Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Keep Your Chickens Healthy with Hops

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: chickens, feed, hops, farms,

Hops flowers are full of good bitter stuff.Brewmasters have known about the preservative qualities of hops flowers for centuries and beer drinkers have learned to love the sometimes less than subtle bitter flavors. Now, scientists report that the antimicrobial bitter acids contained in hop flowers might prevent pathogenic bacteria from taking hold in your chickens’ stomachs.

According to a recent ARS report, adding the bitter acid lupulone to the chickens’ drinking water appears to be a viable alternative to lo-level antibiotic doping of their feed. In one study, lupulone therapy was specifically associated with controlling Clostridium populations in the chickens’ intestinal tracts.

Why is this important? It turns out that chicken guts is one of the primary sources for meat contamination by pathogenic organisms … especially when mechanized evisceration methods are employed. Even if you raise chickens for eggs, or carefully dress your own, I suspect that you can keep your flock a bit healthier by adding some fresh or dried hops to their diet. Why not plant a vine or two this year and give it a try?

Check out the USDA’s ARS website for more information on the antimicrobial characteristics of hops.

Photo courtesy ARS.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

janet gardner
3/13/2013 9:15:03 PM

What about spent hops...those that have already been used for brewing? Are they of any use for feed?

grover duty_1
7/16/2009 9:54:20 PM

im looking forward to placeing my add.

hank will_2
1/16/2009 12:37:02 PM

Hey Becky -- I think you will be able to grow hops pretty easily. If I recall correctly, you need female plants to get the bitter-acid producing flowers. I suspect that a bit of hops in many animal feed rations could be useful. But I bet some flavor would pass to the milk in dairy animals. I brewed small batches ... 6 gallons at a time. I never malted my own barley, instead I used bagged malt and malt extract from the local home brew supply. Hank

becky and andy
1/16/2009 11:57:37 AM

Hank, This is DEFINITELY something we will be looking into! Thank you for reporting this great info! (we are aspiring brewers as well...just need the materials, the equipment, the time...ok, so it's a pipe dream right now. But the immediate benefits for the hens seems like great incentive!) Becky

hank will_2
1/16/2009 10:53:11 AM

Hey Paul -- I would just pick and crush a few handfuls of hop flowers and mix them into the feed (or something similar with fewer dried flowers) ... or offer them on the side. I suspect the chickens will know when enough is enough. I don't think I would bother steeping them ... but I would give them the hop remains after brewing. We had a couple of hop vines in South Dakota. They grew about 30 feet long from the ground each year. I had them in a fairly sandy loam ... they covered the entire deck. Back then, I used them for brewing (and shade) ... but I haven't brewed in years. Hank

paul gardener
1/16/2009 10:33:16 AM

Hmmm...Interesting. I've actually been thinking about growing a small crop of these this year anyway just for home use in Beer making (a new venture of mine.) Do you know whether the Chickens could be fed the hops fresh or if they should be steeped in their water for a little to remove the compounds? Good information Hank Thanks! P~