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Using herbs in your chicken flock isn’t a new concept, but using essential oils on your flock — that’s something we need to talk about. While it’s easy to jump headfirst into herbal remedies for your flock, there are some things we need to understand about essential oils and poultry before we start treating “all the things.”
I think you’ll find that, when used properly, essential oils are beneficial to the modern-day chicken keeper. But you may also find that they need to be used more wisely than generic herbs from the pantry. For example, because essential oils are highly potent, you would use far less oil on your five-pound chicken than you would your 150-pound self.
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?
Essential oils are highly concentrated volatile compounds from plants. In order to make essential oil, you distill the plant in a distiller to extract those volatile essential oils. Plant essential oils are the part of the plant that keeps plants healthy and protected from toxins and outside intruders. Often, they can be harmful to a plant predator, but their primary purpose is to protect the plant matter itself.
These oils contain about five times or more the medicinal power of using the dried herb alone due to the extraction concentration. They are also just one part of the plant. Technically, they aren’t part of the “herbalism” world at all. Because they are a single compound extraction, they hover between the herb world and the pharmaceutical world. Meaning, since you are not using a whole herb to treat an entire body, you are using only one herb compound to treat one symptom or another, much like a pharmaceutical works.
As you may have guessed, essential oils are also used much differently than herbs. You can use them for chickens much similarly as you do for yourself, but with extra precaution.
USING ESSENTIAL OILS ON CHICKENS
There are a few different ways — and a few different reasons — to use essential oils on chickens. Let’s go over some of the most common ways and how to use them efficiently and safely.
Dilute with Carrier Oil
The first way you can use essential oils (EOs) on chickens is to add one to two drops of EO to one tablespoon of carrier oil. A carrier oil is simply another oil — like fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, or even olive oil. Thoroughly combine the oil mixture and apply where needed. You would use this in instances like healing a wound or under the wings (directly on the skin) for internal organ issues or respiratory issues.
In a Spray Bottle
One of my favorite ways to treat an entire flock (or even just one chicken), is to use a spray bottle. I especially love this option for external parasites, like mites or lice. In a 16 oz glass spray bottle, fill ½ of the bottle with water, ¼ of the bottle with alcohol or witch hazel, and add about 20 to 30 drops of your desired EOs. Shake before each use, and spray directly on skin. Just a couple of squirts will do.
The alcohol helps the oils to distribute throughout the water when shaken. This delivers just enough oil efficiently. I also use this spray to spray down chicken roosts and to clean with. It works wonders!
Aromatically in the Coop
Another fantastic way to incorporate EOs into your chicken-keeping lifestyle is to use them aromatically in the coop. You can use them to deter pests, freshen up the coop, or even to help ease respiratory issues in your flock. Just take a few strips of old rags, place several drops of EOs on the rags, and hang them around your coop.
I like to add tea tree (melaleuca), peppermint, and lemon balm in the summertime because this combination does well at keeping the flies away! If my birds have an irritated respiratory track, I do a few drops of eucalyptus, peppermint, and sage.
Just make sure your coop has plenty of ventilation. You never want to coop up a chicken in a confined space. The aromatics could become too much for them and have adverse side effects.
Essential oils are readily available to so many people nowadays that it’s almost a no-brainer to add them to your chicken first aid kit. Just keep in mind that chickens need far less EO than you would need. When in doubt, less is sometimes more, as chickens don’t necessarily absorb and excrete EOs the same way humans do.
Take this into consideration during the placement of the EOs as well. For example, if you are using EOs on your chicken’s feet, you may consider adding an extra drop to help increase the absorption through the thick skin. But if you are using the EOs on a more tender area, the one drop with a carrier oil should suffice.
Enjoy this wonderful world of herbalism and chicken-keeping! It is constantly changing and expanding as more and more studies become available, and I’m so happy I get to share them with you!
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Backyard Poultry — A Natural and Sustainable Flock — and regularly vetted for accuracy.