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Got chickens? Get garlic!

Got chickens? Get garlic!
June 6, 2011 Mary Jo

I’d like to pass on to you the very best advice I ever received regarding chickens.  Garlic.  Fresh garlic chopped finely and steeped in apple cider vinegar, when added to the chickens’ drinking water, can cure many a poultry woe.  It’s a real and accessible answer to the panic that sets in when a chicken is down.  And boy, do I know that panic well, having traversed a significant incline of the Chicken Learning Curve not that long ago.  Here’s how it played out.

Got chickens.  Yay!  Got eggs.  Yay!  All is well. Then a hen tips over dead in the night.  Horror!  Then another hen is observed wheezing.  What do you do with a sick chicken??!?  First, check the chicken bible.  Helpful, but not definitive.  Chicken still wheezing.  Then dead.  Horror!  What to do? Hurry! Is there a vet around that treats chickens?  There very well may be, but simple math answers the question pretty quickly.  Chickens, unless they are a very special family pet, are really only worth a few bucks.  Vet bills?  Significantly more than a few bucks.  It would take many, many, many eggs to see the return on that investment.  Vet = not an option.  Online forums!  Some research there led me to this book – The Chicken Health Handbook.  Perfect!  So I order it, skim it frantically, and then come to this realization:  what am I supposed to do with this information?  Once I determine the problem/disease is x, then what?  Do I track down antibiotics?  Where?  (back to the vet dead-end)  Then I was presented with the golden nugget of advice that I’m now giving to you.  Garlic.  It doesn’t matter what the specific illness is.  If a chicken is down (ailing, that is, not dead) garlic can come to the rescue by supporting the immune system so the quite capable chicken body can go about healing itself.  Yes.  That’s more like it.

Doris is a big fan. Two chicken fingers up for garlic! She had a run-in just yesterday with an errant neighbor dog.  I’d say she won. While she did sustain a pretty bad bite on her hindquarters, she’s on the mend now and up and about gossiping with her girls in the coop.  The dog, on the other hand, spent all of the afternoon tied to a tree in our yard, enduring repeated “Bad dog!” and “Quiet!” admonitions from us all (the most adamant and morale-busting surely came from that 2-yr-old mouth) while we tried to connect with his owners.  Doris, however, spent the afternoon convalescing in a spa-like setting.  I had made up a quick poultice of herbs, carefully washed and dressed the wound, and let her rest on my lap while the herbs went to work.  This, I might add, was after a nice relaxing rest on Daddio’s lap.  After rinsing, a covering of Blu-Kote was applied.  It’s an antiseptic cobalt-blue spray that both treats the wound and covers up the irresistible redness that would provoke the other birds to pecking the wound.  After all of this fussing, she was in good enough shape to return to her cronies in the coop.  The last step in treating her was to add a couple of tablespoons of the cider vinegar and garlic bits that had been steeping for the past half hour to the coop’s water fount.

I’ve used the garlic to treat all manner of illness and injury to both of my flocks – avian and ruminant.  Garlic is reputed to be a champion antibiotic, antifungal, vermifuge (anti-worm/parasite) and all-around immune support herb.  The most dramatic success I’ve had was a recent case of pecking in a couple of our pastured broiler chickens.  There were a few management issues early on, which led to a bad case of pecking. (canabalism)  The chickens were stressed – overcrowded, too hot or cold, or just plain bored and started pecking at a few of the weaker birds.  They peck relentlessly, obsessively, to the victim’s death if not caught in time.  After losing a few birds this way, I intercepted two who had been pecked in the cheek.  One of them had already started swelling up – the whole side of his face was distorted and puffed out.  I put them into a separate pen, added copious amounts of garlic to the water, sprayed the wounds with Blu-Kote, and hoped for the best.  They’ve now completely recovered and are quite happily employed as tractor-operators in the garden.

Some points of clarification:

+  I don’t at all mean to diminish the usefulness of any of the above-referenced books.  It is important to know how to treat various ailments and these books are rich with that information.  Especially helpful is the distinction of contagious afflictions.  There’s a big difference between losing a single bird or two versus a whole flock; that’s an important consideration to make when formulating a treatment plan.  I like the option of garlic as an alternative, in mild cases, or as additional support in more serious cases.

+  I’ve read somewhere that garlic and onions may lend their flavor to eggs if fed to the hens.  I’ve not noticed this myself, nor have any of our egg customers, to my knowledge. It seems a small price to pay, though I don’t believe that the hens are even laying any eggs while sick. Might be a moot point.

+  Vinegar is not recommended for use with galvanized or metal water founts.  Ours is heavy-duty plastic, which I upgraded to for this very reason.  I found it here, and like how it still works with the heated base in the winter.

+  It might be noted that garlic is useful at each stage of chicken development – from newly-hatched to roast chicken.  I’m never without it.

To recap:

Got chickens?  Get garlic.  Chop it finely, steep it in apple cider vinegar.  Do it now.  Tuck it into a cool, dry, dark cupboard until you need it.  It’ll keep.  When needed, add a few tablespoons to the drinking water.  Pat yourself on the back for being so proactive.  I wouldn’t worry too much about the qty – I doubt they would/could get too much garlic.  Some of my hens will even eat the chopped garlic straight up, which makes me so pleased.

You should also have a can of Blu-Kote or equivalent on hand.  Careful when you spray it – it stains!  We use this more than we’d like but are always glad it’s there.

This concludes the Public Service Announcement.  Carry on.

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