Friday, November 06, 2009

Integrating Chickens Into Your Food System

Here are some thoughts and pointers I pulled together for my class "Integrating Chickens Into Your Food System".

Foraging Breeds

From books and online sources, these breeds can free range and forage much of their own food:
  • Austrolorp
  • Brown leghorn
  • Buff Orpington
  • Dominique
  • Hamburg
  • Leghorn
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Silver-Laced Wyandotte
  • Sussex
  • White Wyandotte
  • Ameraucana
  • Black Sex Link
  • Red Sex Link
  • Sussex
And thanks to Chris for a pointer to a good foraging meat breed, the Le Poulet

Best Chicken Pen Method

We've used a single largish free range area of ~3000 square feet for six hens. They keep the area fairly well denuded of ground covers, though we have successfully established trees and shrubs and a few herbaceous plants. The next time I design for chickens I'll adopt a rotating pasture method. I agree with most of the points made in Paul Wheaton's article, "concerns about the way most people raise chickens".

Chicken Tolerant Plants

Once we established these plants, our chickens did not eat or scratch them to death:

Latin nameCommon nameNotes
Mentha x piperitaPeppermint
Sium sisarumSkirretChickens don't eat it; not yet verified whether they'll scratch it to death
Hemerocallis spDaylilies
Chenopodium bonus-henricusGood King Henry
Asparagus officinalisAsparagusChickens do knock it over
Allium spOnions, garlic, etcChickens don't eat; uprooting depends on its root establishment. It helps that we get lots of coop scrap alliums; the chickens can only kill so many volunteers.
Solanum tuberosumPotatoDitto on lots of potatoes from coop scraps.
Malva spMallows
Aachilea millefoliumYarrow
Helianthus maximilianiiMaximillian sunflower
Angelica archangelicaAngelicaNot sure yet whether these biennials can maintain themselves via self-seeding
Levisticum officinaleLovage
Armoracia rusticanaHorseradish
Petasites japonicusFuki
Urtica dioicaNettles
Phyllostachys spBamboo
Tropaeolum tuberosumMashua
Foeniculum vulgareFennel
Houttuynia cordataHot tuna

Chicken Fodder Plants

One tip I've read is to watch wild birds for what they like to eat. Plants our chickens like to eat:

Latin nameCommon nameNotes
Symphytum officinaleComfreyChickens tend to eat it to the ground mercilessly, but it generally stays alive. We're trying to establish enough plants for them that they won't slaughter them all.
Caragana spPea shrub
Brassica oleraceaKaleChickens eat to death
Berries, fruit treesRaspberries, gooseberries, serviceberries, mulberry, wolfberry, cotoneaster, and so many more
Rheum x cultorumRhubarbChickens eat the leaves, but not the stems
Helianthus tuberosumJerusalem artichokeChickens eat the young shoots, but can't stop them from growing rampantly anyway
Scorzonera hispanicaScorzoneraChickens eat to death
Robinia pseudoacaciaBlack locustIn theory chickens eat the seeds - ours don't seem to
Prunus spKernels from pits of plum, peach, cherry, apricot, etcNeed to crack them open for the chickens - smashing with bricks or using a grain grinder works fine. Also edible by humans; see my old blog entries for more details
Acorns / beech nuts / other nutsNeed to crack them open for the chickens, or allow to sprout in the chicken yard
Lemna minorDuckweedChickens not nearly as excited about it as our neighbor's ducks, but they eat some
Oenothera biennisEvening primroseRead about this as chicken fodder - probably for the oil-rich seeds. Haven't tried growing it for the chickens yet
Apios americanaGroundnutRead about this as chicken fodder - I think they'll eat the seeds, while you can harvest the root. Ours hasn't made any seed yet to verify
Trifolium spClovers
Amaranthus retroflexusPigweedChickens don't eat the leaves, but do eat the seed. Presumably all Amaranthus sp would work
Chenopodium albumLamb's quartersDitto
Elaeagnus umbellataAutumn OliveBerries of course, but the chickens also eat the leaves


erin said...

We got four chickens this spring and they started laying in September. At first, we were nervous (never had chickens before) and we didn't let them out. Then we started letting them out at dusk. Now, most days we let them free range in our yard. We will have to make some changes in the spring as we have a row of blueberries and a salad garden that we will have to accomodate for. Today we just got our first green egg! (All the eggs so far have been various hues of brown). Thanks for the link to the article about how to keep chickens. It has given me some good ideas.

Emma said...

That's a very interesting list of chicken forage plants. I have never yet grown scorzonera, but it is on the list one day so it will be interesting whether my chickens will attack it. Their current favourite is the sorrel (Rumex acetosa), which they would eat to death if they were given the chance!

How To Keep Chickens said...

This is a great post and those lists of plants and breeds of chickens are very helpful.

Thanks for such a great resource will deffently have to bookmark this page.

Thanks again.

Darren (Green Change) said...

Great list! I've put together a similar list, maybe you'll find some useful plants on there:

One tip I've found for growing the more vulnerable plants in the chicken run is to cover them with a chicken-wire frame. The plants will grow up through the wire (where they can be browsed off), but the chickens won't be able to scratch them up or browse the plant right down to the ground.

Anonymous said...

Going to plant in now empty run--then make a second hatch for chickens to go into & eat-then plant the other run-alternating 2 runs for one coop-I live in a high wildlife area-so no free ranging-also all my runs are covered with wire--Vicki HHH