Courtesy Rebekah D. Wallace/University of Georgia
Spring means lots of baby animals. It’s a perfect time for grazers to have their babies because the grass is lush and growing thick, meaning food is abundant and easy to find.
Spring is also a time of temperature and moisture fluctuations. It’s a time of transition. Humans imprudently head outside on warmer days in sandals and shorts during spring because they’re desperate to move into summer behaviors. Unfortunately, until the soil warms and the wind changes, we open ourselves up to springtime colds.
Just as we must take the weather into consideration with our human family, we must also think about its effects on the young members of our farm flock. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of spring weeds available to us for treating many of the illnesses to which they may fall prey.
Baby Chicks and Spring Greens
Do you have a grain grinder in the kitchen? If you’ve transitioned over to traditional food preparation, you might have one at the ready. If you’re still weighing the benefits of a grinder purchase, feeding your spring chick flock is another use for this kitchen tool.
Much discussion surrounds the perfect feed for young chicks. It can be difficult to find non-medicated feed, if that’s what you prefer. One of the best ways to feed them is with finely ground grain and spring weeds. Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) and chickweed (Stellaria media) are my top picks to add to this homemade feed. You may feel the need to chop the weeds, but I tend to just shred them by hand and drop them into the feed pan.
Your chicks should be able to go on daily foraging trips with their mama¬—if not, bring their forage to them. If you want a good afternoon’s entertainment, toss in some small dandelion flowers and watch the inevitable tug-of-war!
Ensuring that your chicks have access to fresh green forage one way or another will prevent many of the common diseases, such as coccidiosis. However, if you need some insurance or if your chicks get ill, locate a patch of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) or onions. A daily dose of the chopped fresh greens and/or cloves will prevent or treat an outbreak of the common problems.
Greens for Grazers
During this time of transition, pastures are wet and mucky and the constitution of your large animals may be weakened, making them prone to parasites. Spring, therefore, is a great time to focus on preventative treatments for worms.
On our farm, we forgo the chemical medications and don’t tend to treat unless there are symptoms. This means we rarely “worm” our large animals. I would argue that most farms caring for their animals naturally are treating proactively on a daily basis with the food and environment choices they make. That being said, spring is one of the rare times we might be proactive with an herbal treatment aimed at a specific problem. Garlic is a common herb to have on hand for most of your farm friends, and it is doubly true for worms. I also love to give any type of squash seed, and we usually make “treats” with a bit of molasses, garlic and pumpkin seeds. Not very many of our animals will turn these down.
For general health maintenance in the spring, keep in mind that our grazing or browsing animals aren’t just looking for grass. Ensure they have access to a wide selection of herbs, either in their pasture or hand-picked by you is one of the best ways to provide a balanced diet of protein, vitamins and minerals. Herbs that are especially important to keep on hand are dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), chickweed (Stellaria media), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), garlic (Allium sativum), raspberry leaf (Rubus ideaus), watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthum).