Topic of the Week - Organic/Natural Chicken Keeping

sumi

Égalité
Staff member
Premium member
8 Years
Jun 28, 2011
39,105
23,913
1,252
Tipperary, Ireland
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Pic by @Eggcessive
Many poultry keepers strive to raise their flocks as natural and organic as possible, avoiding chemicals in favour of more natural alternatives and feeding organic feeds when possible.

This week I would like to hear about your more natural practices when it comes to feeding, treating and generally taking care of your flocks.

- Do you feed organic feed (and where do you purchase it)?
- What do you use to help prevent and treat parasites naturally?


For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/topic-of-the-week-thread-archive
 

Abriana

Spicy Sugar Cookie
Apr 26, 2017
4,690
48,019
1,127
Midgard
I use Hilands Naturals feed, which is organic, and I buy it at a small, family owned farm store called Dawson Gap.
I haven't ever had a problem with internal parasites, but I once thought I did, and I used DE in their feed. You can also sprinkle it through their feathers for external parasites and ticks, and sprinkle it through their bedding for mites.
 

lazy gardener

Crossing the Road
7 Years
Nov 7, 2012
27,610
26,708
907
CENTRAL MAINE zone 4B
- Do you feed organic feed (and where do you purchase it)? No, I do not. I buy what ever feed is cheapest, and ferment it. I see to it that my feed is used within 6 weeks of mill date, as older feed quickly looses it's nutrients.

Augmentation to FF: occasional scratch, sprouted grains and seeds during the winter months, DL compost in the run. Flock even has access during my 6 months of frozen ground due to a sun room. Free range including weedy areas, woods, Back to Eden style orchard, and gleanings from my garden after the harvest/before planting. My yard is planted with a variety of plants and fruits that will eventually produce an abundance for humans, chickens and wild life as well.

- What do you use to help prevent and treat parasites naturally?
Deep litter in the coop. I also use dried herbs in the nest boxes occasionally: Creeping charlie, mint, oregano, citronella, lemon balm. I believe that keeping DL in coop and run are very helpful at preventing internal and external parasites. The DL encourages beneficial organisms that keep the pathogens in check. Also, FF may play a significant role in preventing internal parasites due to the acidification of the ferment and the gut.
 

Patinas

Songster
Mar 22, 2017
456
496
157
Washington
1. Do you feed organic feed (and where do you purchase it)?
I would like to feed organic but the price in my area is prohibitive. It is twice the price of regular feed in almost all cases. It is also 15 lbs less of feed for the high price vs. regular. If I can find a reasonable source of organic feed I would definitely switch over since egg customers often ask if I feed organic. I could go organic and ask more for the eggs but then people balk at the price when I tell them what I'd have to charge for a dozen eggs. I do feed organic as much as possible for all other treats including organic scratch which is also higher priced but I feed it sparingly so a bag lasts a long time.

My flock free ranges part of the day so they get a natural source of grass, weeds, bugs, etc. I also feed them veggies from my organic garden.

2. What do you use to help prevent and treat parasites naturally?
I recently posted on BYC asking people what, if anything, they do for natural worm prevention. I only heard from people saying they don't do anything to their flock for worm prevention so it will be interesting to see more answers here.

For Mites: I treat roosts and ladders with boiled linseed oil. I have read that it prevents mites from hanging out in the wood during the day. Not suggesting it is a solution to preventing mites completely, it's just supposed to help.

Other External: I mix DE in their favorite dusting areas.

Internal: I make a mash of various ingredients which may include: oatmeal, shredded carrot, crushed raw pumpkin seeds, chopped cucumber, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, dandelion greens, DE, yogurt and molasses. The chickens love it but I have no idea if it's actually working although my flock does not have any obvious signs of worms.
 

GldnValleyHens

Crowing
Apr 21, 2017
978
2,110
262
Illinois
Our chickens (and ducks) get a organic, corn-free food called scratch and peck, with flax seed and sea kelp. They get treats that are healthy, no junk food or GMO stuff allowed. They are free-range too, and get a bucket or Japanese beetles daily from our traps. They got frogs fresh from the pond yesterday, yum!
 

The Angry Hen

Crossing the Road
Dec 17, 2016
3,719
14,543
882
Maine
My Coop
My Coop
Hello Everybody,

Wonderful idea of a topic. I use everything all natural, as best as I can try. I bake for my chickens too... And use leftovers or whatever I can find to save money.

- Do you feed organic feed (and where do you purchase it)?
I do not feed organic feed, although, I would love to. The feed (that's organic) where I live is a fortune. A bit too much money for the amount of runs I make to the feed store.

But then again, I might give it a try. After all, eating their eggs... Money might not be as much of a worry. More of a worry what's going in your body.

- What do you use to help prevent and treat parasites naturally?
Preferably herbs and homemade remedies. Parsley helped cut back mites on a baby chick. Many herbs and recipes I look forward to trying!

Have a lovely day!

Sincerely,
-The Angry Hen
 

Lady of McCamley

Crowing
8 Years
Mar 19, 2011
6,999
4,649
462
NW Oregon
I really like the idea of natural and "organic" (I was a health food nut before it was popular), but I also know that "organic" doesn't necessarily mean as chemical free as you think, especially commercially sold products marked "organic." (My SIL is an organic farmer).

I also understand the concept of pathogens and their life cycle in the chicken. (My daughter, who married that organic farmer, is a Vet Tech, and we used my flock for her studies).

So with that in mind, here are my personal opinions (sorry for the long post, but this is a topic near to my heart):

1. Do I use organic feed?
No, I do not use organic feed. It is exorbitant in price where I live, and understanding the politics behind it, I don't think I'm necessarily getting a better product with anything I can purchase off the shelf. (Trust me folks. There is a lot of "hype" in most products on the commercial organic market.)

I feed a good to reasonable quality of feed. I've played with the idea @lazy gardener with fermenting as that would increase healthy gut probiotics. (I just haven't had the time to build that into my regiment).

That is the one thing you can do naturally to help your chickens...keep a healthy gut environment. To do that, probiotics, prebiotics, no antibiotics (which means culling...killing...any truly sick birds). I have pre and pro in my feed choice. I also use apple cider vinegar, raw with mother, in the water as that acidifies the gut as well as the "mother" feeds the probiotics.

The first line of defense in a chicken's immune system is a healthy gut. That leads us to the second question,

2. What do you use to help prevent and treat parasites naturally?

My daughter, SIL, and I have actually had long conversations about this with similar conclusions.

If you really want to "naturally" prevent parasites, keep strong stock that are naturally resilient, healthy guts, and rotate field. That means not over burdening your field or coop area with flock. Parasites build up in crowded or over used conditions. Also keep wild life away (as much as possible) from your flock as they carry in parasites.

However, since so many of us have limited acreage and ability to field rotate, then it means doing the next best thing. Rotating out litter. I too deep litter in the runs (pulling material out of the coop to drop into the runs). I use pine shavings that go onto my natural clay soil that makes for very nice compost with that chicken manure. The girls do the turning in the run with their natural scratching. Twice a year my husband, or better, my gardening friends, take scoop fulls for their gardens. Generally we don't have to scoop at all as our gardening friends run to us with buckets and shovels when we say we've got litter compost.

After that, I really, really tried to use simple organics, but unless you can field rotate regularly, the parasites eventually build up as organics may flush the worms from the bird, but it does not kill the worms. They live in the soil.

Some natural wormers I've used:

1. Verm-X, which is a bit mysterious with their ingredients, but if you dig deep enough in the website, you will find it relies heavily on things you can purchase yourself....garlic, pumpkin seed, cayenne, slippery elm...which have been show to help flush worms from the gut. Verm-X is easy to use being a pellet added to feed, but expensive. And you still have a build up in the soil of live worms/eggs. I can find no real research to show if it works, just colloquially recommendations, mostly from the manufacturer's website. Generally, no one believes it actually kills worms, but the chickens look pretty, and from my understanding, it is helping boost the immune system and flush worms. Without any real evidence of its effectiveness, combined with its expense, I dug into its ingredients and sought answers elsewhere.

2. Molly's Herbal Wormer. This actually has a known de-wormer in it....wormwood. Molly's offers at least 1 small, private, test comparison (in goats) that did show Molly's Wormer was effective in removing worms. It also can be used for chickens. (The last time I checked Molly's forum, there was no test proof of its effectiveness in chickens). It is an herbal powder that you add to some sort of feed 3 days every 6 weeks or so. You have to be careful not to overfeed as wormwood is toxic in too high of concentration. I really like the idea of Molly's, it is reasonably priced, but alas, my hens didn't seem to prefer the taste of it. (Probably from the bitter wormwood). I will continue to try to bury the flavor in different style of mashes and such to see if they will eat it (when I have time again). It is not convenient as you have to put the powder into something for them to eat vs. Verm-x which as a pelleted food additive is much easier to administer, but does not contain wormwood (at least I couldn't find any evidence of that on the Verm-X site).

Both Verm-X and Molly's have little portion control per bird, which is a disadvantage. The greedy gals will get to it first. If you want all birds to eat evenly, you may have to intervene with separate food stations or treat bites. (But THAT is a hassle). Or, they don't like it and it becomes pointless expense.

3. I've created my own home brew of ground pumpkin seed, garlic, and cayenne to help flush. Much cheaper, and the birds seem to eat it. Doesn't kill worms, only holds it at bay for awhile. I've added Molly's to that, which again made them less likely to eat it. Back to tinkering with my own formula to get them to eat it. My problem is I keep forgetting to give it 3 days every 6 weeks. (I know, just keep a schedule right? Uh huh, easier said than done).

4. I've been researching Copper Sulfate which is added to the water (non-metal containers). It is used to prevent water slime in water systems for poultry. Several on BYC (along with internet research on other forums) have recommended it for helping to rid internal parasites in chickens. I have not been able to find any valid research or testing to show it is good for that. The only information I've gathered thus far is colloquial. Copper Sulfate is a bit nasty to handle (use plastic gloves), and you have to be careful not to give too much. You can purchase it fairly reasonably (Murray McMurray carries it for poultry). Be sure you get the pure Copper Sulfate rather than fungicide for plants if you buy elsewhere as that can have other additives. I may try Copper Sulfate next. It has been traditionally allowed in organic farming (but I believe it is about to be sunsetted). It has not been approved for this purpose for poultry.

5. I'm hearing a lot about oregano for internal poultry health. Some of the reformulations from Rooster Booster and Durvet (their Strike III) now includes oregano listed in ingredients. (Both used to have hygromycin B, which has been banned now for chickens as it is an antibiotic form, though weak). Both are feed additive. Both are over priced for what you get, imho.

Oregano has shown promise, but alas, trying to get enough of the actual therapeutic ingredient in the purchased commercial products is dicey. As is with most herbs, you have to give a lot over a long period of pure ingredient to have any effect. Good herbals are hard to find as there are no regulations on herbals for potency and strength. Together with a lot of motivation by companies to make claims and list ingredients without actual benefit causes herbals to be have more price than actual effect.

As to external parasites....

1. Keep a clean coop (goes without saying, but thought I should say it). Lice and mites which live on the bird still hang around in loose feathers. Roost mites live in the coop.

2. Herbals. I personally have not tried herbal sprigs in the roosts as I haven't had much faith in them. Do be careful with herbs that have strong odors and oils as that can harm the lungs of chickens. Thyme should not be used in the coops as there are studies that show it is toxic to chickens. Ditto with tea tree oil.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mve.12033/full

I have sprayed the roosts with orange oil (Orange Guard) which did seem to help for awhile, then I got a bad case of Northern Fowl Mite (our whole area had a proliferation of them). All the herbals did nothing to stem it. I resorted to Ivermectin cattle pour on applied topically (which did help).

I regularly keep a kiddie pool filled with dirt and sand and wood ash from our fireplace. That is the first line of defense, but as I see any evidence, I then add either Sevin (which technically is no longer allowed for poultry) or Poultry Dust (permethrin).

That helps hold it at bay, but if weather patterns are sufficient, and there is an outbreak, I am back to permethrin dust (of individual birds...a pain) or Ivermectin (which I try to avoid as it is not FDA approved for layers). I will be going to Gordon's spray for my next seasonal preventive round as I've learned seasonal prevention is better than addressing outbreaks after the fact.

I personally do not use DE. I have mild asthma, and both my research and my Vet Tech daughter do not recommend its use. DE is irritating to the lungs for both bird and human.

So while I always remain hopeful to remain "drug" free and natural....if you keep birds long enough, and can't keep good field rotation due to smaller space, I've come to the conclusion that eventually you've got to rely on some sort of pesticide/drug help in challenge areas.

Where you live plays a HUGE part in your overall need to control parasites. My more temperate and wet Oregon, and my daughter's hot and humid Tennessee, are perfect breeding grounds for a lot of these parasites. Those who get good freezing winters kill off a lot of the nymphs, eggs, and what not, which really helps keep down overall worm and parasite build up to which herbals/naturals may help further keep abreast.

So you have to recognize your personal conditions, field size, flock mechanics, and general personal goals. Don't assume if you don't see something that you don't have *any*. Without actual fecal floats and close visual examinations, you can have a lower level problem that escalates in the right conditions. How you address that relies on your personal philosophy of chicken keeping.

My thoughts.
LofMc
 

Folly's place

Crossing the Road
8 Years
Sep 13, 2011
17,126
21,958
906
southern Michigan
I don't buy organic chicken feed, because of the cost. I do understand that it's more expensive to produce, but still I'm not going to buy it. I do buy organically grown fruits and veggies whenever possible, and the birds may get some of that as treats.
I don't use herbicides or pesticides outdoors on the farm, however, my horses and cattle get treated with Ivermectin and wormers on a schedule, and fly stuff as needed in summer.
I use permethrin spray, not the organically approved pyrethrum, for the chickens when they have mites. Not often, but it does happen sometimes.
The flock hasn't been wormed in over two years, because they are doing fine here.
I won't have DE on the farm, and don't spend time with 'herbal medicines', especially for problems I don't have.
Raising a totally organic flock for eggs and meat would be very nice, but getting people to pay for the eggs and meat would be difficult, and getting certified organic is hard and expensive. Mary
 

Joanmcm

Songster
6 Years
Jan 27, 2013
193
12
106
Copake Falls, NY
1> We use organic feed grown and mixed locally.
2> We will put apple cider vinegar (1 tbs per gal) in plastic waterers. In the Winter when the chickens have limited space we build the litter to a foot. For litter we use bedding woodchips, wood chips from the town from taking down trees, and straw.
 

Cindy in PA

Crowing
11 Years
Jul 8, 2008
2,559
790
321
Fleetwood, PA
1- I buy organic food for my chickens at present. I have done conventional over the years, but prefer organic milled in PA. Amazed again that some who do not choose to buy organic, try to put it down. I agree that national organic by big companies is not the organic of old. I do buy from organic producers for myself & my chickens that are local or can be verified etc. My chickens get my garden produce & I don't do chemicals!
2-I have never wormed a chicken in 24 years. Not sure what I would do if they needed it. I use home grown herbs & Ropa Oregano oil at present for my birds. Haven't had to do much else over the years.
 
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