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Supplementing our chickens’ feed with free greens?

Posted by on Tuesday 8 March 2011 in chickens, frugal, growing, wild food | 11 comments

We popped to the feed store in Shipley on Saturday to buy another couple of bags of layers pellets for our girls – a sack last them about three weeks these days.

As we were paying, the owner noted that they’d gone up in price “again” – to £8.45 a 25kg bag. It’s still considerably cheaper per kg than when we were getting pellets from a different store (albeit one that delivered) but thanks to my chicken keeping spreadsheets, I know they’ve gone up twice within six months – they were £7.80 a bag when we first bought that brand in September, then £8.00, now £8.45.

Split over price per kilogram or per day of consumption, it’s not that much of a leap – about 2p extra a day, split between 7 of them, averaging just under 6 eggs a day. But it is a worrying trend — part of the general increase of prices and food costs in particular — and it’s got me thinking again about how to supplement their diet for free/very cheap. It’s not just about the money, it’s about food security – if we can find food for them, they’ll provide food for us.

Last summer, they loved the borage I grew and I also foraged random bits for them – plenty of dandelion leaves & wilted nettles as well as bits of fruit (including the dry pulp left after cider or wine making). Over winter, I’d planned to grow lots of kale and spring cabbage to keep them stocked up on greens in this scarce period – but I think I started them too late and then lost most of them to slugs anyway. I also intended to collect acorns (like Kate from Living the Frugal Life) but didn’t get around to it (I just couldn’t work out how to collect them in bulk in the (public but rarely used) areas where they fell, without having to pick them all up individually, then I saw someone had collected them with a rake. Genius.) As a result, their own free “treats” recently have just been occasional kitchen scraps and bundles of nettles that I dried last summer. (They do have handfuls of mixed seeds/corn too – but that’s not free and will be subject to the same price rises as the layers pellets.)

Now it’s the start of the growing & foraging season again and I’m thinking about what I can try this year.

They’ve been doing a sterling job of de-weeding my veg beds in the new portable run – and I will actually be able to use that outside the immediate garden too — not too far but in the woodland/field next to our house when we’re in the garden. That’s just snacks though – not exactly belly-filling quantities – and only a couple of them at a time.

I’ll collect nettles (which I let wilt before handing them over) and other edible wild leaves too – they can have the ones we don’t like, although the dog insists on the monopoly on cleavers (sticky buds). I’ll also definitely collect acorns later in the year now we’ve figured out how to do it. I’ll dry nettles again too since they’ve been useful for not much effort.

We don’t have enough growing space to give over too much of the garden to growing food for them (I tried the kale/cabbage because the beds were largely empty by that point) but I’ll grow borage again because it didn’t take up much space and it’s useful for attracting bees as well. I’d be interested in some quick-grow leaves – to fill the beds or containers during empty period without needing much work or input – but am not sure what – clover? chard? comfrey? Whatever it is needs to be cheap in seed cost and quick to grow (no more than a month or so).

Once we start to see fruit on our trees & bushes, there may be surplus/damaged stock for them. They will, of course, get brassica leaves etc during the growing year.

Another thing: we don’t have any grass in our garden but some of our neighbours do – I was thinking of asking them for their lawn cuttings for the hens to pick through. I know longer pieces of grass can get caught in their crops so I’d have to make sure it was just shorter clippings.

Do you supplement your chickens’ diets with free greens? Do you grow stuff for them? Any advice or suggestions?


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  1. Margaret in Wales

    Our chickens love cleavers, the posh word for sticky willy. A bit later on on the year when it starts to grow on the verges round here, and when my husband takes the dog for a walk, they will get a free morning snack on his return.

  2. Jono / Real Men Sow

    What about perpetual spinach? Loads of seeds in a packet, grows really fast and is a cut and come again type of veg.

    If you plan right, you can have it all year round too.

  3. Linda

    We have silverbeet (swiss chard) for the purpose and for us. Let it go to seed and you have perpetual silverbeet! Super-easy to grow -just ignore it well!
    I give the chooks all my weeds and let them sort out what they want to eat and what they prefer to mulch.
    If you’re giving them a run on different ground they’ll scratch around and meet most of their own needs.

  4. Bertiewhite

    We do feed our cooped chickens commercial grain but a farmer friends chickens are not provided with anything because they are allowed to naturally forage & dig for what they can find. THAT IS WHAT CHICKENS DO!!!!!

  5. Hazel

    I grew perpetual (beet) spinach and would recommend that for the chickens. When we ate it, they got the outer and very snail munched leaves (sometimes complete with snail or slug as a bonus!) I let it seed itself.

    Otherwise, I try and forage as much as possible for them- chickweed is popular, dandelion leaves are a huge favourite, cleavers (our dogs like them too!), cow parsley, wild sorrel and dead nettles are all eaten. I give them dried nettles too, and occasional comfrey leaves. I know there is mixed information on how much comfrey chickens and people should eat, so I only give them it occasionally.
    I hadn’t thought of borage although I have masses growing in with my raspberries on the allotment. I’ll give them some of that this year (I put the big leaves on the compost heap- Bob Flowerdew reckons it’s as good as comfrey).

    Ours love grass cuttings (I want to dig up our back lawn and put in a swimming pond, but DH says that’s not fair on the dogs or children. It would only be just over body length in any direction anyway!). I give them and the ducks a small pile to rootle through and that keeps them entertained for quite a while- worth acquiring some if you can.

    Finally, if you give them a whole red cabbage that you forgot about at the back of the fridge, their poos turn an alarming blue colour…

  6. Hazel

    I meant to add that they also love carrot tops, and during the winter I grow root veg tops and feed them the greenery. Did you grow carrot tops as a child? Just like that, in either a saucer of water or on the top of my sprouter, but they like parsnip, swede and celariac too.

  7. louisa

    Hi guys, thanks so much for all your advice.

    I’ll give perpetual spinach and swiss chard a go – I grew some of both for us last year and the chickens got the slug-nibbled leaves but I’ll give them a go on a slightly larger scale this year so they can have more of it.

    I think we’ve got the only garden in the world that isn’t filled with chickweed – plenty of bittercress florets but no chickweed — but there is a spot in the woods that gets covered in it so I’ll go a’foraging.

    Margaret in Wales: I’ll have to teach our dog to share her sticky willies :)

    Linda & Bertiewhite: yes, I wish we could let them run more freely so they could help themselves. That would make my life a lot easier :)

    Hazel: I’m definitely going to see if I can source grass clippings now, thanks. I wasn’t sure if they’d like them but I think it’s worth giving it a go.

    Funnily enough, I’d thought about the carrot tops thing a while ago – I’ll give that a go too.

  8. northernmonkey

    When we were kids, we loved “experimenting” with feeding the hens… beetroot that has bolted or gone woody will turn yolks a disturbing colour, and leftover bit-too-ambitious-with-the-spices curry actually gives curry flavoured eggs. I have heard that it is not recommended, but if you ever have a bit of spaghetti left over, chuck that to them and watch them go CRAZY for it! Our hens, however, loved slugs and snails more than anything else and would wait for my dad’s evening slug-catching session with great anticipation. If you were to put your beer trap into the hen run, would this attract the slugs in to be munched??

    • louisa

      Hi northernmonkey,

      I’ve heard that wild garlic gives garlicky eggs – if we were using them all ourselves for savoury purposes, I would be tempted to give that a bash :) Did the beetroot change the flavour or just the colour?

      Our chickens get our (few and far between) pasta scraps and do seem to enjoy them — but yes, a snail extracted from the veg bed and flung into the run is always their favourite :)

  9. Neil Davidson

    A year late but better late than never, the best place to get free greens for the girls is allotments ESPECIALLY the people who grow for the shows because if theres even a teeeensy thing wrong with there cabbage leek sprout broccolli or whatever there growing then they throw it away, let them know you want it and theyll leave it for you to pick up for your girls

  10. Angela Fox

    I know sweet potato greens grow like mad. Have you considered those? They’re very nutritious.

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