After a long snowy winter, spring is the season for getting your lawn back in order. Some wouldn’t give it a second thought as they dutifully apply fertilizer or weed killer. Their only desire is to make their lawn a lush, blemish-free, carpet of green. However, those of us who have free ranging chickens must stop to consider the danger this may pose to our flock.
My husband is a lawn guy…the greener the better. When we first moved into our new house the lawn had long been ignored. To him, the dandelions and scraggly weeds had to go.
I on the other hand was not as concerned with a rogue dandelion or two. Don’t get me wrong, I love a green lawn but not at the expense of my feathered friends. Due to the fact we free range our birds they have freedom to go just about everywhere on the property.
When treating our lawn we had to consider what the chickens may ingest. If we wouldn’t want to eat from a bag of herbicide laced lawn treatment, we shouldn’t want our birds ingesting it either.
Many slow-release products out there look like tasty seed scratch to a foraging bird. Ingested chemicals can effect bird health directly and toxins can easily pass from their bodies into the very eggs you eat! Who wants that for breakfast?! Not me.
Fertilizers ingested in small amounts aren’t likely to result in permanent damage. Your chickens, ducks and geese are likely to poo out the chemicals rather quickly. Unfortunately, any absorption could still prevent you from eating their eggs for a few weeks – especially if you value organic eggs.
Rather than fertilizing with conventional fertilizers, put your chickens to work. There is no better fertilizer for your lawn than what your birds are already producing. In fact, their poo is high in nitrogen and it also contains potassium and phosphorus.
You can either allow your birds to free range over your lawn space or collect the poo directly from the coop. Most garden centers also carry chicken poo if your large space requires a greater volume. Either way, this method of fertilizing is not dangerous to your flock.
The real threat comes into play when weed killers are used. Plants are essentially poisoned by easily absorbable weed killers. Because it is so easily absorbed, this means anything your chickens eat, breathe or their feet touch has the potential to do organ damage.
If at all possible, avoid weed killers. When experiencing an overgrowth of stubborn weeds this may not be an option for you.
Try opting for safer forms of herbicide other than pelleted versions. Sprays are easily applied and have a slightly higher degree of safety. Just allow them to dry 24-48 hours before letting your birds back into the area.
The best case scenario is to keep the birds completely off a treated area until after a couple of hard rains. You could do this by fencing off the area or keeping the birds in their pen. With larger spaces, consider spraying one section at a time.
If you don’t mind spot treating your weeds you can make safe treatments at home. The general Gallon Cup Tablespoon recipe is easy to make and much safer around animals. Just remember, this type of weed killer isn’t selective. It will kill anything in the area where it is applied.
Gallon Cup Tablespoon Weed Killer
1 Gallon White Vinegar
1 Cup Salt
1 Tablespoon Liquid Dish Soap
Spray liberally on the foliage and roots of the weeds. Once the weeds have died, turn soil, discard roots and water the soil well. Because Vinegar acidified the soil, you can treat it with Lime and continue to replant the area.
Only a few weeds? Skip herbicidal treatments of any kind. I use my grandmother’s old dandelion puller. A longer handled version of the one shown below. Her puller can be used for various types of weeds, removing them by the root. There is zero chemical impact with this method of weed control.
Lastly, if you have a little patience, chickens are great foragers. They rejoice in eating dandelions and other pesky weeds. It can be a little time consuming but it’s well worth keeping your birds happy and healthy. Not to mention, it cuts down on feed costs!