The Homesteader's Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

3 Common Chick Illnesses and How to Naturally Treat Them

Preventing and treating common chick illnesses can be tricky. But with herbs and natural remedies, it’s absolutely attainable.

As with any animal or human, we sometimes worry most about how to naturally treat an illnesses. Especially when it comes to chick illnesses. What if they get sick? Is it possible to treat an illness or bacterial infection with natural remedies? While the answer isn’t as black-and-white as you may think, there are quite a few ways to help prevent illness and disease in your little flock. Should they contract an illness or ailment, I have some natural remedies for you as well.

Let’s go over three common chick illnesses and how you can treat and prevent them.

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Homemade Chicken Pot Pie with Rustic Crust

A thick pie crust and warm chicken and veggie filling are the basis of this rustic homemade chicken pot pie. Just like grandma made it, you’ll enjoy this recipe for years to come.

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie with Pie Crust

One of my family’s favorite dishes is a piping hot homemade chicken pot pie. But you can’t just make a chicken pot pie with a pre-made crust. No way. It must all be homemade from start to finish. That’s the best part of this rustic homemade chicken pot pie.

Not only is this recipe easy to make, it’s also easy to freeze. This recipe makes two chicken pot pies, which means you can freeze one and have a freezer meal on hand as well. It’s easy to whip together, and your family will love this hearty meal on your farmstead table.

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A Guide to Buying Baby Chicks

Buying baby chicks—it’s one of the greatest things to do as a chicken keeper. It’s officially that time of year—early spring. You see the signs all over the place, “Chick Days Are Here,” but you cringe because you know you don’t have room for any more chicks. Or, maybe you don’t have any chicks at all, and this is the day you want to add them to your backyard or farmstead.

Here we go. Deep breaths. Try not to buy all the chicks, you tell yourself. And somehow, some way, you’re absolutely going to fail . . . and you’ll buy more chicks than you should’ve. It’s called chicken addiction, OK? It’s a disease, I tell you!

All kidding aside, purchased chicks are, in many ways, a lot easier for the chicken keeper to start or maintain a flock. Hatching eggs can present challenges, and the wait isn’t ideal for people who lack patience. So, we often opt to purchase chicks, either at our local farm store, from a hatchery, or through a breeder.

There are pros and cons to each, and they are all very valid and important. Choosing your breed may be your first step, but choosing where to purchase your chicks is equally as important. Use this guide for buying baby chicks this spring!

Buying Baby Chicks From the Farm Store

Your local farm store will most likely carry chicks every single spring and fall. Most homesteaders replenish their flocks during these times of the year. These chicks normally come from hatcheries, though some farm stores carry locally hatched and raised chicks.

Pros: Many times the farm store will have straight-run chicks or pullet chicks. This is especially convenient if you are just looking for pullets (females). They generally carry the most common breeds, including heritage breeds, sexlinks, and bantams.

Cons: The trip from the hatchery to the farm store and then to your home can be a bit stressful on chicks. This is where “pasty butt” in chicks begins to cause issues. Oftentimes the stress from constant transportation can cause a higher death rate than if you were ordering from the hatchery straight to your home, or directly from a breeder. The farm store doesn’t always have all of the breeds you may want, either, as they generally only carry main breeds that are the most popular that year.

Another con: You don’t have the option to look over the chicks. The farm store will normally just put chicks in a box without allowing you to touch them, according to state law, and for good reason. Most people don’t know how to handle chicks properly. While farm stores won’t allow you to pick up chicks and look them over when you purchase them, you can certainly request for them to choose chicks that are naturally alert, plump, and without pasty butt. Final con: You normally have to purchase four to six chicks minimum, depending on the store. So if you’re just wanting two chicks, you might be out of luck. However, the laws have recently changed, and now there is no minimum number of chicks you must buy unless they are for pets only.

Check with your local extension office first, and keep in mind that stores can designate what the minimum amount to purchase is even if there legally is no minimum.

Buying Baby Chicks From the Hatchery

Hatcheries are a great option if you’re looking to purchase chicks in bulk, are interested in a certain breed, or you want the convenience of shopping online. You can order straight-run or pullet, and different hatcheries offer different breeds. Most generic hatcheries offer the same types of breeds, but there are also some high-quality hatcheries that breed imported birds that are more highly sought after.

Pros: You can shop at home in your pajamas, and you don’t have to worry about transporting the chicks from a different location except from the post office. You’ll find more breeds, including rarer breeds.

Cons: Typically the box will come to you unharmed, but other times the box might turn up damaged with injured chicks. This isn’t common, but it can happen. Due to transportation, you also run the risk of opening up the box to find dead chicks. While this isn’t typically a traumatic event for an adult, it may be something to consider with children around. This is a step that the farm store does eliminate when they receive hatchery chicks.

Another con: You won’t have a chance to look over the chicks. You’re simply at the mercy of whatever they send you. And the last con: Some hatcheries require you purchase ten or more chicks per order.

Buying Baby Chicks From the Trusted Breeder

My favorite way to purchase chicks is from a trusted and reliable breeder. I say this both as a chicken keeper and as a chicken breeder. It may take a bit longer, and may cost a bit more, but if you’re searching for a certain breed or egg color, finding a reliable breeder is best. They can ship the eggs or chicks to you just as a hatchery would, and they are just a phone call away if you have any questions. You can also find extremely rare chicken breeds that are top quality.

Pros: Breeder chicks are typically of higher quality than hatchery chicks, both in conformation and egg shape and color quality. Many breeders keep track of their breeding lines, and this is a great way to learn where your chicken flock came from. A great pro is that you typically get to look over the chicks you’re purchasing from a local breeder (unless they are mailing them). This isn’t the case, though, if you’re purchasing from a distant breeder.

Cons: It’s extremely hard, and time-consuming, to find a trusted and reliable breeder. As with any backyard animal breeder, sometimes chickens can be over-bred with bad quality, or bred too closely in relation to one another. Start by finding a breeder through the American Poultry Association, or through the specific breed associations that you are part of.

No matter where you decide to get your chicks, you’ll always want to check them over as thoroughly as possible when you receive them. You can learn all about that, common chick illnesses, and more in my new book. The Homesteader’s Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook!


Homemade Anti-Parasitic Tincture for Livestock

Homemade Anti-parasitic tincture for livestock

Parasites and worms on your farm and homestead are one of the top leading causes of livestock death. But thankfully we can make a homemade anti-parasitic tincture for our livestock (yes, even chickens!) By offering our livestock herbal supplements and this tincture on a regular basis, we can help prevent parasites from infesting our beloved animals, and treat our livestock should an issue arise. The issue, however, is that you’ll need to make this tincture now in case you ever need to use it later for an infestation. It takes 4-6 weeks for this tincture to be created!

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Naturally Keeping Chickens Cool | They Don’t Need Your Help (with Video)

Your chickens don't need ice cubes and frozen treats, but they do need a few basics. Find out how to naturally keep chickens cool here.

You see it all over the place—there’s at least 85 blogs talking about keeping chickens cool. Give them ice cubes. Hose them down (please don’t). Give them electrolytes and frozen water jugs. I’ve seen it all and heard it all. But here’s the reality—chickens don’t need your help to keep cool. Period. And yet, they kind of do. Check it out . . .

While there are certainly instances where your chickens need assistance, keeping chickens cool or warm isn’t one of them. It’s like the whole dilemma with heat lamps in the winter—the bottom line is, chickens don’t need them. If given the proper tools, not only can you keep chickens cool without giving them icey treats and fans, but your flock will be healthier because of it.

Keeping Chickens Cool — Disclaimer (sick chickens)

Let me first start this post by telling you that if your chickens already have a health issue, it can and will be amplified by the heat. These are taken on as a case-by-case basis. For example, if you have a chicken that is completely stressed out from the heat because they are already sick or injured, you should make an exception and either separate them in a cooler area with a fan, or bring them indoors to treat them.

Generally, healthy chickens will not need anything but the basics to keep them cool. But it’s best to prepare for emergencies when necessary.

The Homesteader's Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

Keeping Chickens Cool (Dont’s)

There are a lot of ways you can help with keeping chickens cool in the summer, but there are a few ways you should reconsider.

Ice cubes and Icy treats

As with any animal, when you give them ice or excessively cold treats, their bodies begin to cool down. The issue is that after a temporary cool-down (normally about 10-15 minutes), their bodies begin heating back up again. But this time, not naturally. Their bodies have already acclimated to the heat slowly with the rising of the sun, but now their bodies are forced to cool down naturally on their own while the temperatures are already hot and heavy. This can lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion, especially if you are doing this multiple times a day. This causes the chicken’s body to heat up and cool down over and over again until their systems simply fail and become ultimately stressed.

Instead of allowing them to pick at ice cubes and frozen treats, you can stick a regular ice cube (just one) in their waterer to help keep the waterer at a normal, cooler temperature for longer in the mornings. However, do not add ice water to their waterer on a regular basis, especially once it has gotten extremely hot. Regular well water temperature will be just fine. 

Getting Your Chickens Wet (with a sprinkler or hose)

Chickens have feathers, not gills. They weren’t meant to be wet as a means to cool off. This is why chickens take dust baths, not wet bird baths. Trying to cool  your chickens down with water is the worst way to do it. Their body’s natural way to cool is to allow air to flow through their feathers. If their feathers are matted down with water, you’ll actually hold in more heat than release it. Never, ever, do this.

Frozen Water Jugs

This is a big trend for all livestock, and I really wish we’d stop doing it. Years ago someone told me to put frozen water bottles in with my rabbits to keep them cool in the summer. Guess what, my rabbits started dying. As soon as I took out the frozen water bottles, they stopped dying. This happened to a friend as well. Why? Same issue as the frozen treats.

When you offer your livestock or chickens frozen water jugs to sit beside, once again, it is a temporary cool down. Chickens naturally know how to cool their bodies down if given the proper tools (which we’ll go over shortly). But when we try to intervene with frozen items for a temporary fix to a long term issue, we do more harm than good. Chickens regulate their own body temperature through the genetic abilities that they were blessed with. They don’t need frozen any thing in order to survive.


Guys, on my lands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with people. Please do your research, PLEASE.

Chickens don’t sweat. Therefore, chickens don’t need electrolytes unless they are sick. Please stop giving your chickens electrolytes unless they are physically ailed, mineral deficient, or in distress.

Electrolytes are SALT. If you give too much salt to chickens, you’re going to kill them. Literally.In fact, the only reason large scale companies give chickens and poultry electrolytes in the summer is so that they will continue to eat and drink more so that they don’t lose weight before butchering. They are literally giving it to them so that they don’t lose money on meat production during hot seasons. That’s it.

Electrolytes have two jobs—regulating the flow of water in and out of cells, and sparking nerve impulses. You lose electrolytes when your body sweats, or when you’re sick.

Chickens don’t sweat. So unless your chickens are extremely stressed out or sick, please, please, stop giving them electrolytes.

Keeping Chickens Cool (Do’s)

This might seem basic, but keeping chickens cool isn’t rocket science. Here are what your chickens actually and naturally need in order to stay cool during the hot months.

  • Shade: and lots of it. If your coop isn’t in a shady area, create one, and make sure it has a open spaces for a breeze. This is your first line of defense with keeping chickens cool. No, the coop doesn’t count as a shady area.
  • Fresh cool water: just straight from the well or hose. Offer it to them twice a day if possible in their waterers. Make sure you leave the waterer in a shady place, not in the coop.
  • Regular feed and scraps: a normal ration of homemade chicken feed is perfectly fine. You can certainly offer them veggie and fruit scraps, and in fact we encourage it. However, frozen treats aren’t necessary.
  • Ventilation: after the day is done, sometimes the coop is the worst place to be. Make sure your coop has proper ventilation. We do this in the summer by switching out our solid coop door with a screened or wired door (above). This allows the breeze to move through the coop freely, and gives proper and constant ventilation.
  • Cooling Herbs: a great and natural way to help chickens keep cool is by offering them cooling herbs that help their bodies naturally acclimate to heat. Sage, lemon balm, peppermint, lemon grass, and red clover are fabulous herbs to help with naturally keeping chickens cool. Place these herbs in their feed or waterer so that they can eat or drink them freely.

The Homesteader's Herbal Companion

Keeping Chickens Cool the Natural Way!

By offering your chickens shade, fresh water, regular feed and treats, and cooling herbs, your chickens will deal with heat and stress much better than if you were to give them the alternative modern amenities. Remember, nature knows how to take care of itself best, and when given the most natural tools, they will astound us at their abilities.

I hope this blog helped shed some light on modern day chicken keeping issues, and gives you the confidence to supply natural cooling techniques for your chickens that don’t require you to spend a lot of time doing them!

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Your chickens don't need ice cubes and frozen treats, but they do need a few basics. Find out how to naturally keep chickens cool here.

How to Make and Pressure Can Chicken Bone Broth (with video)

Chicken bone broth is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to total health and wellness on the homestead. It’s so incredibly easy to make bone broth, and chicken bone broth is one of my favorites. You can create other bone broths as well, like beef, lamb, or venison—but chicken is one of the most versatile that you’ll create. We use chicken bone broth in soups, stews, and even just to drink as a meal replacement, especially in the winter months. If your body needs a little extra joint help, adding bone broth to your daily diet is essential to help rebuild collagen in your body.

It’s even better when you know where the chicken came from that you’re using for the bone broth. We raise our own birds, make our own homemade chicken feed, and raise our chickens on pasture. It makes all the difference!

In this blog post and video, I’m going to walk you through the easy steps of how to make chicken bone broth, and how to pressure can it as well. We’ll also talk about the benefits and why it’s so important to learn this skill on your homestead.

The Benefits of Bone Broth

There are so many different benefits of bone broth, not only for your body and health, but for your homestead as well. Let’s walk through some of those benefits.

  • High in minerals and electrolytes
  • Can help improve joint health
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Help soothe and heal the digestive tract
  • Helps restore and strengthen the gut lining
  • Is full of beneficial collagen that helps maintain healthy skin, joints, cellulite
  • Aids the metabolism
  • Packed full of amino acids
  • Increases bone strength
  • A great way to put culled birds to good use

The benefits to bone broth are endless, as you can see. There are so many subcategories to the main categories, that it proves just how much of a powerhouse this liquid is on your homestead.

Making Bone Broth From Your Chickens

Whenever I need to make a new batch of bone broth, I normally like to make it from my own chickens. If you have chickens that need to be culled because they are old or you have too many roosters, they tend to make the best bone broth. However, you can also use the chickens that you raise for meat, or a chicken from the store. Never let a chicken carcass go to waste! Always save those bones and feet to make this liquid gold. You can pressure can it and store it for later use.

How to Clean Chicken Feet

In a large pot of hot water, bring the water right under a boil and add the pre-washed chicken feet to the water. Stirring constantly, allow the feet to set in the water for about 3-5 minutes. Do not allow the water to come to a complete boil. After 3-5 mins of blanching, remove from heat and allow to cool until you’re able to handle them. You can run them under cold water if you’d like. Once they have cooled off enough to touch, start peeling the skin and scales off of the chicken feet. Scrub the feet thoroughly after all of the skin and scales have been removed, then store in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.

Putting Your Broth Together

Now that you’ve gotten your carcass and chicken feet prepared, you’ll need to consider veggies and herbs to put into your bone broth. Here are the herbs and veggies I choose.

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Bay Leaves
  • Thyme
  • Oregano

Now it’s time to put your bone broth together!

  1. In a large stock pot or in your slow cooker, add the chicken carcass (picked clean), rough cut veggies, and at least 2 handfuls of various herbs. Cover the carcass, veggies, and herbs completely with water, place the lid on the pot, and cook on low heat for 24-48 hours.
  2. After the desired time of cooking, strain out all of the carcass, veggies, and herbs. The liquid you have left is your bone broth.
  3. Store your bone broth in canning jars in the fridge for up to 48 hours until you’re ready to use or pressure can.

Pressure Canning Your Bone Broth

Pressure canning your bone broth is the easiest (and cheapest) way to preserve your harvest. Please note that your elevation and location will play a major role in how you can your bone broth, so check your pressure canning manual first.

  1. Fill your canning jars with your bone broth, leaving a 1-inch head space. Cap finger tip tightness.
  2. Place your cans into your prepare pressure canner (typically filled with 3 quarts water and the canning rack). Place cans on the canning rack and close the lid.
  3. On your stove top or camp stove, bring your canner to a boil and allow a steady and fast stream of steam to escape from the vent for 10 minutes.
  4. After 10 minutes of venting, place your pressure gauge on the vent and bring the canner to pressure (at my elevation I can it at 11 lbs of pressure). Once your canner is to pressure, can for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.
  5. After the processing time, allow your canner to release naturally. Place your cans on a towel on the counter until completely cooled, then transfer to the pantry.

And that’s it! That’s how easy it is to make your own bone broth and can it!

Use your harvest for all kinds of meals, or save it for winter time when bone broth is the best comfort food in the world!


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How to Make Homemade Chicken Feed

Many chicken keepers might be interested to know that a natural and simple alternative to commercial layer feed is to make your very own non-gmo or organic chicken feed. Besides the fact that homemade chicken feed is pleasing to the eye with vibrant grains and veggies (versus compressed pellets), it’s also fairly easy to mix together, will last longer (since you’ll be using whole grains, not crushed), and is quite easy to increase and decrease supplements and minerals as you see fit. We started making our homemade chicken feed recently, and it really has made a complete and total difference in how we raise our chickens. 

Not only is the feed completely non-gmo and mostly organic, but I’m able to mix up a large batch all at one time. My favorite part? My feed actually sprouts when it gets wet, therefore, making sprouting and fermenting our feed all the better and easier to accomplish!

Is Homemade Chicken Feed Cheaper?

The quick answer to that is, well, no. In fact, depending on what you want to add to your chicken feed, it could be a lot more expensive. I can get a 50 lb. bag of non-gmo chicken feed from my farmer’s co-op for $16. I spend about $20 per 50 lbs to make my own homemade feed. If you can find an organic or non-gmo feed that you really love, and you’re concerned about the extra couple of bucks, then stick with it. But if you want to create your own feed with supplements and herbs, I’ll tell you, you won’t regret it.

Chicken Feed Vitamins, Minerals, and Protein

I learned how to make this feed from one of my favorite chicken keepers in the whole world—Harvey Ussery. He is one of the chicken kings here in Virginia (the other is Joel Salatin), and he even lives nearby! I’ve adapted it to our own needs and wants here, seeing as we free range most of the time. And I’ve also simplified it a bit more so that you have flexibility in your recipe as well.

While this recipe is super easy to throw together, there are a few things to consider when making your own feed, such as vitamins, minerals, and protein. Here are the things chickens need to have in their diet. They can get most of these things by simply free-ranging on pasture or from kitchen scraps, but for confined chooks, you’ll need to switch it up a bit and offer a pre-made mineral and vitamin supplement, like Nutri-Drench or Poultry Nutri Balancer.

Vitamins Your Chickens Need

Vitamins A, D, E, and K

Thiamine (B1)

Riboflavin (B2)

Vitamin B12

Folic Acid


Pantothenic Acid




Minerals Your Chickens Need












15%-18% protein intake


A Note on Salt

Salt provides a great source of minerals and sodium chloride, and chickens do need salt in their diet, however, it should never exceed .5% of their diet.

Adding Herbs to Chicken Feed

Once you’ve chosen your options to put into your feed (and there are lots), you can start thinking about adding an herbal regime to your chicken’s daily ration. You can find an extensive list of chicken herbs and other things you can put into your chicken feed in my book that’s coming out in Spring 2019, or a few listed in my new book, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion. But until then, it’s important to know how to administer herbs to your chickens.

Make sure you are using dried herbs if you are mixing them into feed, but more importantly, don’t mix herbs into large batches of feed. Also, it’s best not to use powdered herbs, as  you’ll lose them all during mixing.

Simply make an herbal mix, keep it in an air tight container, and then add a scoopful of herbs to the feed ration each day. Your herbs will stay fresher longer, and their efficacy much higher.

Here are some herbs and things to consider adding to your feed ration:

  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Nasturtium
  • Mint (peppermint or spearmint)
  • Rosemary
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds

Time To Make the Chicken Feed

It’s time to make your chicken feed! I’ll tell you, choosing what things to put into the feed goes way beyond this recipe. I hope that you’ll consider purchasing my book when it comes out in Spring 2019. The options are endless, and it’s so fun to create your own feed!

You should be able to source all of the ingredients for the feed from your local farmer’s co-op. You may also be able to find it online, or bulk order through other locations like New Country Organics.

Basic Natural Chicken Feed Recipe

Based on 100 lbs of feed

Wheat (20 to 25 lbs)

Cracked Corn (20 to 25 lbs)

Peas, split or whole) (20 to 25 lbs)

Oats, optional (do not feed in excess of 15% as they can cause runny droppings)

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (5 lbs)

Flax Seed (1 lb, do not exceed 10%)

Mineral premix, optional (.5 to 2 lbs, depending on pasture availability)


Free Choice:

Sea Kelp


Cultured Dry Yeast

Fish Meal (optional, not to exceed 5%)

Calcium Source (eggs shells, aragonite, or oyster shell)


*Slight flexibility has been given in the base portion of this recipe so that you can adjust according to your needs if you pasture range. Birds that are on pasture generally get more vitamins and nutrients than those in confinement.


Don’t forget, grit is especially necessary for chickens that aren’t on pasture or free-ranging. It helps the gizzard break up grains and feed! You can purchase grit, or even just grab a handful of sand near a creek bed to throw in with your chickens. Grit consists of small pebbles, sand, and other natural gritty substances from the earth.

For an added bonus with your feed, soak your feed for 24 hours before offering it to your flock. You’ll use less feed and your chickens will digest it so much more efficiently!

And that’s it!


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