woman pouring henhouse reserve chicken feed from a scoop into a feeder

Are Essential Oils Good for Chickens?

Whether you are new on your poultry-keeping journey or you have been keeping birds for decades, raising backyard chickens can bring so much enjoyment and reward to your life.  As backyard poultry keepers, feeding our chickens can be as easy or as in-depth as we choose.  With so many options on the market today, it may seem overwhelming trying to choose a healthy, high-quality product for your flock.  Let’s breakdown some of the common questions about essential oils.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are the concentrated compounds that are extracted from plants.  These oils contain the essence of the plant; thus, the use of “essential” in the name.  Essential oils can also provide a wide range of really great benefits to humans and chickens alike.  However, not all essential oils are created equally and it’s important to understand which essential oils are good AND effective in supporting the health of your flock.

Why Were Essential Oils Developed?

As more consumers shy away from using medications for prevention of disease (a completely different strategy than treating disease), we started looking for all-natural alternatives to using low-dosage antibiotics.  Essential oils and the science behind them are not new.  Scientists and herbalists were working with essential oils before antibiotics were even discovered.  However, with the push toward organic agriculture and the need to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics, essential oil research has really blossomed in the last 20 years.

How Do Essential Oils Work?  What are the Benefits of Essential Oils?

Essential oils can work in a number of different ways.  Some poultry keepers choose to add essential oils to the birds’ environment.  However, today, we are going to focus on the use of essential oils in chicken feeds.  

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In feed, the two most common benefits of essential oils would be antimicrobial properties and antioxidant properties. Some essential oils have antimicrobial properties, which means that the essential oils can actually help prevent bad bacteria, like E. coli and Salmonella, from reproducing in the chicken’s GI tract.  Essential oils support a healthy gut by influencing digestive enzyme secretion and stabilizing the number of good bacteria in the GI tract.  There is also research linking essential oils and their ability to damage the cells of bad bacteria in such a manner that the bad bacteria cannot reproduce, or cause cell lysis to occur, which causes the bad bacteria to die (e.g., antimicrobial).  Examples of essential oils with antimicrobial properties would be oregano and cinnamon.

Another beneficial function of essential oils is their antioxidant property.  Antioxidants help alleviate the negative effects of stress.  Any time an animal is stressed, the cells in their body will produce free radicals.  Free radicals are unstable compounds that will bounce around and cause damage to cells in stressed bodies.  Antioxidants work by scavenging free radicals and neutralizing their damaging properties.  Even in the best of living conditions, all chickens will be subjected to some type of stressor – whether that be heat stress, a stalking predator, an injury, or an overzealous rooster.  The antioxidant properties of essential oils can help reduce the negative effects of that stress.  Examples of essential oils with antioxidant properties would be oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

How Do I Add Essential Oils to My Feed?

As I mentioned earlier in this article, feeding our chickens can be as easy or as in-depth as we choose.  We want to make feeding easy!  Because we recognize the benefits of essential oils in supporting gut health and immunity, most Kalmbach® poultry feeds already contain essential oils.  Essential oils are one of the core components of our LifeGuard® technology.  Any time you see the LifeGuard® seal on our bags, you can be assured that the feed was formulated with the health and immunity of your chickens as a primary focus.   

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Can I Get the Benefits of Essential Oils from the Plant Alone?

You can get some benefit!  We see many backyard poultry keepers deciding to provide whole herbs for their flock.  Generally speaking, this is a safe practice if you use herbs that have been proven safe for poultry.  Just be aware that most essential oils are highly concentrated and precisely extracted.  Their supporting health benefits are contingent upon extracting the right compounds from the plant and then using those extracted oils at the proper concentrations.  By using the whole herb, you may not see the same benefits because the chicken simply cannot eat enough of the whole herb to provide the concentration needed.  If you want to include essential oils as part of your feeding program, choosing a feed or a supplement that has been specifically formulated for poultry is the safest option.

About Us

At Kalmbach Feeds®, we are committed to producing high-quality poultry feeds with proven results.  Our commitment to quality and health allows us to stay on the cutting edge of nutrition.  The health and performance of your birds is our #1 focus and we are committed to producing the products you need to keep your chickens happy and healthy for many years.  We love our chickens!  We enjoy our chickens!  And, we want to help you in any way that we can.  Visit our blog to learn more and feel free to contact us with any of your poultry-related questions!

Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.