While there is still skepticism around the use of essential oils and more research to be conducted, some poultry farmers have integrated essential oils and other natural ingredients into their birds’ diets to promote flock health. Let’s look at these amazing natural compounds and how they can help your birds live their best lives.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are plant products are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots and can be combined with a carrier oil or other liquid. They can also be used in dried form. In humans, essential oils are used as liniments (external) or infusions (internal/external).
Essential Oils and Chickens
Some backyard chicken owners regularly use herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary because they believe they have antimicrobial, astringent, and antifungal properties, as well as the ability to repel insects. Essential oils from these plants are also making their way into chicken feeds.
Essential oils are part of a class of plant extracts called phytogenics (FY-toh-JEN-ihks). Poultry farmers are starting to use phytogenics, including essential oils, in their feeds to prevent disease. They are also using phytogenics in feeds to support healthy growth. Proprietary research has shown that essential oils benefit the digestive, reproductive, and immune systems in laying hens. The following are a few examples of essential oils and their benefits.
Studies show that oregano oil extracted from two species, Origanum vulgare and Thymus capitatus, have antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties. However, these oregano species are not sold in traditional grocery stores, so finding a source of the right varieties is important.
A member of the evergreen family, this common medicinal plant can protect poultry livers from toxic molds. Other benefits to chickens include high levels of vitamins A, C, and B, as well as magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and manganese. Rosemary also contains carnosic acid, which protects the nervous system and promotes healing in the brain. It can be used to prevent (not cure) certain bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus, which causes bumblefoot. Its strong smell also acts as an insect repellent.
This member of the mint family is a medicinal herb in many cultures. In poultry it acts as an antioxidant that protects the intestine and boosts the immune system. As a hygienic environmental spray, it also has antibacterial properties, decreasing the number of Coliform bacteria. Other effects in poultry include improvement in growth and digestive and antioxidant enzymes.
Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen shrub native to China and Vietnam. It is commonly used as a flavoring and a scent for products such as candles. Oils extracted from star anise were shown to improve laying as well as growth. The use of star anise oils in poultry also increases antioxidants in the liver and egg yolk and stimulates the immune system. It also aids in production of digestive enzymes and increases liver function.
Nutrena Introduces Essential Oils in NatureWise
Nutrena is now offering new feeds that tap into the amazing powers of essential oils. Using a combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, star anise, these new poultry diets support the digestibility of crude protein, amino acids, fat, calcium, and phosphorus. Essential oils and other phytogenics will maximize your birds’ laying performance and reduce ammonia emissions. New research shows that layers that were fed oregano essential oil produced 13 more eggs per hen over a period of 81 weeks. The overall quality of eggs improved by 1.6 percent. Cargill’s own research has shown that nutritious feed with essential oils results in healthy birds who lay eggs with a healthy weight and strong shells.
Giving Your Flock the Good Life
Our new product line with essential oils offers you and your chickens multiple benefits:
- Better feed taste and resulting in better feed consumption
- Enhanced freshness
- Healthy digestion from increased enzyme production and nutrient absorption
- Support for a healthy, strong immune system
- Higher feed-to-meat conversion ratio in broilers
- Support for healthy growth and bone formation
- Promotion of healthy egg weight and size
- Aids with maximum egg production
- Stronger eggshells
You can read more about our new product line that includes essential oils at the following links:
 “Rosemary: Rosmarinus officinalis,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/rosemary; Jonatas Rafael de Oliviera et al., “Biological Activities of Rosmarinus officinalis L. (rosemary) Extract as Analyzed in Microorganisms and Cells.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 242, no. 6 (2017): 625–634.
 “Thyme: Thymus vulgaris,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/thyme.
 Caiyun Yu, et al., “Effects of Star Anise (Illicium verum Hook.f.) Essential Oil on Laying Performance and Antioxidant Status of Laying Hens.” Poultry Science 97, no. 11 (2018): 3957–3966.