With the snow and ice beginning to melt, are you dreaming of your garden? Looking at seed catalogs. Sketching your garden plans on paper. Starting seeds inside. Wanting to feel the dirt on your hands. Smelling the earth as it thaws out. As you plan your garden this year, don’t forget to plan for your chickens also. They will reward you with their delicious tasting eggs!
Harvesting from your own garden is healthy for both you and your flock of chickens. Many times, it is also less expensive to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Depending on climate and location, there are many plants to consider that are beneficial to humans and chickens. Today, let’s go over some common ones. Many of these can be grown in containers, if you don’t have the space for a garden.
Plant lettuce seeds every 2 to 3 weeks, starting in the Spring (and again in the Fall), to have a long growing season. What you don’t eat, will be an inexpensive treat for your chickens. When the plants start to seed, feed the entire plant to your flock.
Kale and mustard greens are examples of cheap and easy greens to grow in your garden. They are packed with vitamins, fiber, calcium, iron and so much more. As you cook with the greens, save the stems to feed to your chickens.
Root vegetables are high in octane nutrients. As you harvest and eat root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, and turnips, don’t waste anything. Feed your chickens the peeling and tops also.
Broccoli and Cauliflower
Both are full of vitamins and minerals, making them great vegetables to grow. Again, feed them the stems if nothing else is left.
When making cole slaw for those summer gatherings, give your chickens the middle part that you hardly use. I am probably one of the few people that snack on raw cabbage. Chickens love it too. Hang a head of raw cabbage for your flock to peck at. It provides exercise for them and is filled with Vitamins K, C, B6, B1 and potassium. Watching them peck at the cabbage can be very entertaining.
So many culinary possibilities with tomatoes. They are one of my chickens’ favorite things from the garden. Tomatoes are full of vitamins, potassium and copper.
Have you ever picked a cucumber from the garden and just started eating it as a snack (after you wiped it off)? Chickens love them like that also. You can feed them just the peeling or the whole thing.
Zucchini and Squash
Zuches and squash are popular garden produce that many people like to create seasonal dishes with. Don’t throw away the rinds, it also contains nutritional value. One plant produces a lot! Don’t let them go to waste, feed the whole thing to your flock.
Nothing can quench your thirst on a warm day quite like watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew. Give leftovers (if there is such a thing) and the rind to your chickens. Melons are full of vitamins and anti-oxidants. They can also help provide hydration to your flock.
Every bit as good for chickens as they are for us, fruits such as apples and pears are full of vitamins. Do not feed fruit seeds or pits to chickens. If you have space, plant a couple fruit trees in the Spring or Fall time.
Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and my favorite, black raspberries will produce year after year. They can be quite expensive to buy, so why not try growing your own. If you have an abundance, freezing them keeps the vitamins in tact and be enjoyed all year long.
Herbs are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Parsley, basil, thyme, and cilantro are some common herbs that can easily be grown in gardens or containers. Harvest some for supper that night, and feed some to your chickens.
Easy to grow and beautiful to look at, sunflowers are rich in nutrients and can help your chickens to grow healthy feathers.Toss the entire flower to your chickens, or just the seeds.
Although not something you want to grow in your garden, let’s not minimize the benefits of grass for your flock. If your chickens are not free rein, grass can be quite a treat. Before commercial chicken food, grass, green plants, wild seeds, worms, and insects were the main diet for chickens. If you don’t chemically treat your grass, toss some clippings into their run.
All in moderation
Feeding scraps should be done in moderation, as a supplement to their diet. Their main source of dietary intake should come from their chicken food, such as layer pellets. I keep a container in my fridge with kitchen scraps gathered from the day (lettuce, carrots, cucumber peelings, strawberry tops, etc). I feed the scraps to them with their morning or afternoon layer pellets. When they see me coming, they know I have something yummy for them. They run toward me, so anxious, like I am their favorite person. I then get a ‘show’ from them. Watching them peck and scratch at the scraps can be the entertainment for your next cook-out that you host. Think about the conversation that it will bring about.