As we gained some experience trying to keep our hens relatively organic, all-natural, healthy, and happy, we’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. These are things we’ve both read about and tried ourselves and found to keep our hens healthy.
1. Apple cider vinegar. If you read any chicken keeping blog or book, they will probably list ACV as one of the top natural products to use for chickens. It’s a natural dewormer for chickens that can be added to their water. It’s thought to create a hostile environment that is difficult for worms to survive in. I mix about 1 Tbsp per gallon of water.
2. Yogurt, and namely natural yogurt, is good for hens. All of the probiotics in it are thought to aid chicken digestion. I find some yogurt mixed with oatmeal and/or berries that have slightly (not moldy!) passed their prime are very popular with the girls.
3. Pumpkin seeds are also thought to prevent worms in chickens. I use a separate, cheapy coffee grinder to grind the raw seeds. I don’t find that the raw, ground seeds are very popular with the chickens, but it’s easily to sprinkle some in with their regular chicken feed. Pumpkins in general are great for chickens. Recycle your Jack-o-Lanterns in the fall by letting your chickens peck at them.
4. Vet Rx comes in a little bottle, and you only need a few drops for your chickens. A lady at a chicken swap introduced me to this once, by expertly rubbing it on their legs (just a little bit), a drop gently on their combs and beaks, and a bit right under their wings so that it rubs combs when they duck their heads under their wings.
5. Diatomaceous earth is powdered crushed diatom microfossils that has been shown to kill insects and worms. You can mix a bit in your chicken feed (I use about 2% DE to 98% feed) for internal worm prevention. Also add some to their dusting box for external pests such as mites and bugs. DE is only effective when dry, so bags of it should be kept dry.
As an aside, natural wormers may not work as well as chemical, drug wormers, but they are a darn sight more healthy for your hens, and you don’t have to worry about those chemicals being transferred to your eggs and then to your table. I do keep a completely non-natural drug at my house in case of emergencies. It’s called Corid, and it’s a coccidiostat. Birds are very susceptible to coccidiosis, and it’s pretty nasty once they get it. My mom lost one of her hens to it a while back, so I keep it on hand now just in case, though I’ve never had to use it, and hopefully the girls will never need it. There is a natural coccidiostat on the market that people have had a lot of luck with using to get rid of coccidiosis in their household pets like dogs and cats, and it’s something I’d like to look into more (maybe as a preventative measure for coccidiosis). So far, natural remedies seem to be keeping them healthy, and we haven’t had any problems so far. Keep in mind that you should look for a couple of things that could be a sign of a serious problem: weight loss, lethargy, poor balance, and ceasing egg laying are a few signs that you chicken could have a problem. (Though, as I recently learned, your lack of eggs may be due to something as simple as stress if you’ve recently moved them, handled them a lot, or introduced a new bird to your flock, thereby upsetting the pecking order.)
Another important point about natural remedies is that many people (myself included) use them also as a preventative measure rather than a cure-all. For example, ACV will probably not kill worms once your chicken is infested, but the thought is that they provide a rather hostile environment for worms to grow in the first place, both in their water source and in their bodies. Similarly, the probiotics found in yogurt help your chicken maintain healthy digestion.