Garlic was used by the ancient Egyptians for medicinal purposes and is still popular today as a health supplement. In European countries where they consume large amounts of garlic in their diets, they have a lower risk of cancer and are less likely to suffer from heart disease, but what can it do for our hens?
Chicken keepers have been giving raw garlic to their hens for decades, possibly longer, to help them treat infection and respiratory problems but also to improve their appetite and the size and quality of the eggs they lay. After a few weeks of use, the sulphur from chicken’s droppings is also reduced which can make your chicken coop and run smell better.
When freshly crushed, garlic releases allicin and allicetoins that have antibacterial properties. Louis Pasteur discovered this as far back as 1858. It is known to kill only the bad bacteria or ‘pathogens’ and not the ‘good’ bacteria but allicin is also thought to be a deterrent to the ectoparasite red mite due to the taste of the allicins in the blood. Garlic is used in some red mite treatments such as ‘Breck-a-Sol’, which is an acaricide that has been approved for use in the U.K.
What can garlic be used for?
Anything added to your bird’s diet should be carefully researched first, as should any external preparation. Anything you choose to use should be introduced gradually and tested in a small quantity at first.
Here is a list of what garlic might be useful for:
- Garlic can be used on a birds skin as an antiseptic for minor wounds and abrasions.
- Added to the diet, it may help to make the environment in the gut less attractive to internal parasites (worms) although this should not be used for confirmed cases of worms or as an alternative to a proven wormer such as Flubenvet. I could find little research in this area although many poultry keepers believe it helps and some old books suggest a strong solution of crushed garlic, but then again old books suggest many remedies that we now know don’t work and there are many ‘Old Wives Tales’ when it comes to poultry keeping!
- It can be rubbed into the legs to help prevent parasites such as scaly leg mite and there have been studies that have shown it reduces the incidence of Northern Fowl mite*.
- A few cloves crushed into water can make a tonic that can help boost the immune system.
- Garlic improves the appetite and helps hens produce larger and better quality eggs.
- The respiratory system can benefit from breathing steam which has (fresh) garlic infused into it. This can be done by placing the bird into a show cage / puppy crate anywhere that can be covered in plastic easily (still allowing enough air to breathe) and placing a steaming bowl under the plastic -but- outside of the cage (so your bird doesn’t get burnt). This can help their breathing as an expectorant and gets the active anti-inflammatory ingredients directly into the lungs.
- The sulphur content of chicken manure is reduced when feeding garlic which can make your chicken house smell a little better!
*Birrenkott et al. (2000)
Is fresh, raw garlic better?
This seems to be an age-old argument in the health food domain. There have been some studies that suggest it might be better to use raw garlic but it’s far from clear. There are numerous poultry stores online selling dried garlic granules that can easily be added to water from a bag and these are a popular choice amongst poultry keepers. Personally, I keep a bag of granules in the cupboard next to the sink for the days when we have run out of fresh garlic, or, when I’m in a hurry. Most of the time, I crush fresh cloves into my chicken’s drinking water.
Won’t my chickens eggs taste of garlic?
Garlic reduces the sulphur content of eggs which gives them a slightly different taste. If you add a lot of garlic to your hens diet, they will without doubt start to taste different. Clemson University did a taste study on eggs from hens fed 3% garlic (which is actually a huge amount of garlic when you think about it, 600g per 20Kg feed sack) and kept some other hens in a control group. They offered eggs to tasters from both groups and they actually prefered the taste of eggs from garlic fed hens.**
**Reported in Science Daily November 19th 1998
Personally, I add about 3 crushed cloves to a 6 litre water container and can’t taste any difference in the eggs I eat.
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