But he was right, it's far easier (and cheaper) to keep your chickens' immune systems strong and healthy and give them the best chance at fighting off illness and infections themselves than to try and treat something after they have contracted it. Being the ultimate prey animal and being part of a pecking order that preys on the weaker members of the flock, chickens work very hard to hide signs of any illness or injury, so often by the time you see any symptoms, it is too late to treat whatever is wrong.
Because of this, in addition to the custom feed mix I give the girls, I also supplement their diet with what I call the 'Holistic Trinity' of healthy chickens: Apple Cider Vinegar, Garlic and Diatomaceous Earth.
Of course there are naysayers. Some of this is hard to prove and of course I am not a vet or a scientist, nor have many studies been done on holistic poultry health, but I CAN tell you this: in all my years of raising chickens, I have NEVER had any issues with mites or lice. I have never wormed my chickens with anything commercial or chemical and they have never had worms. I have never had a single chicken with respiratory problems, coccidia or any other disease. So you be the judge.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
First in the Trinity is APPLE CIDER VINEGAR. It's great for their immune systems, guards against bad bacteria and maintains digestive health in the intestines by lowering the pH levels and is an overall health booster.
It increases calcium (as well as other minerals) absorption so your chickens will get more 'bang for the buck' from the layer feed and eggshells or oyster shell you provide them. ACV also acts as an antiseptic by killing the germs that cause respiratory problems - which chickens are extremely susceptible to - in the throat and promotes healthy mucous flow.
Add apple cider vinegar (raw,organic ACV with the 'mother' is best, Bragg's brand for example) to your waterer a once or twice a week, or alternatively one straight week every month.
The ratio is 1 Tablespoon ACV per gallon of water. The ACV tastes good and encourages chickens to drink more. Be sure and use a plastic or stoneware waterer tho. The ACV will rust the metal and galvanized waterers.
The ACV will also help keep your chickens' water free of harmful bacteria and algae. The optimal range for your flock's drinking water is a ph of 4. That creates the most unfriendly environment for bad bacteria.
You can also make your own Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother...[read more]
Second in the Trinity is GARLIC. Garlic boosts immune systems, increases respiratory health and it is also thought that mites, lice, ticks and other parasites are not as attracted to the blood of animals who eat a lot of garlic. Garlic is also a natural wormer and reduces the smell of chicken manure in flocks fed garlic regularly. I don't find that the garlic taints the taste of our eggs in the least bit.
Garlic can be added to your chickens' diet in a couple of different ways. You can float whole cloves in your waterer (mashed up a bit), replacing them every few days. You can offer crushed fresh cloves in a small dish free-choice. Or you can add garlic powder to their feed. I have tried all three and find it easiest to just add the powder to their feed (2% ratio), but every once in awhile I also give them a bowl of the fresh garlic.
Small chicks should also be offered crushed fresh garlic, free-choice, early on so they develop a taste for it. A splash of apple cider vinegar in their water is also a great health booster for chicks.
Although garlic is in the allum family which also contains the potentially toxic onion, the levels of the toxin thiosulphate in garlic is only 1/15th that found in onions, and powdered garlic contains even less after being processed, so I feel very comfortable adding garlic to our chickens' daily feed.
This is a direct quote from Thomas Labs, which has done extensive research on the subject of feeding garlic to chickens:
A small dose of onions can be toxic to animals due to their high concentrations of thiosulphate, and even though garlic is in the onion family it simply does not have the same levels of thiosulphate, in fact it has 1/15 the level, and this is in it's raw, whole form. When garlic is further processed for consumption as a powder supplement, mixed with other supplements and minerals (as in the case of Brewer's Yeast and Garlic), and given at appropriate doses, then the thiosulphates are negligible at best. The fact is that garlic is not toxic when taken at low levels and is often included as an ingredient in many commercially available natural pet foods. As with anything in life the levels or doses you take of something is the deciding factor on how toxic it will be. No one would doubt the fact that taking a once a day multi-vitamin is a good thing for your body, but what if you took that once a day vitamin 50 times a day, you would end up with toxic levels of vitamins in your body.
Specific to our product Brewers Yeast & Garlic, there is 400mg of garlic per teaspoon, which equates to about 5% total ingredient in the mix, or approx .4 percent per teaspoon. This level is on par with levels that are added to commercially available animal feed. I know your forte is chickens and such, but there is little research for dosing in birds. You practical experience and excellent results will have to be the testimony for how well it works and how non toxic it is in your application."
FOOD-GRADE DIATOMACEOUS EARTH
The third in the Trinity is DIATOMACEOUS EARTH (DE). DE is an all natural silica-based crushed fossil that kills hard-shelled insects. It kills fleas, ticks, flies, aphids, earwigs, silverfish, crickets, millipedes, centipedes and digestive worms while being completely safe for chickens.
DE sprinkled in the nesting boxes and coop floor helps control parasites, and sprinkled around the feeders controls flies and ants in the summer. Only food-grade DE should be used around the chickens, because they will inevitably end up eating some.
I also add DE to their daily feed in a 2% radio to help guard against internal worms. DE, according to an article in Poultry Science, increases shell weight and thickness, increases egg production and increases hen body weight.
Note: DE does also kill good bugs and can cause lung aggravation if the dust is inhaled, so take care where and how you sprinkle it.
You should wear a dust mask while sprinkling your coop floor, nesting boxes, around the feeders, in the dust bath area, etc. to prevent lung and throat irritation. Check out VOGMASK for filtered face masks in a selection of pretty patterns. Read my review of Vogmask HERE.
I find that one good way to disperse the DE is from a plastic shaker bottle, like the kind Parmesan cheese comes in. I keep a full bottle in the run and sprinkle it liberally, especially in the summer when the flies get bad.
Bonus health tips! Plain yogurt with live cultures and black strap molasses are also good to give your chickens on occasion as both have health benefits for your flock. A once weekly serving of yogurt will help keep the good bacteria levels high in your chickens' digestive systems and molasses contains lots of minerals including iron and copper, manganese and potassium, as well as calcium. Molasses helps flush toxins out of the chickens' systems.
Yogurt can cause diarrhea so it should only be given in small amounts and conversely, probiotic powder can be added to their feed in place of the yogurt to help boost the good bacteria in their intestines.
And there you have your Holistic Trinity plus something for intestinal health. The holistic secrets to raising healthy chickens.