Someone gifted me a book years ago about free range chicken gardens. It was a beautiful book, full of photos of beautiful gardens. And it was the biggest bunch of nonsense I’d read about chickens in awhile. Don’t get me wrong. I love my chickens. I love the idea of free ranging chickens. But I can tell you from lots of experience that you cannot maintain a beautiful garden with chickens wandering loose. They poop. They scratch and tear things up. And they’ll eat every last bit of your veggie garden if given the opportunity. I don’t recommend giving your girls free rein unless you’ve got pasture space. But you can still provide them with plenty of fresh “forage” by planting a chicken garden to grow organic chicken food.
Not only does a chicken garden prevent last minute trips to the feed store to restock on lay crumbles, it allows you to lower your feed costs by growing some of what your girls eat, right there in your garden. Think about it. Say you can pick up a packet of seeds for $3 and that packet contains 30 seeds. That’s ten cents per seed. Depending on the crop, that ten-cent investment could net you many pounds of produce grown on site. Assuming you’ve got space to plant a little extra for your feathered friends, growing your own organic chicken food makes so much sense.
Grow organic chicken food:
- Lettuce is a favorite for my girls, and it grows well here so I always seem to have excess. It makes them happy.
- If you’ve got more radish greens than you need for this recipe, the girls will happily help you eat the rest!
- Sunflowers add a happy face to gardens all summer long. When they sunflower seeds themselves are mature, cut off the entire flower and let your chickens have at it. You can store extra flower heads in a cool, dry place to
- Buckwheat is a great “bee plant” to have growing in your garden, and my chickens love the greens as well as the seeds.
- A head of cabbage is both food and entertainment, especially if you create a cabbage piñata.
- Beet tops are another “waste” product that chickens love. (Be sure to save enough for the dinner table, too, though!)
- For something a little bit different, try growing amaranth. The seed heads will get heavy with seeds that the chickens love, and it’s good at reseeding itself in a lot of regions. The greens are edible, too.
- Kale starts out looking like many greens—lots of leaves—but as you harvest the outer leaves the plant grows taller and taller. A single kale plant can produce leaves for months.
- Tomatoes will produce fruit for months during the warm season. Cracked tomatoes, buggy tomatoes—or even extra tomatoes if you’re willing to share—will be devoured by your girls.
- If you’re successful with melons you can toss one to the chickens once in awhile. They definitely don’t mind the overripe melons that your family turns their nose up at.
- Comfrey is a garden perennial that has a lot of uses medicinally, plus it’s pretty. My girls love it. (In fact, when I divide comfrey, I’ll often toss the entire root ball into their enclosure. They eat the greens and scratch away the dirt and bugs, then I can easily divide it.) Concerns have been raised about feeding comfrey to chickens. See this discussion for more information.
- While some people consider it a weed, purslane is a great addition to your chicken feeing plan. And a great addition to your dinner table!
- Greens like spinach, bok choy, and Swiss chard are all fair game and if you use this technique, you’ll be able to harvest for weeks or months. Individual leaves can be hard for hens to tear. Try using a suet basket to serve these up.
- These perennials and trees are a great addition for on-site chicken food if you’ve got the room.