Plants to Grow to Supplement Chicken Feed
Authored by Leah Chester-Davis
Authored by Leah Chester-Davis
Anyone who raises chickens knows that they not only enjoy treats, but they also have certain preferences. And what they may like this year may be different next year. Fortunately, several garden plants that may be favorites of yours and your family may also be favored by your chickens. Who doesn’t love a project that serves more than one purpose?
While there are many options, a few plants are cited by poultry experts as being hits with chickens. Gail Damerow, who raises chickens and is the author of several books on poultry care, including the popular Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and The Chicken Health Handbook, is the monthly poultry columnist for Tractor Supply Company. She also contributes to poultry and homesteading magazines and shares her expertise on her own blog. She says these plants are good choices to supplement the feeding regimen for your flock.
This includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, horseradish, and mustard greens. Vegetables in this family grow best in the cool seasons of the year, either spring or fall. In some climates they will continue to grow in the winter months.
Gail shares that these plants have sulfurous compounds that are said to repel internal parasites. While research may be lacking when it comes to the benefits they confer on chickens, these are among the healthiest of vegetables for humans. Growing them in your garden for your own consumption and as a treat for your chickens, particularly when the plants are young and tender, is a win-win. “Tender shoots are usually better than mature plants because they are less fibrous and less likely to cause crop impaction, but it depends on the specific plant,” says Gail. Mature vegetables can be enjoyed by chickens and can serve the important purpose of helping to alleviate boredom in the chicken coop. Gail says that hanging a cabbage head, sweet potato, or mangel root will keep chickens busy pecking at it and will keep them out of mischief. Hanging the vegetable keeps it from rolling in the dirt and getting soiled.
Nasturtium colorful annual, typically either yellow or orange though red and cream varieties are available. The plant is in the Brassica family so is also said to contain the compounds that repel internal parasites. Nasturtium is available in both a trailing or vining form and in a mounding form. The bright blooms have five petals and the circular, deep-green leaves have light-colored veins that radiate from a central petiole or stem. They are happiest in semi-shade though they will grow in full sun. They need well-drained soil. Plant the seeds after the danger of frost has passed. Both the leaves and the flowers have a peppery flavor and can be consumed by both humans and chickens. Harvest fresh young leaves and flowers all season long as tasty treats for your chickens.
Cucurbits, which include squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons, are warm-season crops. They can be started from seed indoors to be transplanted into the garden or they can be seeded directly into the ground after the danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has warmed to about 70 degrees F. Soil thermometers are inexpensive and available in the garden center. Cucurbits grow best in full sun, at least 8 hours per day. They need loose, fertile, organically rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic, 6.0 to 6.5 pH.
Not only are cucurbits a tasty treat for chickens, these vegetables, especially their seeds, are good for them, too. “The amino acid cucurbitin in raw seeds helps control tapeworm by causing degeneration of the parasite’s reproductive organ,” explains Gail. Simply cut these vegetables in half and let the chickens peck away.
Herbs are another group of plants that chickens enjoy and that confer health benefits. Gail shares that several herbs have thujone, which has vermifuge properties or agents that destroy and expel parasites. Among the herbs in this category are wormwood, tansy, tarragon, oregano, and sage.
Garlic has long been noted as a medicinal and culinary plant for humans, with compounds that are said to boost the immune system. It is considered an immunity booster in chickens, too. Like cruciferous vegetables, it also contains sulfur which is beneficial for chickens. “Garlic supposedly prevents the eggs of some types of parasites from developing into larvae,” says Gail.
Sunflowers add a bright, cheery touch to any garden. These fast-growing annuals do best in full sun. They can be started indoors to transplant or by direct seeding into the soil. The seeds provide good nutrition for your chickens, and they will be kept busy pecking out the mature seeds from the flower heads.
Mangels, which Gail writes about in her blog, are sometimes called fodder beets. These root vegetables are used primarily for animal feed. They grow large, up to 1 to 2 feet long and can weigh 10 pounds. A cool-weather crop, they grow in spring or fall. Grow in loose, rich, well-draining soil in full sun.
When it comes to determining what your flock likes, “experimenting is a good idea,” recommends Gail. “Chickens, like people, have their preferences. They like anything you would grow in the garden.”