Chickens, just like any other animals need a balanced diet, a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. Why are greens so important? You may ask. It makes the yolks more yellow, delivers vital vitamins such as vitamin A to your birds, as well as calcium, phosphorus and protein, just to name a few.
My top picks of easy to grow greens: for a healthy diet: General plant choices:
Comfrey – Symphytum officinale: A perennial that has large leaves that form a rosette of foliage close to the ground. Sometimes known as a dynamic accumulator because of its ability to draw up minerals and nutrients from deep in the subsoil due to its deep root system, the Comfrey plant delivers many essential nutrients to your poultry flock. Grow in full sun to semi-shade and be aware in cold climates it will generally die down completely in winter and re-shoot in spring. Note: not to be consumed by people!
Sorrel – Sonchus oleraceus: An easy to grow bitter flavoured herb, famous for its addition to Sorrel Soup. When I was a duck owner, I had to hide my Sorrel plants from my waterfowl as they would search my plants out and demolish them in one hit. Perennial to 30cm
Dandelion – Taraxacum offinale: dandelion leaves can be used in salads but are quite bitter and the flowers are also edible. My children just love blowing the seed heads. Dandelion will happily self-seed in the garden. Low growing perennial.
Pigeon Pea – Cajanus cajan: is a fantastic multi-purpose shrub to around 4m. It is a legume, which, means it has the capacity to fix nitrogen in the soil. It has beautiful yellow pea flowers and the pods that follow are the main ingredient in the making of Dhal. Chickens will happily eat the foliage and the pods. The foliage can also be used as a ‘chop and drop’ mulch plant.
Chicory – Chicorum untybus: is an easy to grow annual in most climates, producing very attractive sky-blue flowers in spring. Having a bitter taste I use mine sparingly in salads and what’s left goes to the chooks when need be.
Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus: this well-known flowering annual is reputed to have an antibiotic effect when consumed. The seeds are also said to be very effective against worm infestation. And of course the Nasturtium is not only is a beautiful addition to the garden but the flowers are edible too, for poultry and humans alike.
Other sources of greens and vitamins for your chooks.
** I always grow extra vegetables and greens with my chickens in mind and if at the end of the season there are excess plants that are going a bit rangy, I just let them at them. They can clean up an old past it vegetable crop in no time. Same goes with any pest affected plants or just a glut of a particular crop throughout the growing season.
Vegetable crops: Asian greens, lettuce, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli and other related brassicas leaves, Ceylon spinach, Sweet potato foliage, the list goes on.
** We all have weeds, but did you know that some of them people actually grow some species on purpose for their poultry?
Weeds: Chickweed, Blackberry nightshade, Wandering jew, Pigweed, Nettle, Milk thistle, Dandelion.
** These days you can even purchase ready-made seed mixes specifically formulated for chooks. General green manure mixes work quite well also. Sow your seeds either in trays with seed raising mix or cordon off a certain area, sow the seed, allow it grow to a certain size and then let the chooks in.
Green manure mixes: Lucerne, clover, fenugreek, broad beans, buckwheat, alfalfa, lablab bean, cow pea, lupin, millet, sorghum and more. Which varieties you would choose to grow greatly depends, on the time of year and which climate zone you preside in.
** As all good Permaculturalists know having poultry working through your food forest has multiple benefits, such as, old fruit consumption, which reduces pests such as fruit flies, weed control, fertilisation through manure droppings. Remember though to protect young fruit trees root systems and foliage while establishing via tree guards and or rocks and bricks around the root zone. Otherwise your feathered friends could really set your trees back with excessive scratching and pecking.
The Orchard. Various fruiting trees that have windfall fruit in relatively good condition.
** Most lawns are fine for your chooks to eat. Just make sure you aren’t spraying with nasty pesticides or herbicides and letting your poultry graze here.
Your greens must be fed fresh and if there is any left over at the end of the day, pop it into the compost. One of the best methods is to hang up bunches of various greens for your chooks to pick at with ease.
So there’s my blog about greens for poultry, so get planting ASAP for happy and healthy chookies.