Chickens and Wildfire Smoke: What I Learned This Year

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2020, amiright?? What a year. And it’s not over. As if a reflection of the smoldering turmoil beneath the surface of our country’s soul, for the last couple of weeks areas of the Western United States have been engulfed in flames and/or covered in a blanket of suffocating smoke. It’s been scary, depressing, and just…too much. Enough already. Can we get a break?

As I write this, I’m painfully aware that my family is fortunate. Really, really fortunate. My heart hurts for all those that have been severely affected by these fires. Many have experienced unimaginable loss, and I just want to acknowledge that before I go on. I’m not comparing my suffering to yours and I see you.

I’m sure many of you can relate to feeling pretty helpless when it comes to protecting chickens from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke. During the worst of it, I was receiving desperate messages and getting tagged in panicked posts on social media, all while trying to help my own chickens and honestly not really knowing what to do. The one reliable way to help them was not accessible to me. With asthma and allergies in the family and chicken-eating dogs in the house, I couldn’t bring my whole flock inside. But that was the advice I read over and over: bring them inside, bring them inside. The guilt was palpable. If I can’t protect them, should I even have chickens?

Kiki and I

The Action Plan

With yesterday’s clear day, I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that yes, of course, I should still have chickens. I was also able to sit down and put together a simple plan that includes some things my husband and I came up with as well as tidbits from my Holistic Vet Tech and our family’s licensed Homeopath. I know it’s too late for this year, but I’m hoping it can possibly help some of you in the future. So here goes:

Nutrition and Hydration

I’m always talking about how nutrition is important in avoiding a range of issues with your flock. The best course of action is to maintain good practices all year, which should include layer feed, healthy kitchen scraps (optional), a calcium supplement (oyster shell or crushed eggshells), and grit. You may also want to supplement some immune-boosting herbs, either from your own garden or a prepackaged brand.

Trying to entice Kiki to eat some herbs!

Clean, cool water is super important year-round, but its priority is highest during heat waves and smoky conditions. Most of the time, I would suggest adding a splash of apple cider vinegar to the water to boost immunity and ward off pathogens. During heat waves and smoky days, however, I will instead add an electrolyte blend to their water. This will ensure good hydration for them during such a stressful time. Electrolyte, Vitamin, and Probiotic blends are available at your local farm store or online, or you can even make your own.

Feed in the fermentation process

Fermenting or at least mixing in some water to their feed is a great idea during smokey days. Don’t add so much liquid that it becomes soupy (they don’t like that), but go for an oatmeal consistency. This is another way to keep them hydrated, and if you’re fermenting, it’s a good boost of nutrition.

Speaking of stress, I may also add a drop or two of Rescue Remedy to their water. Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic flower remedy that can help to take the edge off when needed. I always keep a bottle in my Chicken First Aid Kit. I also keep a bottle for myself!

Practical Actions

It’s a good idea to rinse your run down a few times a day during the peak of the smoky season. This will help to not only temporarily clear the air of smoke particles, but also dampen down the excess dust that can be harmful to your chickens’ lungs. My husband also suggested that I leave the hose on the “mist” setting in the run. I understand that this is expensive and not accessible to a lot of people, but I thought I would mention it. The mist helps to remove smoke particles from the air. It’s not a miracle but it did seem to improve the air in my run.

Natural Remedies

As most of you know, I’m a fan of natural remedies. This doesn’t mean I’m against standard medicine when needed, but when weighing the risks and benefits, I usually reach for holistic modalities first. I do have a few essential oils in my Chicken First Aid kit, and I did use them during the worst of the smoky nights and now while they are recovering. Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lavender, and Thyme were my go-to oils. I don’t put essential oils on my chickens, but I will put several drops on a paper towel and hang it in the coop. I believe that it helped to freshen the air overnight and afterward when a few flock members were showing signs of mild respiratory problems.

Euphrasia 30c by Boiron

Now that the smoke has cleared, I’ve noticed that a few of my chickens sound a little raspy and congested. This is to be expected because it was a good seven days of very low-quality air. After a call to my homeopath, she suggested that some watery, cooked oatmeal mixed with yogurt would be a good temporary supplement for my flock. Oatmeal is not something that I recommend very often, as it can be hard on their digestive tract due to its binding properties. But in this acute situation, her reasoning was that both cooked oatmeal and yogurt are mucous-producing foods that can help moisten irritated mucous membranes. She also suggested the homeopathic Euphrasia, 30c potency. Euphrasia is a remedy often given to allergy sufferers with irritated eyes and sinus passages, so it makes sense in this case. It’s best to give it two to three times a day, just two pellets in their refreshed water. Give it for two days. If they aren’t showing any signs of sinus irritation, don’t give them the homeopathic.

Caring for Philippe during his respiratory illness.

If you have a chicken or chickens that are really just not doing well, please follow my support care protocol, the R.E.S.T. method (press the play button below for more information on that). You may also get some valuable information from this video about chicken respiratory illness. Of course, with any chicken ailment, the best course of action would be to seek the care of a licensed veterinarian.

I hope this smoke clears for you, both literally and figuratively. We can get through this, with our flocks, and with each other.

Disclaimer Notice: The content of the Welcome to Chickenlandia YouTube Channel, website, blog, vlog, podcast, and all social media is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Dependence on any information appearing on the Welcome to Chickenlandia YouTube Channel, website, blog, vlog, podcast, and social media sites is entirely at your own risk. Please do your own research and make your own informed decisions regarding the health of your chickens.

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