coop

Insect-, fly- and rodent-repelling herbs

Keeping your coop and run free of flies, bugs and rodents is important. Obviously using traps or chemicals isn't a good idea, so instead I rely on some herbs purported to keep pests at bay. 
Some swear by mint for keeping mice out, others say it doesn't work, but either way, it smells nice, looks pretty and is super easy to grow around the perimeter of your coop and run, in window boxes, or simply set on the windowsills of your coop or tied into bunches and hung in the windows.
basil - bee balm - calendula - lavender - lemon balm - mint - rosemary - thyme



So that's generally how I use the herbs in my herb garden in my chicken keeping. But as I mentioned at the start, there's no right or wrong way to do it. 

Go ahead and toss some basil into your nesting area or rosemary into your chickens' feed. I'm sure your girls won't mind!

I hope you'll be inspired to plant an herb garden, not only for yourself but for your chickens too! My book Gardening with Chickens includes some fun garden plans for you and your hens! Check it out!

For more information about the specific benefits of each individual herb, I've put together this handy chart for you.

Health Benefits of the Common Culinary Herbs





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