Oregano is one of my favorite herbs to use for backyard chickens. It’s easy to grow from seed in the spring, preferring well-drained soil in the full sun or partial shade. It also grows well in containers or even in a pot on the windowsill. But the reason I like it so much is that oregano for chickens has been specifically studied.
Oregano Oil for Chickens
A 2012 study reported by The New York Times mentioned that commercial chicken farms have begun to use cinnamon oil and oregano oil for chickens. Their natural antibiotic properties serve as an alternative to conventional antibiotics.
Of course, essential oils are far stronger than the fresh herb, so while I don’t necessarily recommend dosing your chickens with oregano oil, I do think that adding some fresh and dried oregano to their diet is a good thing as a preventive and to keep your flock healthy. Oregano for chickens is known to strengthen the immune system and is thought to help guard against common poultry illnesses such as salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian flu and e-coli. My chickens love to eat fresh oregano right from the garden, and I dry the excess to mix into their daily feed through the winter.
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I don’t get my baby chicks vaccinated; nor do I feed them medicated chick feed. Instead, I offer them fresh chopped oregano — almost from hatch. (If you do feed your chicks anything other than chick feed, be sure to also provide a small dish of grit or coarse dirt to help them digest the plant fibers.) The chicks love all kinds of herbs, and by offering them a steady diet of nutritious herbs like oregano, they develop a taste for them and willingly eat them right through adulthood.
Although no dosage has been determined for the oregano oil, if I had a choice to administer commercial antibiotics to an ailing hen or try a more holistic method, I would most definitely try a few drops of oregano oil in their water first.
So why not plant some oregano this spring and add it to your chickens’ diet? When you trim your plants, give the trimmings to the chickens to boost their natural immunity, and start mixing some dried oregano into their feed through the winter when they can use an immune system boost. And a sprinkle of cinnamon wouldn’t hurt either!
WHEN TO PLANT
Plant oregano seeds directly in the ground after the danger of frost has passed or start seeds indoors about two weeks before your last frost date. Oregano often grows as a perennial in zones 5 to 9, but should be mulched in the winter in the colder climates to ensure it will survive the winter.
WHERE TO PLANT
Plant in full sun (or partial shade in far Southern climates) in sandy, well-draining soil. Oregano is a Mediterranean plant, so it likes dry conditions and is drought-tolerant, although seedlings need to be watered regularly until established.
READY TO HARVEST
Once your plants are 4- to 6-inches tall, you can start pinching back the tops of the plants. This will result in a bushier rather than leggy plant. Harvest the leaves in the morning after the dew has dried for the best flavor. Air-dry them or use them fresh.
Lisa Steele is the author of Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). She lives on a small hobby farm in Maine with her husband and their flock of chickens and ducks, two dogs, and a barn cat. She is a fifth-generation chicken keeper and writes about her experiences on her award-winning blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com. In her free time, she loves to garden, bake, knit and sip home-brewed herbal teas.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.