By Lisa Barthuly
Spring is in full bloom in the northern USA, and by the time you are reading this we might even be planting potatoes and onions. The general rule of thumb is we can get away with planting those in May, but best not to chance seedlings or direct sowing of seed outside until after Memorial Day. Yes, our growing season is very short. Over the years, that advice has worked out well.
As of this writing I am ordering some organic seed potatoes in a few different varieties; we usually stick to russets, however this year I might get a little crazy and go with some reds and Yukons too. I can’t wait to get Walla Walla Sweets and a few other onion varieties in the ground as well.
This year’s garden focus is stronger than ever on food production, with the prices at the stores and markets going higher and the quality going lower, we need all the production we can get from our garden! Fresh eating for the summer is not only delicious, nutritious and cuts the grocery bill down, but putting up all we can for the year, until next growing season is key.
However, this year … I am going to branch out a bit and in addition to the normal herbs and goodies I grow for our pantry, I am going to grow specific herbs and crops for our animals! Yes, you read right—our animals!
We keep chickens and goats on our homestead and they love garden scraps and cuttings; using our garden space intentionally to grow herbs that benefit our animals’ health and well being, not to mention supplements their feed, is just good stewardship!
For our chickens, we can grow particular herbs that we’ll dry and store that will be added into their feed during the winter months when snow covers the ground. We can grow a variety of herbs that we can line their nesting boxes with (fresh in the summer, dried the rest of the year) and plant around their coop area that keep lice, ticks, and parasites away. Not only does this help with the feed bill, but it makes for happy, healthy chickens, which in turn results in greater egg production!
Some great herbs to grow around the coop would be feverfew, wormwood and catmint. Herbs to grow to supplement our chicken’s diets would be fennel, nasturtium, sage, comfrey, nettle, alfalfa leaf, marjoram, dandelion leaf, chickweed, fennel seed, mints, lemon balm, parsley—even marigold, rose petals, and oregano!
In the spring and summer when you get dandelions don’t spray or use a weed killer on them. Have the children go out and pick them and toss them into the chicken coop. You get them out of your lawn, the chickens get a healthy treat, and the children enjoy feeding the chickens!
For our goats, a treat is blackberry or raspberry leaves—anytime of year! Before they are going to kid they’ll get a handful of comfrey and raspberry leaves sprinkled in with some oats and corn. To keep parasites at bay we give them minced garlic (unpeeled cloves are best) and keep baking soda free choice for them. Goats are amazing—they’ll eat what their bodies need and leave what they do not need.
Marshmallow root is great for increasing milk production too. Offering up a “salad” of sorts for the goats once a month or so, made up of thyme, marjoram, sage, black or red raspberry leaves, and maybe a few stalks of lavender is a treat—and helps keep them in great health. I’ll store these herbs and mix up with their feed too. Growing these in our garden and then drying and storing in canning jars is just being a good steward of what we’ve been given and caring for the animals that give back to us!
Herbal Chicken Feed Supplement
2 parts alfalfa leaf
2 parts nettle leaf
2 parts marjoram
2 parts dandelion (whole or leaf)
1 part chickweed
1 part fennel seed
1/2 part minced garlic
1/2 part comfrey
All matter should be dried and I measure by volume, not weight. I dump everything in a huge bowl, mix well and put into glass canning jars with tight-fitting lids. (I use my food saver to seal air tight.) I put these up in my pantry, labeled well. I will mix two quarts for every 25 pounds of feed; I mix in a clean galvanized garbage can (that I use exclusively for animal feed mixtures) with a tight fitting lid.
Do your own research for your area and your particular animals. Then this year, try using some garden space to grow some supplemental, healthy feed for your animals! You will reap the benefits and so will your animals!