Let me be honest. I've written this article because I love lavender and use it as a relaxing aromatherapy oil for myself. I grow it in our garden in Italy and in my chicken run, and I hang bunches of it both in our house and in the chicken coop.
There's no actual scientific research (that I'm aware of) about the medicinal benefits of lavender for chickens. There's a lot of anecdotal information on the internet singing its praises. And it's known to be a gentle herb which won't harm your chickens, even if they eat it.
Herbs can be a great addition to the holistic treatment of your chickens' health. As long as you don't believe that your chickens can be cured of virtually any ailment with herbs alone, you won't go far wrong.
So here's what's good about lavender as far as I - and my chickens - am concerned.
In humans, fairly extensive research has shown that the smell of lavender can lower the heart rate and reduce blood pressure(1).
There have also been tests on rats which show that being exposed to its oil for seven consecutive days substantially reduced anxiety.(2) Similar research on mice and rabbits with both the oil and dried flower buds have produced the same results(3).
There haven't been any tests performed on the effects of lavender on chickens, but given its calming effects across the broad spectrum of other creatures, it's probably right to say that it can help calm chickens, too.
At the very least, it will do no harm.
Hens dislike noise and prefer to be undisturbed and relaxed as they lay, so may appreciate an occasional touch of lavender in their nest boxes (although be aware - I've seen it occasionally send them to sleep in the middle of laying!).
Broody hens too will appreciate a bit of calm and relaxation as they hatch and then care for their chicks.
The majority of research has been done using lavender oil, which is extracted from the flower buds. Be careful when using concentrated aromatherapy oils - sprinkle a couple of drops (no more!) on nest-box bedding, but make sure it's mixed in thoroughly.
I occasionally put a few drops in a carrier oil (like sunflower) on a saucer on the window ledge above the nest area (I do not heat it), but more commonly I will add dried lavender buds like these to the bedding.
Don't use fresh herbs in nest boxes unless you're prepared to refresh them every couple of days. They can go mouldy and cause the bedding to become infected and smell - but not in a good way.
Lavender research with mice has found that it is able to calm aggression(4). This goes hand-in-hand with its effects of calming the central nervous system: a less heightened, more relaxed, state of awareness is bound to follow.
Will it calm an aggressive rooster?
The evidence is that aromatherapy effects are not particularly long-lasting. So while an aggressive roo may become more mellow when he's in the immediate vicinity of lavender, it's unlikely that he would remain that way once outside the coop.
It's worth a try, but don't expect it to stop that roo from attacking you if that's what his hormones are telling him to do. Sometimes, the only thing to do with a roo like that is re-home.
If you'd like to try lavender's calming effects in the main roost, sprinkle some dried buds in whichever type of bedding you use.
Again, don't use fresh herbs in bedding - it will rot unless you change it very regularly.
Alternatively, hang some bunches of fresh lavender around your coop. That's what I do and, if nothing else, it makes the place smell nice!
Medical research has evidenced the antibacterial value of essential oils(5), tea tree being the most potent and lavender, along with peppermint and thyme, coming a close second. Tea tree oil, in fact, was found to be effective in combatting bacteria as powerful as MRSA.
So it follows that using a combination of tea tree and lavender oil for any kind of chicken wounds can help.
In a bowl, add 2 cups of warm water (use bottled if your tap water has a lot of chemicals), then 5 drops of lavender oil...
and 2 drops of tea tree.
Use cotton wool or a cotton bud to apply the liquid to the wound.
Never use essential oils near your chicken's (or your!) ears, eyes or nose.
Do you have a memory of your grandma's clothes smelling of lavender? That's because it's been used for many centuries as an insect repellent.
People in the know would hang sachets in wardrobes or place them among clothes and linen in drawers to keep moths away.
Chicken coops are notorious for attracting flies, especially in hot summer months. Personally, I dislike fly traps of any kind intensely - I once tried the "red top" and was physically sick.
Apart from the obvious ways to keep flies at bay - keeping bedding clean and dry, scooping poop daily, removing wet or unused food - lavender can help.
Growing some lavender bushes around the doors to your chicken coop can help. The chickens may try to eat it and that's fine - it's not harmful. Mine avoid it at all costs.
It's apparently quite a bitter taste (how does anyone know that!) and chickens are quite good at avoiding things that taste nasty.
Make your own spray: Mix 25 drops of lavender oil and the same of either grapefruit or eucalyptus oil...
...with 2 oz of water (distilled or bottled if possible) and 1.5 oz witch hazel - make sure it's scent- and alcohol-free. Put into a spray bottle, shake before you use and spray liberally in your coop.
In conjunction with planting bushes and hanging bunches, it's a pretty effective bug deterrent - and is a lovely, fresh smell.
Whether you believe in using natural remedies for your flock is entirely a matter for you, of course. There is scientific evidence for the value of lavender, as evidenced here.
But it's not an answer to everything and, as ever, you must make your own decision about what's right for your flock.
I don't believe that lavender will cure all my chickens' ailments, and I may be deluded to think it even makes them relax! But it certainly doesn't hurt and my experience is that it has done some good.
Whatever your views, it definitely makes for a sweet-smelling coop - and a gorgeous-looking run.
And as a bonus - bees love it!
1. Houlivand, Pier, et al: Lavender and the nervous system. Pub. US National Library of Medicine, 2013.
2. Hritcu et al: Effects of lavender oil inhalation on improving scopolamine-induced spatial memory impairment in laboratory rats. Pub. Phytomedicine, 2012.
3. Buchbauer, G et al: Aromatherapy: evience for sedative effects of the essential oils of lavender after inhalation. Pub. Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung, 1991.
4. Linck, V.M. et al: Effects of inhaled linalool in anxiety, social interation and aggressive behaviour in mice. Pub. Phytomedicine, 2010.
5. Hartman, G. and Coetzee, J: Two US practitioners' experience of using essential oils for wound care. Pub. Journal of Wound Care, 2013.