Herbs are awesome to have on the homestead, They make food taste better and also give us natural medicines that can be used to prevent and alleviate certain conditions.
Most of us grow plenty of herbs on the homestead, but far too few of us are putting these herbs to work to ensure our flock of chickens stays happy and healthy.
So, we’ve put together a list of the best herbs to feed your chickens. For those who are eager to feed everything to the hens, we’ve also included 7 herbs that should be avoided as well!
Browse online and you’ll see lists with 25+ herbs that can be fed to your flock to supposedly boost their health. But, there are two things to consider:
- Many herbs haven’t been studied for use in chickens, and the known effects that herbs have on humans don’t automatically transfer to your flock as well.
- Plenty of herbs have the same beneficial effects. Combining them won’t necessarily mean better results. Keeping things simple with 1-2 types of herbs for each purpose is plenty. You don’t want to waste all of your garden space on chicken herbs after all!
12 Herbs to Feed Your Chicks
All of the herbs in the list below are easy to grow on your homestead, and can be given to your flock regularly.
Mint grows readily in most areas, and can spread far beyond where you initially planted it. While not a nutritional powerhouse as other herbs on this list, it does have the innate ability to lower body temperatures when consumed.
This is particularly useful during hot periods where your flock may suffer. You can infuse the waterer with mint to ensure each chicken gets its fair share.
Meat breeds are particularly sensitive to hot temperatures, so if you plan on raising a batch of Cornish Cross during the summer, mint in their waterer every day could be a literal life-saver!
This wonderful herb is essentially a multi-vitamin. It is rich in:
- Vitamins A, B, C, E, & K
On top of that, parsley promotes healthy blood vessel development, and stimulates egg-laying. This is an herb that can be fed free-choice year-round to ensure that your flock is as healthy as can be.
If there was only one herb you could give your chickens, it’d probably be parsley.
Oregano is almost like medicine for your chickens. It is being studied as a potential natural anti-biotic for commercial flocks. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also rich in nutrients and antioxidants.
Oregano is also known to boost feed intake and growth rate in meat birds, which improves your bottom line on the homestead. That increased food intake and growth rate also amounts to better body condition in the meat carcasses.
An immunity booster that can ward off common chicken illnesses, like salmonella and e-coli is a welcome herb for any chicken owner!
Yet another herb that can combat the chances of salmonella, and other common chicken diseases, Sage is also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is also known to be anti-parasitic and promote egg-laying.
Sage can easily grow too large for your need, so throwing the extra Sage to the chickens each time the plant is cut back is a simple way to ensure your flock gets an ample supply of sage.
This herb was up in the air when I began writing this article. Like lavender (as discussed later), it is touted as a healthy addition for all chickens. After all, it helps improve digestion and offers higher protein levels than many other plants. Homesteaders have been using comfrey for their chickens for decades.
However, comfrey has shown the potential to cause liver damage. It’s rich in vitamins and protein while being low in fiber, which makes it an obvious choice for feeding the flock. But, the liver worries aren’t to be taken lightly. This herb should only bed fed sparingly if you desire a healthy flock that lives for a while!
This common flower can be added to your own salads or thrown to the chickens for a treat that they’ll gobble up. They are a great color aid for egg yolks, beaks, and feet. The rich orange color boost that calendula provides is almost enough to warrant feeding it alone.
Yet, it is also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and a potent antioxidant. The chickens love the flavor and will deliver healthier, deeper-colored eggs in return. Marigolds are typically added to layer feeds, but nothing beats the effects of the fresh-cut flowers.
Thyme has the potential to be another natural antibiotic. It’s antibacterial, and also boosts respiratory health in your flock. Thyme, along with basil, is the best herb for supporting healthy mucus membranes in your chickens as well.
Don’t be afraid to throw any extra thyme you have into the nesting boxes and coop since it is a high-quality insect repellant.
Fennel is one of the best ways to ensure your hens’ reproductive systems stay healthy and productive. Fennel is a potent laying stimulator as well.
It’s also beneficial during hot weather to combat the effects of heat stress. In combination with mint, fennel should turn those grueling summer days into productive days where the meat birds can grow at their optimal rates, and your laying hens keep delivering high-quality eggs on schedule.
Basil is an immunity booster for your flock. It is particularly rich in Vitamin K and Iron. Chickens are particularly susceptible to respiratory issues, especially if the chicken run and coop aren’t large enough and/or aren’t cleaned often.
Luckily, basil is another herb that is protective towards the respiratory tract. Basil is easy to grow and chickens tend to eat it up, ensuring you have plenty of medicine that the flock with love!
While some may worry that the intense flavor of garlic will find its way into the eggs and meat, feeding it less than other herbs will ensure this doesn’t happen.
Garlic can control internal parasites, stimulate egg-laying, bolster the immune system, reduce the odors of manure, and boost growth in underdeveloped chickens.
Simply put, garlic is a wonder for chickens! It’s one herb that can be used from day one with baby chicks and throughout their entire life!
✅ Bee Balm
Bee Balm boosts respiratory and digestive health. It’s also antiseptic and antibacterial, making it an easy choice to keep around. The herb is also calming, making it a good addition to nesting boxes if you have extra that the chickens didn’t finish off.
This herb is a potent laying stimulant. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, and helps your chickens detox. Staphylococcus and e-coli are particularly susceptible to the beneficial effects of marjoram.
7 Herbs That Your Flock Shouldn’t Have
Just like many plants are poisonous or toxic to humans, hundreds can be harmful to chickens. However, there are a few herbs that I thought deserved a specific mention since they tend to be more common and seem harmless from the outside for your chickens.
I’m going to get this started with the herb that is almost unanimously touted as a healthy herb for chickens. However, I am here to stop this recommendation.
Lavender is quite high in phytoestrogen compounds. These compounds behave like estrogen in the body when consumed.
So, why does this matter for your chickens? Lavender affects our endocrine system, so why would we worry about the chickens eating lavender?
Long story short, endocrine disruptors pass into the eggs and meat of your flock! Too much lavender can easily knock your hormone balance out of whack, so the simple fix of not feeding your chickens (or yourself) lavender is a clear-cut recommendation.
Why do you think there are corn and soy-free feeds on the market for layers and meat birds? Corn is typically full of mycotoxins and Soy is full of phytoestrogens, both potent endocrine disruptors!
❌ Aloe Vera
It’s true, Aloe Vera can be a good aid in boosting the growth rate in meat birds. However, it tends to be easy to overdo and leads to digestive pains and diarrhea in the birds. Other herbs are useful to boost growth rates without negative side effects.
If you are hard-pressed to maximize the growth rate of your broilers, use Aloe Vera after you have exhausted all other herbal options for the sake of the birds’ digestion.
Eucalyptus can contain Aspergillosis, a harmful fungus causing a myriad of issues, up to death.
Yes, by the way, I know this isn’t technically an herb, it’s a tree. However, the natural uses for Eucalyptus will lead people to think that it is useful for their flock as well.
The simple solution is to just steer clear and use more proven herbs for your chickens if you want to keep them healthy and far from harmful fungi.
All parts of the foxglove plant are toxic, and can lead to heart failure. There is no excuse to give your flock access to this herb. Avoid it, and remove it from any areas the chickens rummage through.
This herb has quite a scary name! How could one think that something named Henbane could be the bane of hens?! All jokes aside, this plant can cause heart issues, coma, and death.
While named henbane, it’s also toxic to humans. It’s best to avoid this whenever possible.
This herb is actually a member of the Mint family. However, this variety is toxic to chickens, and can lead to death. It tends to cause liver failure in the flock.
The majority of the rest of the mint family is perfectly healthy for your chickens interestingly enough.
Although not considered an herb, the flowers and plant material from the Nightshade family should be avoided. The alkaloids cause appetite loss, weak heart rate, and trouble breathing and can severely damage a chicken’s health.
Obviously, chickens love tomatoes, so one might be curious if they would love the whole plant after it has been exhausted.
Don’t be fooled! The nightshade family of plants is toxic to chickens, and only a few of the fruits should even be considered for your flock.
When and How To Feed Your Herbs To The Chickens
Free choice is the preferred way to feed herbs to your chickens, Just like fresh greens, the chickens will pick and choose what they want and like and eat as much as they need. They tend to avoid overgrazing a specific herb if they’ve had enough.
You can mix and match feeding these herbs to your flock as you choose. The chickens will pick through and get what they want while leaving the rest for later.
If you don’t want to cut fresh herbs and give them to the flock right away, you can also dry them and mix them in their feed. Herbs may lose medicinal qualities when dried, although this isn’t automatically true. As always, fresh is better!
Don’t worry if you throw too many herbs in the chicken run, as they tend to ward off pests and other animals with their strong scents. Win-win!
Herbs should be a staple in the diet of your homestead chickens. Commercial food rations are sure to contain the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that your flock needs to thrive.
The herbs are like the cherry on top to make things as optimal as possible. Stick with these 12 herbs to boost the health of your chickens and ensure you stay away from the 7 I “banned” (even the lavender!).
Milo Martinovich was born and raised in a small town in Northern California. Throughout his life, he has been involved in agriculture and now lives on a 7-acre homestead raising livestock and growing food for his family. Self-sufficiency is his ultimate goal.