I firmly believe in an ounce of prevention. In fact, wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who said 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' ? He was a smart man - and I bet he wasn't even talking about chickens when he said that!
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 layer feed mix I give to our chickens, I also supplement their diet with what I call the 'Holistic Trinity' of healthy chickens: Apple Cider Vinegar, Garlic and Diatomaceous Earth.
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 overal health booster. It increases calcium absorption so your chickens will get more 'bang for the buck' from the eggshells or oyster shell you provide them. ACV aso acts as an antiseptic by killing the germs that cause respiratory problems - which chickens are extremely susceptible to - in the throat.
Add apple cider vinegar (raw,organic ACV with the 'mother' is best, Bragg's brand for example) to your waterer a few times a week, or alternatively one straight week every month. The ratio is 1 Tablespoon per gallon of water. The ACV will also help keep your chickens' water free of harmful bacteria and algae. Be sure and use a plastic or stoneware waterer tho. The ACV will rust the metal and galvanized waterers.
I have also started using the generic store brand ACV to rinse and clean the waterers instead of bleach or another commercial cleaner. I just mix it with water in a spray bottle or pour some into a pail of water.
Second in the Trinity is GARLIC. Garlic boosts immune systems and it is also thought that mites, lice, ticks and other parasites are not as attracted to the blood of animals who eat alot of garlic. Garlic is also a natural wormer.
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.
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 and digestive worms while being completely safe for chickens. Only food-grade DE should be used around the chickens, because they will inevitably end up eating some. I add DE to their feed in a 2% radio.
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 can wear a dust mask while sprinkling your coop floor, nesting boxes, around the feeders, in the dust bath area, etc.
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 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.
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