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…and any other fowls you may care for.

Credit for much of the information in this article must go to Kath Irvine, a passionate permaculture-transition gardener, and Ali Sutherland, herbalist and pharmacist, who have both been inspirational contacts since my family’s relocation to New Zealand.  Over here many homes have a few chooks scratching around to provide them with healthy, affordable eggs. Kath’s years of hard learned experience is shared by her through her workshops – and website, www.ediblebackyard.co.nz .

Whether you already have (or aspire to have) a few feathered and hopefully egg-laying friends, the information contained herein will provide a guide to maintaining a healthy flock, with a few hemisphere-specific plants thrown in, so common sense adaptations are allowed.  Hopefully feeding herbs to chickens escapes whatever crazy regulatory frameworks various governments try to impose. (Telling chickens what herbs they can or cannot eat would be an interesting dance to watch).  Not all the advice below is strictly herbal but is all good holistic natural stuff.

Chickens eat green plants!  So why not grow plants they need to keep them in top health, and reduce the likelihood of worms and mites, etc?  As a wise Greek chook keeper may have said, “let food be their medicine and medicine be their food”. Whilst on a philosophical note, chickens are happiest and healthiest in the rare circumstances where they are able to range freely during daylight hours – fencing them in is only for the convenience of humans, and/or to keep predators out. So do try to give them as much space as is practicable, with plenty of mixed flora to keep them well nourished and interested.  I could have written more about chicken housing and land management from a permaculture perspective, but it’s not strictly herbal so you can explore these further by reading on the subject – Kay Baxter is a Kiwi who has written from experience on these matters… and the use of “chook tractors”.

All the following suggestions can be adapted according to how much land and space you have. Plants can be grown specifically in chicken runs as a food crop, or alongside protected runs that chooks can peck at through chicken wire – or plants can be grown in trays and taken to them. A word of sensible advice to stop the total destruction of perennials is to cage the base of the plants, thus letting the plant grow up through it and the happy hens only get to peck the top layers. Also plan the usage of land and growing according to seasonal needs.

Essential herbs are chickweed, comfrey, elder, feverfew, garlic, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, tansy and wormwood. Also valuable are cleavers, clover, kale, rocket, silver beet and spinach – and for us Kiwis, kikuya, puha and Wandering Jew. Recommended grains are barley, buckwheat, maize, millet, quinoa, and wheat. To complete the list, consider sunflower, Jerusalem artichokes and fruit trees.

N.B. Garlic is often recommended, and for many purposes – but it will impart its flavour to eggs – nice in omelettes, not so nice in cakes!

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