A hundred years ago, farmers knew what they could feed to their chickens from the garden, and this was because they had been farming for generations. These days, most homesteaders, farmers, and chicken owners are first generation, and it can be intimidating to know what is and what isn't ok to feed to their beloved chickens. I grew up hearing my mom talk about the chickens that my grandparents had when she was young. I was always fascinated with farming, and I thought it was neat that my mom grew up on a farm. My grandparents no longer had farm animals when I was young. Once my husband and I moved to the country and I saw the "chicks available" sign at the local farm store, I knew I had to have chickens! Since I knew nothing about raising chickens, I knew I had to research them first. It was 2 years later when I convinced my husband I was ready to purchase chickens. Every step of raising chickens involved research, what was the best breed, coop design, free-range or in an enclosed run, what to feed the chickens, etc. Now, I knew what type of bagged chicken feed I was going to feed my chickens before I even bought my first baby chick, but as far as what else I can feed them required some on-going research. At this point, I think it is important to note that I have chosen to keep my chickens in an enclosed chicken run. Free-range chickens will naturally gravitate to what they want to eat, although owners may want to remove harmful plants from areas where the chickens will be eating.
The first summer as a chicken farmer, I would give the chickens weeds from the garden as I pulled them. As summer progressed, I wondered if there were certain weeds that I should not give to my chickens. I found google lens to be a great way to identify what type of weed I was looking at, and I found that there are actually some weeds that are harmful to chickens. This summer I learned that stinging nettles cause great pain when grabbed by human hands! I quickly identified that weed and I now look for it before grabbing a bunch of weeds without gloves on my hands. Regardless of the pain stinging nettles cause humans, chickens love them! Nettles are great for preventing internal parasites in chickens, contain antioxidants, contain vitamins A, C and K, and have high levels of important minerals.
As I was cleaning out my garden and cleaning out the dead plants, I began wondering what I can grow in my garden next year to offset the cost of store-bought bagged chicken feed. I normally chicken my chickens the kitchen scraps like watermelon rind, apple cores, strawberry tops, pumpkin guts, etc. I also give the chicken the zucchinis that got overlooked in the garden and grew too large! I will be expanding the garden to include some extra goodies for my chickens.
As bagged chicken food contains all the essentials for a chicken to have a balanced diet, it is recommended that only 20% of a chicken's diet comes from the garden. I am writing this for my benefit, as my research is now compiled into this blog post, as well as for anyone who is wanting to raise a garden for chicken feed. Just like too much chocolate is not good for me, the same goes for chickens, too much of one thing is not good for them. When I give a treat from the garden, the next day, I give them something different. I also plan to have "Grazing boxes" this winter. These are tray that have grasses growing in them that the chickens can enjoy all winter while the actual grass and weeds are hibernating.
Here is what I can and probably will grow next year for my hens:
Pumpkins and Squash -Can eat all parts of the plant and fruit. High in beta-carotene and
antioxidants and the egg yolks will be deep orange
Melons, cucumbers, zucchini, gourds- these contain a natural de-wormer Chickens can
eat all parts of the plant and fruit.
Greens- raddish tops, turnip greens, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and most herbs
*limit the amount of the actual vegetable though
celery, parsnips, carrots and fennel- chicken can eat the whole plant
Lavender- natural insecticide. Put dried lavender into the coop and nesting boxes
Mint- chickens love to eat mint. Rodents avoid mint, plant around coop.
Grains- Wheatgrass, flax, bulgar, wheatberries, and grasses
Do not feed chickens onions as it can affect the flavor of the eggs and can cause anemia.
Do not feed chickens any nightshade plants. Tomato, pepper, potato, eggplant as these contain solanine which is poisonous to chickens. I do occasionally give my chickens ripens tomatoes (Never green tomatoes) and in the winter, I give them red pepper flakes as it helps fight bacterial infections.