COPYRIGHT © 2011 Cherie Kuranko ~ “InkSpot”
All Rights Reserved.
Chickens need a balanced and nutritious diet to maintain their health and egg laying capabilities. Organic chicken feeds are a great option to offer the best quality feed and it is the safest feed for the humans eating the eggs laid by their flock.
The average hen consumes about 5 1/4 ounces of feed daily with grain providing about 3/4 ounce of that amount. Adult hens need protein (16%), carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. In winter most hens increase their grain consumption as the free-range foods they eat the rest of the year diminish.
Free-range hens are able to pick and choose their own foods. Most organic chicken raisers prefer to free-range to take advantage of the nutritious grass, weeds, insects and other bounty only nature can provide fresh to the hens. They also provide organic chicken grains, which one can buy at local feed stores.
Many feed stores offer organic chicken feed by special order only. Some carry a few brands of organic chicken feed blends. The drawback to purchasing organic grains is the expense; much higher than standard chicken feed. In some areas they may also be difficult to find. So, how can you supply the necessary nutrients to your chickens to supplement their free-range diet? You can grow an organic chicken garden and use other vegetables, seeds, nuts and grasses to balance out their daily diet.
An organic chicken garden is a special garden that provides your chickens with the nutrients they would normally obtain from organic chicken feed blends, which are primarily grains. It takes a bit of trial and error to discover what your hens prefer to eat, which can easily be done by observing them in the chicken garden and looking to see which plants have been stripped of their leaves and seeds. It is best to slowly wean your chickens from standard chicken feeds as you introduce them to the new chicken garden.
First, choose a sunny location in an area away from predators. Your chickens will need a safe place to scratch and peck without worrying about the big bad coyote. If predatory birds are an issue you can opt to place a chicken wire canopy over the entire garden area to avoid swooping eagles or hawks. Grow climbing vegetables up the poles for the chickens to eat.
Choose either a plot level with the ground or a raised bed, but not so high that your chickens can’t access the garden easily. Keep the raised garden sideboards around 12-18″ high maximum.
Next, prepare your soil just as you would prepare it if you were planting an organic vegetable garden for human produce. If using raised beds you can place a bottom layer of weed barrier cloth with a six inch layer of crushed rock on it to help the raised bed drain properly.
The size of the organic chicken garden is entirely up to you and largely depends on the number of hens, what you plant and how much you want to plant. Again, trial and error will let you know if you have planted enough for the size of your flock. Start with at least a 6 X 6 foot bed or plot for six chickens or less. Add more area if you find they devour the garden too quickly or cut back if there is a lot of waste.
What to plant in your new organic chicken garden. There are many different grains, grasses and vegetables that can provide fabulous nutrition.
- Corn: Provides carbohydrates and fats, but is deficient in ash, protein and vitamins. Flint corn cracks cleaner and chickens are attracted to its appearance more than standard corn varieties. Cracked corn fed in winter helps keep chickens warm.
- Wheat: Offers a large amount of digestable nutrients and is high in carbohydrates. Has good color, is palatable and an excellent choice for chickens.
- Barley: Barley is comparable to wheat and provides carbohydrates and high fiber. A good choice. Tibetan Purple barley has a nice color and is a hull-less barley. It is sometimes referred to as Purple Prairie barley.
- Buckwheat: While not as attractive in color you can add barley to your chicken garden if your hens enjoy it.
- Millet: Not a good choice. Millet passes through the chicken whole.
- Sunflower Seeds: Digestable and provides more energy than many cereal grains. Easy to grow and nice to look at as well. The entire seed heads can be tossed into a chicken coop for their feasting pleasure.
- Amaranth: An extremely tiny seed packing lots of nutritional value and high protein levels. You can soak the seeds from these beautiful, prolific plants to give your chickens fresh Amaranth sprouts.
- Flax Seed: Chickens will enjoy a little flax seed and it is nutritionally good for them.
When purchasing grains, try to find hull-less varieties whenever possible. It is also best to seek out heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. Do not use genetically modified (GMO) seeds. If your chickens aren’t thrilled with the grain itself, most often due to lack of color, try sprouting the grain seeds. Place the seeds in water and let them grow. The sprouts are very nutritious to birds.
GREEN FEEDS and GRASSES:
Some of the green feeds and grasses can be planted as a “chicken lawn” in their free-range zone and around the organic chicken garden. Mow them to keep them fresh and tender. Others like alfalfa can be grown or you could purchase a single bale of alfalfa and grind it up to provide many days of feed. Many grass crops are also grown as cover crops and can therefore be used for two purposes; cover crops and cut greens for the birds. Clip and toss to the chickens daily a mixture from your cover crops.
- Alfalfa (ground) or Alfalfa Leaf Ground: If you have a means to grind alfalfa it provides a fair amount of Vitamins A and K.
- Clover: Easy to grow. Can mow. Stays green and tender most of the year. Wild white clover and Ladino clover.
- Other Mowed Grasses: Meadow grass, perennial rye grass, creeping bent, crested dog’s tail, Kentucky bluegrass, Canada bluegrass, timothy and the fescues. Planting and keeping these mowed in the free-range area can help reduce your feed cost by 5-20%.
- Feeding Trough Fines: If you raise livestock, especially cattle, the fines in the bottom of the trough are great to feed to chickens. The cows have already done the grinding for you.
WILD PLANTS FOR CHICKENS:
- Dandelions: Very palatable and highly nutritious. They will eat the entire plant, including the roots. Let the dandelions grow in the chicken lawn or garden with the other grasses, grains and vegetables.
- Yellow Dock: Another wild weed providing good nutrition to chickens.
- Comfrey: Very prolific grower. The protein in comfrey is higher than alfalfa. Cut and feed or plant in the chicken lawn or garden. Chickens like comfrey and geese love it. Can be dried to be used year round.
- Stinging Nettle: Chickens enjoy stinging nettle and it does provide good nutritional value to their diet. Can be dried for feeding year round. Tip: Wear leather gloves when collecting.
- Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes: A winter favorite. Cook the potatoes or sweet potatoes and mash. Mix with other grains to serve up a warm, grain mash.
- Mangel, Fodder and Sugar Beets: Good for hens (not chicks). These big beets provide good carbohydrates and are a good alternative crop when other high carbohydrate feeds are unavailable. They have a low digestability, so don’t overfeed. As a treat, take a whole beet and toss into the chicken coop. Slice it up a bit first to get the chickens started. Fodder beets can produce huge roots (up to 10 lbs. or more) and can be stored during winter like potatoes. Feed one at a time until consumed during cold winter months.
- Cow Peas: Small amounts of cow peas can be fed to chickens.
- Tomatoes: Provide Vitamins A, B1 and B2. Can dry the skins, pulp and seeds for year round use.
- Pumpkins: Easy to grow and feeding them is simple and enjoyable to watch. Bust open a pumpkin and watch the chickens dig in. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein.
- Zucchini/Squash: Similar to pumpkin. Serve to chickens the same way.
- Jerusalem Artichoke: Chickens will eat the leaves and the earthworms at the base of the plants. This vegetable plant can reproduce and take over a garden, so be careful not to allow it to overpopulate itself.
- Swiss Chard/Beet/Kale: Chickens love eating the leaves of swiss chard, kale and beets. Plant these in the chicken garden in abundance. Don’t let the chickens at them until the roots are well established and the plants are about knee-high. By waiting, the plant will stay rooted in the ground when the chicken tugs on it and they will continue to regrow new leaves for the chickens continually until a very hard frost. Many times these vegetables survive mild winters.
- Cauliflower, Broccoli, Lettuce and Spinach: Feed the leaves to chickens.
- Carrots and Rutabagas: Great source for vitamins and minerals. Chop up and feed or some chickens will peck at whole carrots and rutabagas.
FRUITS, BERRIES AND NUTS:
Chickens are like miniature orchard recyclers. The dropped fruit and nuts from orchards are very beneficial to chickens, turkeys, geese and other fowl. Nuts are highly nutritious, but must be smashed prior to feeding time. The chickens will then peck and sort out what they want or don’t want.
- Nuts: Acorns, chestnuts, hickories and black walnuts are but a few of the choices of healthy nuts for birds. In early homestead years, pigs were often fattened up for butcher on acorn crops if oak trees were in the area.
- Fruits: Chickens will eat the dropped fruits from orchards. Either provide access to the orchard or pick up the dropped fruits and toss them to the hens. Apples, plums, persimmons, mulberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries and many more fruits and berries can add valuable nutrition to the diet.
OTHER EDIBLES FOR CHICKENS:
- Insects: Earthworms, flies, maggots, beetles and slugs. Chickens know bugs are good for them. Insects provide great protein. Flip over large stones or roll over logs and let the chickens choose their buggy meal.
- Eggs: Feeding eggs can help a hen begin laying again. Eggs have a lot of protein in them because it takes a lot of protein out of the hen to make eggs. Feed raw or cooked. For small chicks you can hardboil eggs, chop up finely and feed. Never feed the shells whole or they may start pecking at their own eggs.
- Egg Shells and Oyster Shell: These should be provided to cooped hens and is rather optional for free-range hens because they are able to find their own grit in small pebbles and sand while grazing.
- Milk: Sour milk has been fed to chickens since the days of pioneers. It is good for chickens and a favorite. Milk provides a good source of minerals, protein, vitamins and lactose. Per 100 hens you can feed about 12-14 quarts.
- Manure/Compost: Allow the chickens to scratch in the compost pile or through manure piles on the farm. They eat the insects and help keep the fly population down. Dried sheep or cow manure can replace about ten percent of ground alfalfa as long as the chicken is eating a well-balanced meal.
- Meat: Yes you can feed meat to chickens, which provides a lot of protein and minerals. However, you will find a great deal of controversy on this subject. Do not feed meats that have salt added or sauces with salt. Salt should not be fed to chickens.
- Molasses: You can feed chickens small amounts of molasses. Be careful, too much can cause diarrhea.
- Hempseed Meal: Hempseed has high nutritional values and can replace up to about 20 percent of the grain cereal rations.
You can reuse your organic chicken garden year after year. Be sure to fertilize with organic manure (chicken, cow, pig, rabbit manures work best) and your garden will grow. If you find the chickens are destroying the garden or chicken lawn you may fence off a portion to allow it to regrow and rotate between the different areas.
Provide a constant source of fresh water daily along with a good mixture of these organic chicken feeds and you will have healthy laying hens. Protect your hens from predators and keep a clean chicken coop. To reduce diseases caused by mice and rats it is best to keep all grains and other feeds in metal trash cans with tight fitting lids. Sweep up any spilled grains and you shouldn’t have an issue with rodents.
OTHER RELATED ARTICLES
GREAT POULTRY RAISING BOOKS:
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry: Breeds, Care Health
- Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing your Flock
COPYRIGHT © 2011 Cherie Kuranko ~ “InkSpot”
All Rights Reserved.