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    Cold-Season Crops for Your Flock

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    During the cold seasons of the year, insects and worms are not as plentiful as they are during the summer months and many plants that chickens might forage on are dormant. Just because temperatures dip, that doesn’t mean you cannot grow tasty treats for your flock. In fact, the cooler seasons can be quite delightful for gardening, whether for your own consumption, for your flock, or both. Several cold-season vegetables are healthy options for both humans and chickens. The bonus is that you maximize any gardening effort when it serves more than one purpose. 

    Why fresh produce in cold seasons

    According to poultry expert Gail Damerow, fresh produce is especially important in winter when forage is otherwise scarce. “One of the reasons newly hatched chicks are stronger in the spring is because breeder chickens have more access to fresh greens for forage,” she says. Take that as a cue to plant a few cold-season crops to share with your flock. 

    Cold-season plants for chickens

    Greens, cruciferous vegetables, squashes and fall-ripening fruits are excellent additions to your chickens' forage. Remember that forage doesn't replace balanced feed, but is a good enhancer. 

    Leafy greens

    Leafy greens are rich in vitamins such as A, C, K, and various minerals. Few things are easier than buying a packet of seeds and scattering them in the garden. If you don’t have a garden plot, leafy greens can be grown in containers. A few to consider.


    Lettuce is available in several types but among the most popular and easiest to grow in cold seasons is any loose-leaf type. It can be harvested leaf by leaf or by the whole plant. The leaves are tender and mild flavored. For a fall crop, sow seeds in well-prepared soil about three months before the average first fall frost date. Lettuce seed does not need to be planted deep, about ¼ to ½ inch deep. Thin the seedlings when they are still small. Toss the seedlings to your chickens.


    Spinach is a wonderful green to enhance your flock’s and family’s health. This is one vegetable that you can plant, about 4 to 6 weeks (about 1 and a half months), before the last frost in the spring. In the fall, plant it 6 to 8 weeks (about 2 months) before the first frost. To have a continuous supply, plant seeds every couple of weeks. When seedlings appear, thin them out to give the remaining plants space to grow. Toss the seedlings to your chickens for a healthy treat. 

    Swiss chard

    Swiss chard is favored for its striking leaves that are similar to beet greens but have large midribs, usually in red or yellow, depending on the variety. Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in rich, well-worked soil that drains well, in full sun. Thin to about a foot apart to allow the plants space to grow. As with other greens, toss the seedlings to your chickens. 


    Kale thrives in cooler temperatures. Plant seeds in fertile, well-drained soil about 6 weeks (about 1 and a half months) before the first frost date in the fall. It does best in full sun but will tolerate part shade. Keep the soil evenly moist. Tender baby greens, which will be available around 20 to 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks) after seeding, are a treat for your chickens. To keep the plant producing, pick the larger, outer leaves first. As the plant grows to maturity, the leaves become quite large and thick. 

    Cruciferous vegetables

    Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Bok choy, turnips, horseradish, radishes, and mustard greens. While tender shoots are usually best for chickens, mature vegetables can be great, particularly for chickens that are cooped up or do not have as many foraging opportunities in the winter. Like humans, they can benefit from an activity. Hang a head of cabbage or a mangel in the coop or pen for chickens to peck and to keep them entertained. While sweet potatoes are not a cold-season crop, they are readily available during the cooler seasons, and they are another treat to hang in the chicken pen. 

    Winter sqaushes

    Winter squashes such as acorn, buttercup, and pumpkins are warm-season annuals that need warm weather to grow but they are harvested when the seeds inside have matured fully, and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. They are typically harvested in September or October before heavy frosts. They store well for an extended period. To have them available for your chickens in the fall, plant seeds or transplants after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. They grow on vines that will spread so plant about 3 to 4 feet apart in rows that are about 6 feet apart. Cut the harvested squash in half or quarters, depending on the size, for your chickens.


    Fruits such as apples and pears that ripen in the fall and can be stored through the winter are other treats. If you’re fortunate enough to have a fruit tree, remember to share with your feathered friends.

    Growing cold-season produce

    While these are crops that most anyone can grow in containers, raised beds, or garden beds, other fruits and vegetables are available year-round. Among some favorites for chickens are carrot peelings, cucumbers, and berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries. 

    “Experimenting is a good idea,” says Gail. “Chickens, like people, have their preferences.” When it comes to how much to feed your chickens, she says to follow the 15-minute rule to help ensure you are safely supplementing your flock’s diet. Give them no more than what they would clean up within about 15 minutes. This doesn’t apply to things like a cabbage head or a mangel, which are primarily for entertainment. 

    Learn more about gardening and chickens

    The outside of your chicken pen doesn't need to be barren. Learn how to use chicken-friendly herbs to add some green to your flock's space.
    Gardening and owning chickens can be a match made with a little attention to detail and added protection, for both the plants and the birds. Learn how.