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?