I'm getting a bunch of chicks and have time to plant some fodder for them. Apparently they can't digest regular grass (cellulose) so I ordered some seeds from Whitetail Institute which have packages of mixed seeds that attract deer, but apparently it's also good ground cover and high protein greens that are good for chickens. I want a ground cover that will cover my swales and double as chicken food.
so my question is for people who are already growing chicken fodder I'd like to know their opinions or experience with different fodder, and does this seed pack look good for chickens? Or is there something in the pack that chickens absolutely should not eat? I know it'll attract deer, but that is what cross bows and deep freezers are for
Nothing there is harmful for chickens to my knowledge. Comfrey is also good, my hens love it, but it can get big and overpower its neighbors. Goosefoot, or fat hen, (Chenopodium album) is a common weed that chickens also love. If you don't have it growing near you, I'm sure there are seeds for sale out there somewhere.
That looks like a great mix-- good for your soil whether or not you had chickens, and it'll produce great food for the chickens. You don't need to add anything to the mix, but peas, sunflowers, and dandelions would work really well with that mix. If you have a fenced area for them, I'd trellis some grapes or berries along the fence.
Mountain Krauss wrote:That looks like a great mix-- good for your soil whether or not you had chickens, and it'll produce great food for the chickens. You don't need to add anything to the mix, but peas, sunflowers, and dandelions would work really well with that mix. If you have a fenced area for them, I'd trellis some grapes or berries along the fence.
What kind of peas? Those whitetale guys sell a mix with peastoo, I've got Jerusalem Artichoke, and I'm making a temporary natural fence of taller sunflowers to keep my sticky beak neighbor from sticky beaking in my yard .
All of those are pretty good for them. Clovers and comfrey are my favorite plants for chicken feed, as they improve the soil too. Just remember that the chickens have to be introduced to it as food early. If you just let them free-range in a patch, they'll be wandering off for bugs in it before even noticing that the plants are food too.
Are you planning to feed the chickens any supplement as well as pasture access? Unless it's a relatively few birds in a relatively large area, they will have trouble getting enough nutrients for good growth or laying without something in addition. They will also crave protein, of which bugs and worms are the primary source on free range, and they will end up destroying more pasture than they eat in the process of scratching it looking for insects. I would consider both a high calorie (seeds, grains, nuts, etc....or perhaps plants that produce these) and a high protein supplement (a worm bin or black soldier fly bin would work for this, as well as imported sources).
Chickens, like pigs and people, are not ruminants and cannot break down cellulose plant fiber for energy. So green pasture will be a dilute source of nutrition for them. Sort of like you or me trying to base a diet on kale and lettuce. Also, most legume seeds will need to be cooked or sprouted before feeding them....the same anti-nutritional factors that affect us also affect them.....
I'm raising my first flock of hopefully free-range chickens (only 6) on half an acre of clover, vetch, violets, chickweed, purple deadnettle, Austrian winter peas, dandelions, comfrey and whatever else wild is volunteering in there. I've done a ton of leaf mulching to encourage millions of worms and bugs. Somehow I missed this thread which seems to match my observations that my 10 week old chicks (incubated myself) don't know what to eat when they wander around. Unfortunately they don't have a mama to teach them so I've been clucking and scratching to show them what's good and sometimes they take it but apparently I don't speak their language - haha! They love the chickweed and deadnettle (almost done for the season) and do a lot of scratching for worms but are ignoring everything else. It's mentioned above that they need to be taught that comfrey is food but how does one do that? Do they wait for it to mature to just the right stage? I noticed they didn't want the deadnettle leaves but do eat the flowers. Same with wild strawberries - they peck at the berries on the plant but only eat if it falls right off on the ground. My comfrey right now is bushy and just beginning to flower - it looks pretty tasty to me but maybe it's just not quite ripe?
I'm still providing grower feed in the afternoon when they act like they're hungry (they gather around me when I walk around their yard). Interestingly they gobble up an ounce or two of feed and then go back to foraging, almost like they needed the grains for an energy booster. Before bedtime they never eat the full ration. They go to bed with full crops but I just don't know how to teach them and feel confident that they're getting enough variety of nutrients and protein when free ranging.
Thanks so much in advance for any tips from experienced chicken mamas/papas :)
Start feeding them once daily near the end of the day. In the morning, give them access to whatever greens you want them to eat. When they get hungry, they'll start to peck at whatever's there and will eat it if they are hungry. You can even withhold feed for a couple of days if you give them the greens. They'll start eating them pretty quickly.
You may want to consider rotating them around the half acre. If you let them free-range, they'll eat all the bugs in the area, but rotate them through and they'll eat the bugs in their paddock and then start on the plants. The bugs won't all get eaten or move out, so you'll have an endless supply of them to supplement the diet with protein.
Chickens definitely eat grass. Just check the crop and guts of any free-ranged chicken. They do seem to prefer weeds and mine love rhubarb leaves, even though many claim they are poisonous. The rhubarb may act as a wormer. I've found animals, when given choice, won't eat poisonous plants.
A piece of land is worth as much as the person farming it.
-Le Livre du Colon, 1902
Thanks Timothy - that pretty much confirms the strategy I'm going for. I failed to say before that I do have them confined to only about a quarter of the property (approx. 60ft x 60ft) and only let them check out other areas when I have time to move fences and supervise (already lost 2 to hawks). But you think maybe their main paddock is providing such an abundance of protein that they won't eat their vegetables? Kids! That sure makes sense. I was so worried they wouldn't get enough. But apparently they're going for the refined carb candy first (processed grower crumbles), then the protein, so they're not hungry for the greens. I've also noticed that they get lazy in the afternoon and like to nap under the crabapple tree - cute but they need to work for their supper :) I'm also not sure whether it's realistic to expect so much of a young chicken. But I'll cut back on the feed and experiment with smaller paddock rotations and report again here in a week or so.
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