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    Sprucing Up Around the Chicken Pen with Herb Plants

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Some of the herbs that are popular in any herb garden are said to be beneficial to chickens. Gail Damerow, author of several poultry care books, including the popular Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and The Chicken Health Handbook, contributes regularly to poultry and homesteading magazines. She is also the poultry expert for Tractor Supply’s Life Out Here columns and her own blog

    Thujone in herbs and chickens

    Gail shares the following list of herbs that contain thujone which has vermifuge properties that cause muscle spasms and death to parasites. However, she notes that just because someone feeds their chickens herbs having thujone doesn’t mean that is the reason their chickens do not have worms. 

    Oregano

    Oregano is a perennial that grows from 1 to 3 feet tall with a 1 to 2 feet spread. Its low-growing, bushy appearance with bright green leaves performs best when it is sheared back often to induce new growth and to prevent it from flowering. 

    Sage

    Sage is attractive for any herb garden or even mixed with perennials. It grows in Zones 4 to 8 to a height of about 2 feet, though some cultivars are shorter. Like most herbs, it needs full sun.

    Tarragon

    Tarragon, often called French tarragon, grows in Zones 5 to 8. It grows about 2 to 3 feet tall with dark green, narrow, and slightly twisted leaves that have a licorice or anise flavor.

    Wormwood

    Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has soft, silvery green, or gray foliage. It grows in Zones 3 to 9. It is bitter and its use is as an ornamental plant for borders, beds, or rock gardens rather than as a culinary herb.

    Tansy

    Tansy grows 2 to 4 feet tall. The foliage is dark green and fern-like, and it boasts button-shaped yellow flowers. Its Hardiness Zones are 4 to 8. It is used in borders, cottage gardens, or meadow-type planting areas as an ornamental plant instead of a culinary plant. It can be toxic to horses, cows, and humans if eaten in excess. It is considered invasive in some states. 

    While Gail does not grow herbs specifically to feed her chickens, she says she won’t rule out the idea that they might get occasional herbs in among the gleanings from her garden. She also shares that chickens typically won’t be interested in toxic plants simply because most toxic plants taste bad, but she does advise against feeding parsley to your flock.

    Using herbs to beautify

    Kathy Shea Mormino, known as The Chicken Chick and author of The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens, grows herbs outside her chicken pen to beautify the landscape and for her enjoyment, not for the chickens. Among popular herbs that are attractive in garden beds, in containers, or mixed with perennials around the outside perimeter of Kathy’s chicken pen include oregano (mentioned above) and the following:

    Rosemary

    Rosemary is an herbaceous perennial that is fragrant with a pine-like scent when you crush the leaves or strip them from the woody stems. It can grow tall, as much as 2 to 6 feet with a spread of 2 to 4 feet in areas where it is winter hardy, Zones 7 to 10. It can be an attractive anchor plant to give height and interest on either or both sides of a gate or at the corners of the chicken pen. Rosemary needs full sun. 

    Lavender

    Lavender is an herbaceous perennial with silvery green foliage. It has a mounded growth habit and, in the summer, sends up spikes of showy, fragrant flowers in purple, lavender, pink, or white blooms, depending on the cultivar. It grows to about 1 ½ feet tall and wide. It grows in Zones 5 to 8. 

    Mint

    Mint, a perennial that grows 1 to 2 feet tall with a spread of 1 to 2 feet, is a go-getter in the garden. It spreads rapidly so if you wish to control it, grow it in a container. It grows in Zones 5 to 9, and most garden centers have more than one variety, such as peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, or chocolate mint. 

    Dill

    Dill is an annual that grows tall, around 3 to 5 feet with a spread of 2 to 3 feet. It grows in Zones 2 to 11 and typically blooms in August to September with yellow flowers, though it can bolt (go to seed) much earlier in hot, dry climates. The foliage is aromatic with fringe-like or lacy fronds. This plant isn’t keen on being transplanted so sow seeds directly into the soil after the danger of frost has passed. It is a larval plant for the black swallowtail butterfly so before throwing caterpillars to your flock, consider whether you want pretty butterflies gracing your garden and coop. 

    Thyme

    Thyme is a low-growing herb that is perfect to tuck in and around other herbs or to mix with lettuces or annuals in containers. It has small delicate leaves on woody stems that will spill over the edges of containers or over stone or brick walks. 

    Note that neither Gail or Kathy use herbs to supplement chicken feed. Growing herbs around your chicken pen should be a plan to execute for beautification and culinary use. When choosing plants for around your flock's area, always be sure they are non-toxic. 


    More about plants and chickens

    Keeping your flock cool in the heat is as important as keeping them warm in the cold. Learn how to provide natural shade to their coop and chicken run with this guide.
    Even chickens love a treat. Learn more about plants you can add to your garden to boost your flock's feeding time.