Essential Oils: Helping Your Birds Live Their Best Lives

While there is still skepticism around the use of essential oils and more research to bespring chicken bantam hen 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. 

Oregano

oreganoStudies 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. 

 

Rosemary

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.[1] Its strong smell also acts as an insect repellent.

Thyme

thymeThis 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.[2]   

Star Anise

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.[3] 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:

[1] “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.

[2] “Thyme: Thymus vulgaris,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/thyme

[3] 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. 

Are you feeding treats correctly?

As a poultry owner, I love the feeling I get when I feed a treat to my flock. They see me coming with grapes, blueberries, or grain and they come at a high speed run (well, as fast as that waddle/wiggle/chicken run can go). I feel like a hero, the chickens love me (at least while the goodies last), and we are all happy. It’s so much fun, I am always tempted to throw out just a little bit more… but the old adage “if a little bit is good, more is better” is something that’s not a good practice when feeding treats to your flock. In fact, you can seriously harm the production, health and well being of your birds by overfeeding treats.

First, let’s clarify. What exactly is a treat? For our purposes a treat is anything that you feed your birds that is not grit, oyster shell, or a commercial ration (layer feed, all flock, etc.). Note: As soon as your birds have access to anything other than pellets or crumbles you need to provide grit free choice. We don’t count oyster shell or grit as treats; these are additives that help with digestion (grit) and calcium supplementation (oyster shell). Anything else, however, should be considered a treat and fed appropriately. This includes scratch grains.

The commercial feed that our birds eat are formulated specifically to deliver the correct amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and energy to our birds in perfect balance. Adding other things to their diet (like scratch, kitchen scraps, etc.) can throw off this delicate balance and result in deficiencies in the diet. Deficiencies can manifest themselves in many different ways in our flocks, including feather pecking, egg eating, decreased egg production and poor overall feed utilization and performance.

So how do you know how much to feed your birds when it comes to treats? There is a good method to follow that will keep the treat portion within the recommended 10 – 15% of your birds’ diet.

  1. Pick your treat of the day and make it something your birds really enjoy! Mealworms, fruits, vegetables and insects are all good treats.
  2. Give your birds only what they will clean up in 15 minutes. Do this one time a day to prevent unbalancing their diet.
  3. Be a hero to your birds and enjoy your 15 minutes of fame!
  4. Repeat daily.