Tag Archives: poultry

Book Review – Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway

This is the first book that I have bought primarily to review, which was quite a strange experience in some ways, as I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to benefit from the contents.

We have recently formed a Permaculture group here in Horncastle, and so far, I am the only one with a full design certificate. As I was already a gardener, and Smallholder, before becoming interested (some might say obsessed) in Permaculture, all of my focus, and my library, has been targeted towards land based Permaculture, as opposed to smaller scale, or urban design. With the formation of the group, I wanted to find a book which would be a good introduction to Permaculture for those with less space. I also wanted to expand my own understanding of some of the problems, and solutions, faced by people in towns and cities. I came a cross the book by accident (Serendipity?), whilst doing some research into Guild design, and decided to purchase the book.

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The Sustainable Smallholding End of Year Roundup

2009 was another busy year at the Sustainable Smallholding, with changes to the management of my bees, an increase in the number of chickens, and hives, the addition of ducks, the creation of swales, and lots of experimental growing. This included growing tobacco, manuka, eucalyptus, acacia, small scale wheat growing etc. So I thought that I’d do a short summary, and a look forward to my plans for next year.

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Animal Health for Smallholders

This article describes some of the sources of Information and ideas that I have picked up that relate to using herbs to boost animal health, and some of the experiments that I have been conducting here on my Smallholding.

It all started about three years ago whilst browsing some articles published by the Organic Research Centre. Here is a link to their site.  http://www.efrc.com/

In one of the articles they mentioned that they had planted herbs and wildflowers that would aid in maintaining the health of their livestock. The article said that the list of plants was in accordance with  recommendations made by Author Cindy Engel, in her book Wild Health. A quick search will find dozens of articles about her work. In essence, the book describes examples of animals selecting specific plants when they are ill, in order to cure themselves. The book is a good read, and stimulated quite a few ideas, but didn’t list the plants that I needed.  However she quoted another book twice, The Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Bingo. A list of herbs for planting in hedgerows is included in the first chapter. The book itself is excellent. It’s not available in the UK, although we can buy it via the American Amazon site. If you have animals, you really need this book. (If you buy it now, tell me what you think of it after you’ve spent a bit of time with it.) The Herbal Handbook lists plants and their uses for treating animals, and then an animal by animal list of ailments with remedies. It is also very critical of modern farming, even back in the 1950’s when it was first published, blaming many of the problems that animals face to the overcrowded conditions in which they are kept.

I also read Fertility Pastures, by Newman Turner. This book is probably the best book that I have read on grass mixtures. It lists experiments that he conducted with his own dairy herd, looking at which individual plants that the cows preferred to eat, and comparing milk yields of the same herd fed on ‘conventional’ grass mixes, and then fed on herbal leys. The herbal leys were preferred, and gave higher yields.

All of this reading convinced me that I needed to do two things. Firstly to improve the variety of species in my pasture, to make some of these plants available to my sheep. Secondly, to look at herbal mixtures to supplement the diet of my livestock, particularly my chickens. I did the first by over seeding with Wild White Clover, Chicory, and a mixture of Wildflowers. These have started to expand, and I will continue to add to the variety year on year. The second I did by comparing the herbs mentioned in The Herbal Handbook, with those used in two herbal products sold for chickens. One is a herbal wormer, and quite expensive, the other is a health supplement to improve condition. What was remarkable was the degree to which the three agreed. This led me to experiment with three different mixtures. I was helped by the fact that my son-in-law works for a major spice producer, and I got the mixes made up for free.

Mixture One was a water soluble mix of essential oils, to add to the water of all of my animals, including into bee feed. The oils were Thyme, Garlic, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, oregano, Ginger, and Cayenne. The mix had to include an emulsifier so that it can be mixed into the water. I add 1 ml to a 10 litre watering can for all of my drinkers, and the same amount to a gallon of syrup for the bees. It’s very potent, and you can smell it in the chicken hutches in the morning, even though there is no water in there. To make it soluble in water an emulsifier is needed. If making your own you can use lecithin granules.

Mixture two was a powdered herb mix to add to chicken food. I feed a wet mash, and the water that is used contains mix one in it. So two sets of herbs/spices at a time. The mix includes Thyme, Ginger, Cayenne, Turmeric, and Fenugreek. Unlike the commercial product that it replaces, it contains no filler. I use about 2.5ml in each dish of mash, for up to 12 birds. I add Garlic Powder and Seaweed separately to the feed.

The third mixture was primarily for bee health, and to help in the treatment of varroa. It consists of essential oils that have been shown to help combat the varroa mite, but it also includes others that may help boost their health. It includes oils that are being included in commercial products designed for the same purposes. The mix includes Thyme, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Oregano, Black Walnut, and Wintergreen. I add it to stuff like fondant, and into the smoker. This year I will be using it instead of a commercial varroa treatment, and will monitor mite drop to see how effective it is.

Whilst I am fortunate to get some of this stuff for free, it’s not difficult to buy this stuff quite reasonably. For UK readers, I have used Calmer Solutions, and have been very happy with their products and service. A link to the  ebay shop is here, but if you contact them directly, the price might be cheaper, it was for me.  http://stores.ebay.co.uk/Calmer-Solutions-Limited_W0QQcolZ4QQdirZ1QQfsubZQ2d33QQftidZ2QQtZkm(If he asks you about Lemongrass Oil, it’s because I use it as an attractant. The lemon smell seems to be similar to that produced by the bees from their Nasanov gland.)

What is hard to tell is how effective the mixtures are, and as I don’t do ‘blind’ testing, I cannot be sure that the health of my flock would be just as high without the mixes. Perhaps this will help you decide. I have not lost a chicken since using the mixes. My chickens free range coming into contact with lots of wild birds. My Silkies, feed on the seed that the wild birds throw out of the garden feeders. These feeders have been feeding wild birds, in the same positions for nine years. We get the occasional runny bottom, which stops of it’s own accord. We have no mites, yet. No worm problems. Whether this is due to the herbs, or to the free ranging over a large area, I cannot say. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two, but I shall keep on using the mixtures, even if I have to pay for them.

I believe that the best solution to the health of our animals is to give them enough space to avoid them contaminating the ground on which they live, and providing them with a wide variety of plants from which they can select the ones that they need at that time. In the meantime, supplementing their diets with herbs that will boost their health is something that can be done relatively easily.

Please conduct your own research before experimenting with health supplements, and the books that are listed in this article are a good place to start. I have no problem with anybody copying the mixtures for their own use, but you do so at your own risk.

What do you do to keep your animals healthy?

Battery hen Update

The ten ex battery hens are starting to explore a bit more today, with all of them out of the hutch for most of the time. it’s great to see them out scratching in the leaf litter, and acting like real chickens. I finally got the camera working, so here’s what they look like when they come out of the cages. This isn’t a model, this is a real chicken. it is supposed to be brown. The light patches are bald skin, and where most of the feathers are missing.  it’s almost as if the bird is posing for the camera, wanting people to see what the real price of cheap eggs is.

It must be quite strange for them. Open space, vegetation, sunlight, wind, living food, it’s not much to ask for really is it?

What a battery hen really looks like

What a battery hen really looks like

I’ll get some pictures when this one looks like a real chicken again.


Former Battery hens explore the great outdoors

My ex battery hens arrived yesterday. My plan was to publish photos of them, to show what a state they are in, and then to show them after they regain their plumage. Sadly, the batteries in my camera died on me, which has left this post a little flat.

Back to the hens. Thinking that they would feel less agrophobic amongst trees, I removed a fence which surrounds some trees planted about six years ago, to give them access to it. As mentioned in a previous post.  It worked well, too well. My wife and I spent some time, hunting for stray hens with a torch. It would have been quicker if one of us had counted the hens that were safely tucked up in the hutch correctly. My excuse is that one must have been hidden behind the cockerel. Tonight they have all put themselves away.

I also had to put some guards around some Wild Garlic that I was given by a friend last year. I had seen no sign of it for most of last year, but it is coming through in three patches, and I wanted to keep the hens from destroying. Once it is well established, it will help with the prevention of worms, and improve their general health.  There is a herbal wormer on the market, which lists wild garlic as an ingredient, but it uses the Latin name.

I have seen pictures of the apalling state that these birds are allowed to get into, and have had commercial birds before, but these were truly pathetic. I do not understand how we can allow this cruelty to continue.

Despite the fact that this is the first time that these birds have been out in the fresh air, it was wonderful to see them scratching in the leaf litter, and eating the worms that I turned up, whilst planting more willow. They even gave me five eggs, which was more than I was expecting. Four stayed in the hutch for most of the day, but came out with a bit of gentle encouragement.

I’ll post pictures as soon as I can.