How to care for and keep organic poultry - happy. A holistic approach.

This is Diavolo, he's a Crested Polish Frizzle and he knows more about what he should and shouldn't be eating than any of us ever will.

Our Polish Crested cockerel rooster chamois white-laced

We Are What Our Hens Eat

In a flower and food forest garden with three hen houses, a mix of hens, cockerels and fantails he and his peers have created a complex hierarchy and designated territorial boundaries based on distinct garden features and specific plantings. The only time when anything has gone really wrong with this balance is when we have inadvertently tipped the scales. Everything I have learned over the past ten years of living with our flock has been achieved by mutual respect, trust and observation. In fact, I often think they now know more about us than we will ever manage to learn about them.

Forest garden flowersApproaching the frontier. This set of recycled oak gates, which we set up as a feature at the end of a pergola and which mark the entrance to the orchard, have been designated a border by the hens. There are always a few skirmishes which take place from time to time but no actual contact fighting. I am not sure if it is because the land rises here, the physical, although easily negotiated obstacle or the continuation of a large flower border.

Forest garden plantings
Whatever the reason, it is their choice and moreover it works. There is another interesting mores I have also observed. Mother hens with chicks have rights of passage through all areas. All three flocks recognise this and abide by it. Its intent may be to allow the Mother hen a wider area in which to forage for her chicks. In this way, I have concluded that the flock has an understanding of and places a high value on continuance.

I was born in England on a small mixed arable and poultry farm at a time when the Agro Chemical Industry was beginning to dominate the scene and family farms like ours, which were run much in the same way as my great-grandfather had farmed, were beginning to disappear. The Organic Movement, which had started in the 1920s in the UK and was often referred to by the epithet 'Muck and Mystery' was still something ironically, too outrĂ© to be considered as a way to farm. After an unhappy decade or so with  the modern methods of 'deep litter' production,  my father gave up farming altogether and went on to pastures new. I always remember the reason he gave me as a child for removing us from what I know we both thought of as an idyllic place to live: "Farming is totally unnatural".

Organic chicks in a forest garden

My intended aim whether in smallholding or gardening is to find a model of doing both in the nearest possible way to that in which birds and plants would thrive and survive in Nature. Just as 'weeds' can provide beauty, food and aid pest control in a garden, so poultry can, if only you work with and not against them. You can best do this by allowing them to choose and forage for their diet whilst living in self-governing flocks as they would in the wild. Of course harmony in a garden is different to the Wild, for example the very nature of a limited and enclosed habitat, such as a garden or woodland, is finite and is therefore controlled. However, as long as there is enough space per bird, dedicated areas for vegetable production and a large enough supply of vegetation the system can work. In a food forest garden poultry work to keep down pests, work compost into the soil and generally improve its fertility.

Wildflower and formal borders in an organic forest garden

Wild poppies, the most beautiful addition to any garden and with a delicate fragile grace rarely seen in their cultivated cousins. Vegetables in Elizabethan England were the weeds of today, chickweed, nettles, navelwort and Good King Henry. Recently however, these are returning to favour and with them an understanding of how wasteful we have been with our limited knowledge of the edible parts of the cultivated ones.

Going Backwards to Go Forward. 

Land girls on the farm during WWIIThese are the Landgirls, who helped on the farm whilst my Grandmother was farming. A change of clothing (they are much more chic than us) and this could be my sister and I on our respective smallholdings. It seems passing strange, or maybe not, that after thousands of years of organic farming someone decided we were doing it all wrong and everything had to be changed. Now thankfully, more people are becoming cognizant that food production is one of the most important activities in life. We can live without just about everything, even shelter but we certainly can not survive without good food and clean water. As people begin to re-evaluate food many of us are also doing the same with our lives and returning to the land and becoming self-sufficient. Working and living on the land is perhaps synonymous with doing the same on the sea and it's in the blood, whatever, I certainly never tire of it. It also makes me happy to know that we are giving our animals a good life and they, for their part, are paying us back ten fold with companionship, eggs, food for philosophical musings and hours of entertainment!

Thanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also may be about joining this blog. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

All the very best,
©  Sue Cross 2012


  1. Hi Sue,

    I found your blog yesterday and read as much as I could. Thank you, this information cannot be found anywhere else!

    I'm Zsuzsa from Hungary. I am a mother of three kids, two of them with severe eczema and one of them with a hay fever. We live on a 1000m2 property but half ot it is hardware. We have a 3m*5m greenhouse made of glass where I put five Australorp chickens after the tomato harvest three weeks ago. :) This is my first flock. After the chicks had arrived I started reading about quails and I feel I need them too. My questions are:
    1. Can I put the quails to the greenhouse together with the chickens? The chickens will be there only in winter, I would like to plant there in spring I have five months to decide where to put the chicks after that.
    2. Where should I keep the quails from spring to fall? I guess I cannot let them free range as they can fly and also they can become preys of the cats. Would an aviary be the ideal solution?

    Thank you in advance.

    Best regards,

  2. Hi Zsuzsa, Thanks for your comments and great hearing from you!

    As regards putting the quail with the chicks it will depend how old and large the Australorps are. If they are little chicks there should be no problem, although some quail are a bit feisty, so you will have to supervise and observe how they get on. It might be an idea to have a section of the greenhouse divided off for the quail. It would be good to get the quail as soon as possible so you can build them up over Winter so they will be laying quality therapeutic/medicinal grade eggs when they start to lay. Usually here, they lay from the end of April/beginning of May and they lay through to September. but sometimes even later. Many people get conventionally raised quail to lay all the time on a high protein grain diet but this does not give the quality of egg you need. I would get a compost bin/heap going, if you have not got one already - I will give you a link to my film, which is on my other site - I have not written it up yet it is just a film but this is how I produce invertebrate protein for my quail and hens .

    An aviary is a good idea, ideally you could plant it up with long grass and shrubs and create an environment in which they will feel at home. Cats are really dangerous predators for quail!! However, if you have tomatoes in your greenhouse next year too, you could actually keep the quail in there, once the plants have got big enough to be out of the reach of the quail, or you could just run them through the greenhouse now and again, as they would keep down weeds and pests, like aphids and caterpillars. That would give them alternative and extended accommodation. Again I would supervise this to make sure they are not going to attack the tomatoes because quail eat a lot of greenery!!

    With regards to using quail eggs to treat hay fever and eczema, if you want to look up the research, which explains the whole history of the treatment then I found this a really useful site: In the meantime whilst waiting for your quail eggs, you might think about looking into any possible link with the eczema and gluten in your children's diet. This is something I became aware of with a neighbour's child, who when I talked through the child's history of allergy with the mother, found the eczema had been triggered when he started eating wheat flour. I gave her some of my quail eggs but I also suggested she needed to address the flour issue too, which she did and his eczema cleared completely.

    Hope this is of help to you and please do get back to me if I can be of any further use.

    All the very best and Good Luck with your poultry, let me know how it works out.


  3. Hi Sue! I must say that I've watched all of your videos and enjoyed them very much! I'm now browsing through your blog posts. I was surprised to hear about using quail eggs for healing. I happen to have a child with asthma and allergies. Is there a particular way you must consume quail eggs to help heal these problems? Do they need to be raw? How many, and how often? Thank you for your time.

  4. Hi Erin, Thanks so much for your kind comments. Re: quail eggs for healing, these were used at least as far back as 12th century Japan and in Chinese medicine too. However it was only in the 1960s that Western medicine started to investigate their properties, when a quail keeper used the eggs to cure his wife's asthma and allergy problems. The main difficulty, as always is getting good therapeutic quality eggs and hence you may need to raise them yourself. Most all commercial quail and many 'hobby' are raised in battery conditions in cages and on a totally poor and unsuitable diet and to make matters worse often permanently medicated. It will also depend on your child's individual needs as to how many eggs and how often. Soft-boiled, I found was the best, although some people do eat them raw but Andy preferred them this way. He ate so few eggs that first year we started with quail, I think it was around a couple of dozen and both the hay fever and eczema have never manifested themselves since, even though we did not always have quail eggs available every subsequent year. This year we have had periods when we have been eating them every day but only because the quail are laying and we really like the taste! You should take a look at the research history - you can find the link below - a company that has taken out patents to make medicines from the ovomucoid. Personally, I'd rather eat the eggs! Children tend to love the idea of eating quail eggs, so it makes a fun way to deal with asthma and allergies. The other thing to do if you need time to raise your own eggs, is just to address any external triggers your child may have. I found with Andy it was a stressful working environment and also he had a history of living in a polluted industrial area and of using certain industrial toxic oils, which had triggered the eczema. When we came to live in France, it was still quite stressful as it was all so new but we were in really good, clear seaside air and we had 100% organic food . We also renovated our house with non-toxic natural materials. All these started to have an effect but he was still getting hay fever from privet and acacia and the occasional flare up of eczema. It was the quail eggs, which inhibit human trypsin (which triggers all these conditions) which finally enabled the cure.! All the very best , really good luck and please do keep me posted as to how you get on. Sue
    Quail Egg History link:

  5. Hi Sue, I absolutely LOVE reading through your site! Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of your knowledge!

    I would love to keep both chickens and quails when I (someday soon?) have the land to do so. However, I have read so many grave warnings from people on boards & forums to not keep quail and chickens together (as I understand it, mainly due to chickens possibly infecting quail with coryza, or other diseases unknown to me).

    Obviously, your quail & chickies are doing great! I'm considering adopting ex-battery hens. Do you think that would be safe to do, then introduce quail after I know the hens are well and healthy again? Or would it be unwise altogether? I'm happy to stick to doing just one type, if needs be! Thanks so much for your advice!

    1. Hi Lola, I am not sure how this happened except that last year over this period I was off the internet for a month or so but I totally missed your comment and questions. I am really sorry for this and it is only because I am actually backing up all my articles that I finally found it. I do hope you will forgive me! In answer to your question, I do think I know why these problems could occur, basically because so many quail people purchase are from cages and are very stressed and from being on a very poor diet as well, so their immune systems are compromised. Going from a cage to outdoors and seeing other birds could be enough to make them unwell through stress and then this alone can add to further complications. You mention coryza, this is actually a symptom of many conditions rather than a disease and is associated with the body being in stress and further complicated by a continued grain diet, which is mucous forming. Respiratory problems like coryza, aka catarrh can even occur if a bird is simply transported in a car, the bird is just actually detoxing through the nose and throat. So when you want to have a natural environment for your birds and have them together in a similar environment or as I do hatch quail with hen, you need to be aware of how to avoid this happening. For example, through good quality wild food and initially a quiet and protective environment. I start my quail in the house if the eggs are purchased (I can't get organically raised fertile quail eggs here). You are planning or may be now are already at the stage of having ex battery hens, these like the caged quail will have stress and health issues they bring with them. Whilst caged or in a barn they will have coped, they have survived this far after all! However, once out, they may go into stress overload, I always think of people I know in high pressured jobs, they are always ill on holiday, when they have time to think about how stressed they are. Like caged quail, battery hens will also have received constant medication so will have compromised immune systems and in particular poor gut flora (the gut has recently been called the second brain and is so important to general good health). By the way, sorry if you know all this already, I am just trying to give you as full as possible an answer. So you are planning to do two superb things, save some battery hens and give quail a great life but you just need to be aware that the first few days or even weeks may be critical and that you should ensure a quiet and peaceful environment and good quality protein (wild as much as possible) to get those essential amino acids and B vitamins into your birds in the best bioavailable form. Your hens and quail will slowly though eating non-digestible roughage, as can be seen in several of my films, re-populate the gut with bacteria, which will enable them to digest their food without added enzymes they will have been fed in the batteries. This will give them the 'tools' to prevent stress taking hold and will set up a functioning immune system. It is also well to be aware that they food they have been fed will have contained artificial versions of many essential trace elements and there will be residues of these left in their systems. However I have to say that my sister took in 18 ex batts and just let them straight out on her moorland with the horses and cows, they had absolutely no health problems, but it is a wild and peaceful place and they had so much choice of wild food. Each case is different, so observation is crucial in the first few days/weeks. I think I would be giving them therapeutic clay, just the clay water as a drink, if you do not know of this, feel free to get back to me. The other consideration will also be how well battery hens will get on with quail, my hens have known quail for a long time, again it is all about observation. Anyway hope this helped and again so sorry for such a late reply. All the very best and good luck, Sue