The health and happiness of our little flock is top priority to us. I think our girls live a near perfect free-range life in the allotment garden – they’re free to come and go from their coop whenever they like, there are lots of different herbs growing in the run for them to peck at, there’s lots of space, lots of greenery and big bushes that offer protection from the sun, wind and rain. If I could speak chicken, I think they’d tell me that they’re very happy….and happy hens lay happy eggs.
Happy hens are healthier too. In our experience there are a few simple things that can make a big difference to your hens health – fresh water, fresh food and a spot of ‘dust bathing’!
Fresh Water An obvious one really. They need fresh water every day to keep them in tip top health. We add a mixture of cider vinegar and herbs to ours for maximum health – you can buy a great ready-made mixture here.
You can get lots of lovely looking rustic drinkers, but make sure you don’t add vinegar to the galvanised metal ones as it corrodes the metal and isn’t good for the hens health. I don’t often recommend plastic, but in this case it’s fine and I’m on the look out for a ceramic drinker as we speak! We’ve also rigged up a gutter system on the chicken shelter that directs rainwater into a big trug, so there’s always plenty to drink in the chicken run, whatever the weather!
Fresh food These days most chickens are fed layers pellets. This is fine, as pellets offer a balanced meal, but it’s a bit boring for your girls and not ideal for long-term chicken health and happiness. You can supplement their diet with kitchen scraps which is great, but nature really intended them to eat foraged goodies.
In the wild, chickens will peck at all sorts of bugs, herbs, berries, roots, nuts, seeds and grains, which are all really good for their health. Our girls go crazy over a handful of hawthorn berries or rose hips in the autumn, both of which are super high in vitamin C and provide some much needed natural heat and energy in their diet. Beech, acorn and sweet chestnuts are also excellent autumn goodies.
Ever wondered why chickweed and fat-hen have poultry related names…. chickens instinctively know what’s good for them and adore both of these digestive herbs. They also love sticky weed (goosegrass), clover, dandelions and vetch, the latter being massively high in protein which encourages good egg laying.
Every once in a while we make a big green ‘mash’ for our hens which is another great way to provide loads of natural vitamins and minerals and a massive boost to their health. I’ll write a separate post about our ‘chicken mash’ recipe very soon with pictures of all the herbs, berries and grains that we gather and include.
We’re lucky that these plants, trees and bushes grow in abundance in the meadows and hedgerows around our home – it’s such fun collecting free and wild food for our chickens whilst out foraging with the children. Many of these plants are also found in towns and urban parks, so a certain amount of foraging should be possible wherever you live!
Other important additions to a chickens diet are calcium and diatomaceous earth. They need access to calcium-rich shell ‘grit’ to make hard, strong egg shells and to avoid any issues with their egg-laying ‘machinery’. This can be bought from most animal feed stores – just ask for chicken grit or you can make your own ‘grit’ using dried egg shells. Diatomaceous earth is a natural parasite control and another fantastic addition to their food. Worms, mites and lice hate it. I love it.
Dust bathing This is so important for the hens overall health and happiness. Dust bathing is a natural instinct that keeps them healthy because the dust suffocates those pesky mites…and the chickens really seem to have fun doing it! They’ll flap around scratching up the soil and flinging it all over themselves, making a mess and having a great time in the process.
Good old diatomaceous earth can be added to their favourite bathing spots, as well as wood ash, the wood ash being especially appreciated (and available!) in the winter months when the ground is damp. We built a chicken shelter next to their coop to protect the girls from the worst of the winter weather, providing a dry place for dust bathing just about all year round. Happy hens. Happy eggs.
Thank you chickens.