As an herbalist running an herb farm, I have an abundant variety of herbs on hand to work with. Most of my property is filled with naturally growing native herbs and wildflowers (I only mow walking paths and my small front yard) and the rest I fill–in with herb plants, bushes and trees I start from seed.
When I started raising poultry 13 years ago, the standard in the industry was to use chemical medications and feeds. I thought, as an herbalist, I could develop a healthier protocol that not only jives with how I attend to my own health, but it will be much more natural for my flock as well. I think through pure serendipity I chose to start with garlic. At the time, I knew it possessed many fine constituents to support health, but through the years I have learned of the many preparations that have different effects that suit poultry so perfectly.
As a life–long gardener, I was delighted to find out how easy it is to grow. And, if you grow the hard–necked variety, there is a really cool benefit I will share with you in a bit.
I know many people may already know how to use garlic to boost the immune system (see Backyard Poultry Issue April/May 2013), or for worming, but I would like to dig a little deeper here for you to understand the full range of benefits and the myriad of preparations to help you utilize them.
Garlic’s Mysterious Chemistry
Probably the most widely recognized constituent of garlic we all know so well, is the sulfur compounds, which make garlic so “stinky”. So naturally, it seems, the first question asked when I teach about feeding garlic to poultry is, “but will it make the eggs taste like garlic?” No, it will not. But if you smell the garlic on your chicken’s breath, that is a very good thing. That means the garlic is delivering its effectiveness throughout their body. Sulfur is a wonderful anthelmintic towards particular worms that can infest our flock.
Another thing we may hear about garlic is that it has antibiotic properties. But what does that mean exactly? The most widely studied component of garlic is allicin, which is considered the most powerful of all, with antibiotic and antifungal properties.
Unfortunately, the allicin which forms when the raw garlic is crushed open, is very unstable when exposed to air and the antibiotic capability decreases steadily until it is gone within 24 hours. But the good news is that new research has shown that the list of compounds grows by the hundreds once the allicin starts to break down, because it changes into having new compounds with new active constituents!
What new compounds that get created are dependent on the
processing techniques we use, which gives us options for a variety of applications. In other words, we can address many different kinds of health issues our poultry may have with a single herb simply by how we prepare it!
Garlic Preparations and Its Health Benefits
Garlic is a member of the onion family and it contains powerful volatile oils. Toxicity issues that could arise are a result of repeated and prolonged large doses. Unless you are offering it to your poultry free choice, I would use common sense when adding garlic to the drinking water or within food or treats to make sure you are not force feeding large amounts that could cause intestinal or skin irritation if applying topically. You don’t need to give your flock much nor even daily doses for general prevention. There are many different ways to prepare garlic, but I will list those here that I found that are particularly useful and easy to provide to poultry.
Raw Garlic (not dried)
Anyone who knows me well, knows I have been reciting the mantra of feeding raw garlic to poultry ever since I started using it for my flock. As I already mentioned, raw garlic possess antibiotic properties and needs to be eaten after crushing, slicing or pressed to garner the full effectiveness. Also be aware if you heat garlic using a high temperature, you kill the antibiotic properties quickly. I advise you to teach your chicks to eat raw garlic from day one.
However, please make it free choice in a small bowl, and do not mix with feed or any other treats. The oils in garlic are really strong, and eating too much can irritate the intestinal system and cause diarrhea. The idea is to get your chicks used to the taste and to intermittently stimulate the immune system. When your birds are adults, I think it is ok to mix raw garlic with other foods for specific disease application. But if so, be mindful of the quantity and a half teaspoonful at a time per bird should be sufficient. Small amounts at intervals should be applied. Teaching your birds to eat it free choice makes it much easier to apply in the future as they will then eat what they need on their own.
Raw Garlic Mixed with Water
An easy application to give garlic to your flock would be to crush it up and mix with the drinking water. One clove per quart, four cloves per gallon, etc., is my recommended place to start. Depending on the general health of your flock, you may want to add more or less to the water. Always make sure your birds continue to drink normal amounts of water, and if they really balk at drinking it, I would remove it entirely or refill using a smaller amount. It is more important that they continue to drink water than have the garlic in it and drink less than they need.
So in a matter of 24 hours the antibiotic properties are gone, but the compounds change into other beneficial sulfides and related compounds. The sulfides in garlic can help stimulate the immune system and act on the blood as antioxidants. It is interesting to note that commercial sulfonamide drugs were developed to treat infection as an anti–bacterial agent and to treat protozoa like those that cause coccidiosis. Other protozoan diseases are cryptosporidiosis, blackhead, canker and toxoplasmosis.
In research, garlic has been shown effective against protozoan parasites like aspergillus, candida, cryptococcus, and toxoplasma so it would not be a large leap to assume it could also be effective against coccidiosis. Garlic is also effective against bacteria like staphylococcus, streptococcus and salmonella.
With the infusion into water, you may lose the antibiotic properties, but gain antibacterial and protection against protozoan disease.
For topical use, 10 percent garlic juice mixed in water (made in a juicer) applied where the skin is infected by parasites, especially northern fowl mites, can really be helpful. Let the juice sit three days before using to reduce skin irritation.
Macerated Raw Garlic Oil
When I want to give the chicken’s immune system a strong boost, and also reap the benefits of the energy unsaturated fats can give, macerated garlic oil is a perfect application during the winter months. Soaking the crushed garlic in olive, peanut or sunflower oil has a completely different effect as compared with soaking crushed garlic in water. The allicin will still soon dissipate, but instead of forming sulfides, in the oil it will create the compounds ajoenes and dithiins. Ajoenes shares many of the antibiotic properties that allicin has, so the macerated oil will retain this quality along with the other benefits. I mix this oil with their favorite treat seeds to eat in the evening before they go to roost. Garlic oil can be a useful preventative or treatment against several flagellated (protozoan) poultry parasites, most notably blackhead which is carried by eggs of the cecal worm.
Garlic Powder (Dried)
Due to its industrial processing, commercial dried powder will not compare to the garlic powder you make yourself. Drying garlic slices with a low–temperature heat in the oven should preserve the allin compound and enzyme allinase to give the powder an allicin–potential content. When the allin and allinase disintegrate on contact in the intestinal system, it gets converted into allicin. How much allicin it creates is not known, but it will then have antibiotic properties.
You will need to observe to see how well it works for your flock. It will also contain small amounts of the sulfides and other compounds. Powdered garlic probably offers the weakest strength of all the preparations, so perhaps it is something you could use too when offering free choice raw garlic to chicks to help not overdue it.
You can make excellent garlic syrup to help your flock with respiratory infections. It can be used by itself or along with other supporting herbs. Honey already possesses antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, and will help increase the effects of the garlic especially for the respiratory system. This combination can provide a powerful punch to knock out respiratory issues before they get a firm hold. Crush the garlic and put into a clean jar and cover with raw honey, letting it infuse for 24 hours. You can administer about three to six drops every other hour during the day, or as needed depending.
Growing Your Own
The really best part of garlic is that is easy to grow, and it doesn’t take much room to grow it. And once you get your patch going, it self–perpetuates and you will never have to buy another garlic bulb again! I simply plant in the Fall, using the biggest bulbs I saved from what I grew the year before, and plant each individual clove about 6 to 12 inches apart in a heavily mulched bed about 4–inches deep.
The mulch is fertilized with the poopy litter from my chicken coops of course! Since my bed is so heavily mulched, I don’t even water it throughout the course of the growing season. It grew just fine last year even with our bad drought conditions. And here is the cool thing you will get from growing the hard–necked variety garlic.
You will get stiff scapes that shoot up from the garlic leaves, and as it nears ripening, it will produce seeds that are called bulbils. I use the scape to tell me when my garlic has ripened to harvest. When the scape uncurls and is standing straight up, that is when I pull the garlic up from the ground, which is usually at the end of the summer.
These tiny garlic seeds can be planted, but I find the tiny seeds useful to feed as is to my poultry or use in my suet mix. It’s like having tiny little garlic cloves. After harvest, I cut off the scape with the seeds and put in a large paper sack. Eventually the paper–thin cover over the seeds will dry and split open and the seeds will pop. I recommend this so that the seeds don’t go flying everywhere (and they will!) The rest of the garlic I dry on a wire rack for two or three weeks on my shaded porch. You need to have good air flow for it to dry out nicely. I then cut off any remaining scape and leaves and store in a cardboard box in a cool dark place in my house. The garlic should keep well for a year before starting to dry out.
As you can see, garlic is very versatile and easy to incorporate into your flock’s maintenance and feeding routine. It is one herbal staple that I am never without.
Susan is an herbalist who advises on Poultry Natural Living & Herbal Care on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/groups/herbalpoultrycare. She also grows native and cultivated herbs on six acres of land, and sells her own poultry products at www.moonlightmileherbs.com.