A question I have pondered a lot is whether or not I can grow my own chicken food. I have heard both those that said I could, and those that said it was not a good idea. I find it hard to believe that feeding your chickens off the land is either not possible or not advisable. But more importantly than that I have come to believe that growing your own chicken food is not only safe but is much better for your chickens.
I can draw on a lot of experiences for this thought, first off, I asked myself, what did farmers do before commercial chicken feed was widely available? Second of all, I look at all of the animals we keep, and a common theme repeats itself. Those animals that are on as close to their natural diet as possible do better. I think that statement right there is so important I could almost repeat it twice, for emphasis. My dog does better on dog food that is not commercially made, or a dog food that is minimally processed. We all know that feed lot cattle are not as good a quality meat as grass fed, and who has not seen the difference between a free range egg and one that comes from the store and was commercial raised?
It all leads me to one conclusion, the closer to nature we can bring our chickens and all of our animals the healthier they will be. While it seems pretty obvious, why are there still some who thing commercial foods are necessary?
It is all a Lack of Education
In my mind it all comes down to a lack of education. Some say that commercial food is better because it contains all the nutrients in balance your chickens need to lay properly. While commercial foods can be a good supplement I believe that they nutrients we can grow for our chickens are much better for them. Provided we all do the necessary research, can do an even better job of keeping our chickens healthy.
So Where to Go From Here
If you are like me, you probably have fed your chickens a few things from your garden, in the belief that it is good for them, but what if you want to go one step farther?
This year, I am planting a specific amount of my garden just for my chickens. And while my garden is not big enough to feed them all year long, I do believe I can supplement their diet for part of the year, which is not only better for them, but will save me money.
What Would Chickens Eat?
What would chickens eat in the wild if we did not feed them a pelleted food that did not even closely resemble what they would eat if they could? Green plants, wild seeds, animal foods such as worms and insects. Not so hard at all…. All stuff we can get easily for our chickens. And provided we offer them a wide range of foods they will wisely balance out their own diets.
What to Plant
So then comes the question of what to plant in your garden for your chickens? That depends largely on whether you plan to grow all of your own food, or if you plan to only supplement. This year I am only going to supplement. Not only can I not hope to feed them all year long, but I have neither the time nor the space to grow everything they will need. I will however grow several of the things that they can eat, which I hope will save us on feed bills as well as produce much healthier chickens.
Corn – Most gardens have corn in them so this is an easy one, just add a few extra ears of corn to your garden this year. You can feed it fresh or you can let it dry on the stalk and then store it through the winter if you want. You can grind the corn, or feed it whole and make sure to give your chicken access to grit to aid them in digesting it. (Warning: Not all experts agree on whether it is safe to feed chicken whole dried corn.)
Legumes, wheat, rye, oats, and barley are all common crops that can be grown for your chickens. While I won’t be doing any of these this year, with the exception of legumes, I wanted to add them for other that might wish to consider them.
I will be planting sunflowers, the chickens love these and they are rich in nutrients such as omega 3s. You can toss the entire flower into your chickens. These are so easy to grow and harvest, making them an easy choice. Other seeds you might consider if you have access to them are millet and sorghum.
We like to give our chickens plenty of greens during the year, not just grass, but also lettuce, spinach, and kale. These are so cheap to grow, I always plant lots of them, not only do I give them the plants as they are growing, but I toss the plants going to seed to the chickens too, they don’t mind the bitter taste.
In addition to greens, you can give your chickens the tops of the carrots, beets, turnips, and what is left over from the broccoli plants at the end of the season. Chickens also love a wide range of herbs, Something I did not know until this year, so I will be adding to the herbs I grow. Basil, Parsley, rosemary, fennel, thyme, lavender, Marjoram, catnip, mint, and cilantro are just some of the herbs that are good for your chickens.
Assorted Other Things to Toss to your Chickens
Chickens also love tomatoes, something I learned last year, when one of my chickens and 4 of my ducks broke out of their pen and broke into my garden. I caught them chasing tomatoes all over the garden in what was so obviously part fun and part feeding frenzy. Cucumbers are also on their list of favorite vegetables, as are carrots and beans. And of course chickens love fruit and berries best of all. (Hint: they will destroy a strawberry patch in a quick hurry) You can also plant a few nasturtiums for your chickens most of them love the tender greens and flowers from these plants.
If you are like me and your ability to let your chicken’s free range is limited, then offering them choice tidbits from the garden can help them to stay healthy. I don’t spray any of my garden with anything that is toxic, so more often than not, they also get a few insects and worms along the way.
Do You plant anything for your chickens? Is there anything special they love? Share with us in the comments!