As you may have discovered, chickens will eat just about anything. Home-grown produce is full of nutrients, and poultry will appreciate a break from chicken feed. You can create a chicken garden on a plot of land or, if you have limited space, container gardening may be best for a small flock. From flowers to herbs to vegetables, you can grow goodies both you and your chickens will enjoy.
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If you have a lawn, put your flock to work. They will mow it, eat the slugs and snails and leave it well fertilised. Confirm that you haven't applied pesticides or manufactured fertilisers in the last year. You can make a "chicken tractor" or use lightweight mobile plastic fencing to contain them, then move the fencing to different areas so they don't overgraze. White clover can cause photo-sensitisation or contact dermatitis in some poultry, so check their feet and skin for irritation if you have this common weed. Wheat grass is ideal for containers, and grows to about 3 inches in a little over a week.
The question is, what won't they eat from the garden? Chickens love lettuce, spinach, strawberries, chard, carrots and tops, beets and greens, eggplant, green beans and leaves, and even strong-tasting herbs like basil, cilantro and mint. Mixed lettuces grow quickly and require little care. Plant your garden or containers densely so your birds will be less likely to jump in and scratch up all your hard work. Wait until the plants are established, because chickens will devour an area of little sprouts and seeds in minutes. Rotate the containers or exposed areas to allow the plants to recover, or pick off mature leaves and fruit. Feed them in a separate area.
Flowers and seeds
Nasturtiums grow quickly, are a colourful addition to any garden, and are very tasty to chickens. Violets, pansies, California poppies, and daisies can brighten your yard as well as delight your chicks' taste buds. Even weeds such as dandelions are a treat. Planting flowers in a container that's about chest-high on a chicken can encourage them to dine around the edges, leaving the centre plants for your enjoyment. Sunflowers also grow quickly, the leaves are a favourite, and the chickens can eat seeds whole.
Don't leave it to your chickens to decide what's bad for them. Some common plants such as chives, garlic, onions, daffodils, jasmine, sage and tomato vines can make your chickens sick, and columbine, azalea, hemlock, foxglove, oleander and lily of the valley can be deadly. Poultry Help.com has a comprehensive list of plants that are poisonous to poultry. Strong herbs and some fruits can also affect the flavour of the eggs. If you suspect your chickens have eaten a poisonous plant or ingested pesticide, remove them from the area and contact your veterinarian.
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