You might want to consider supplementing your chicken feed with some great plants around your garden. Besides saving you money, these plants sampled here have a high nutritional value, and they are good for your chickens.
Having a flock of backyard chickens means fresh eggs, entertainment, and a sense of self reliance. Feeding those chickens doesn’t have to be hard, or even expensive. Most of the time, a good quality chicken feed that you find at the local farm supply store will be sufficient.
However supplementing chicken feed with plants could be good for the chickens, and your pocket too. The great thing is that you can actually grow some of these plants right in your backyard garden. Take a look at some of these plants that you can grow to supplement your chicken feed.
1. Sweet corn
Sweet corn is a delicacy your chicken will love. You can give them the ears right from the garden, or the leftovers after canning. Chickens will also love those ears that might be overripe. In the heat of the summer, tossing a few kernels of corn into a muffin tray, filling with water and freezing before giving to the chickens will give them a cool treat.
Corn is typically planted in late Spring to early summer. When planting corn:
- plant seeds 1 1/2 inches deep
- plant seeds approximately 4 inches apart, then thin to 10 inches once they are 2 inches tall
- for extended harvest, plant rows several days apart
2. Sunflower seeds
Growing sunflowers will give you large heads with lots of tasty seeds. You can dry them out for you and your family, or give them to your chickens. Some chicken owners simply break the sunflower heads apart and give them to the chickens fresh.
To dry sunflower seeds to store for year round treats:
- carefully pull apart the head to expose the seeds
- soak seeds overnight in salt solution of 1/4 cup of salt for every quart of water. You will want to cover the seeds by at least 2 inches of water
- Drain well and spread seeds on baking sheet or dehydrator tray
- Dry at 175 degrees F for at least 6 hours. They are done when they are crispy and “snap”.
- Store in an airtight, covered container for up to 2 years
Growing pumpkins in your garden makes for some tasty treats for the family. Chickens will also enjoy the seeds. As a bonus, the seeds can provide natural de-worming and parasite control for the chickens.
When planting pumpkins, you will want to grow them in hills. Space the hills at least 3 feet apart in rows 3 feet apart. Plant 5-6 seeds in each hill and cover with 1 inch of soil. Thin seedlings to 2-3 per hill when they are 2 inches high.
To harvest a pumpkin, you can check for color, skin firmness, and stem firmness:
- not all pumpkin varieties are orange when ripe
- thump the skin, and check for a hollow sound
- the stem will be hard on the pumpkin that is ripe
Harvest the pumpkin by cutting 2 inches above the stem with sharp knife. You can give the chickens a cut pumpkin fresh from the vine.
Often known as “yardus interuptus” as it will take over anywhere it can, mint will provide a natural insect repellent for your chickens. Toss a few fresh leaves in their nesting boxes and in their coop for a sweet smell, too.
When growing mint, be sure to plant in a container. Mint WILL take over where the roots can reach. Tilling it up is not an option when it spreads, as the roots will continue to keep going.
Also natural parasite control for chickens, cucumbers are already in most home gardens. Add an extra plant near your chicken run and allow the vines to climb over fencing. This will give the chickens a treat fresh off the vine, anytime.
When planting cucumbers, plant in rows with 12 inches of spacing. Plant seeds 1 inch deep, directly into the ground, as cucumbers generally do not like to be moved.
Even on a small homestead, you can grow wheat. 1,000 square feet will yield you a bushel of wheat berries. However, since most of us don’t have that kind of space, you can plant seeds in rows 1 inch apart, and seeds 1 inch deep and harvest enough for a treat for your flock.
For a 25 square foot bed, you can get up to 550 plants. It’s not usually recommended that wheat is grown in a container, as it rarely yields enough harvest for the time and space investment.
Another great insect repellent, this bright yellow-orange flower is known to be one of the best garden companions out there. They are thought to help make the yolk a brighter color when you scatter some petals throughout their run.
Calendula also has medicinal value for humans, and makes a great tea.
8. Alfafa seeds
Highly nutritious and well loved by chickens, alfalfa is common among many homesteaders for all their livestock. A cool season crop, it’s highly nutritious and a natural source of green fertilizer, adding nitrogen to the soil.
To plant alfalfa, plant in rows 18 inches apart, and gently broadcast seeds. Cover with 1/2 in of loose soil and water well. Thin to 1 inch when seedlings reach 6 inches in height. To feed alfalfa to your chickens, it will need to be harvested and dried before it blooms. It may be harder to digest as the plants mature. The best practice is to not harvest when rain is coming, as it can damage the entire crop.
A head of cabbage hung by a rope in the coop will make a great toy for your chickens to peck at. Chickens will peck at the heads, getting a leafy treat while warding off boredom. Great for partial shaded areas of the garden, cabbages make a great fall planting.
Late cabbages can be started in mid summer, and seedlings planted 12 inches apart. If you choose to direct sow the seeds, plant 1/2 inch deep and thin to 12 inches when the seedlings are 3 inches high.
Harvest cabbages after the first light frost by using a sharp knife and cutting to 1 inch above the ground. You can harvest anytime after the heads form, typically after 40-50 days.
A common weed that you can find in nearly any open area, and in many backyards, chickweed is a floppy plant that grows in “mats” low to the ground. It will have tiny white flowers with deeply notched petals. Allowing some chickweed to take over an area will provide a delicious, mildly sweet treat for your flock to peck at.
Chickweed also can be foraged for and brought home as a treat for you and your flock.
Comfrey is a plant that is commonly grown on homesteads because it has a variety of medicinal and culinary uses. It’s also a great source of nitrogen, helping to build your soil as well as your compost pile. This low-fiber, high-protein plant is a great source of feed for chickens! It even contains lots of vitamin A and B12 to support healthy yolks.
It’s easy to grow, too – you can plant it at any time of the year during which the soil can be worked, and it will stay alive in extreme temperatures – it’s hardy in zones 3-9. You can harvest comfrey up to eight times a year – all you will need to do is cut it about two inches from the ground.
12. Stinging Nettle
This plant is another commonly grown plant, and it’s actually viewed as a garden weed in many places! If you have it, you may be able to transplant it to a more desirable location. Once it’s mature, you can harvest the seed heads and drop them anywhere you want nettles to grow. You can also buy seeds online if you don’t already have this plant growing wild on your property.
13. Cover Crops
Cover crops are often planted to fix nitrogen, improve soil quality, and hold moisture. They can also help to prevent weeds from emerging. But what you probably didn’t know is that they can also serve as an excellent source of feed!
There are dozens of cover crops to choose from, but some popular choices include cereal rye, buckwheat, and winterpeas. To grow cover crops as chicken feed, simply plant them before your first frost date. These plants will die back during the winter and reemerge in the spring.
At this time, you can graze your chickens over the crop patch with a mobile chicken tractor or moveable poultry netting. You can also cut and carry the harvest directly to your chickens, too.
If you forget to plant a winter cover crop, you can plant one in the spring, too. Some good options include red clover, alfalfa (as described above), mustard, and grain grasses. Let the chickens till up the bed about two or three weeks before you need to plant in it. It will also fertilize your garden for you!
14. Sprouted Grains
Chickens benefit from fresh greens during the colder months when they don’t have access to pasture. You can sprout dry grains and seeds to provide your chickens with valuable nutrients in a more digestible format.
All you need to do is start with seeds from plants like peas, corn, sunflowers, wheatgrass, oats, or soybeans. Soak them in a bowl and spread them onto a container with drainage holes. Rinse them daily until the sprouts are four inches tall, then let your chickens enjoy the feast.
15. Leafy Greens
When your mom told you to eat your spinach, she had your best intentions at heart – leafy greens are so good for you. Well, they’re good for your chickens, too!
There are tons of leafy greens you can grow to feed to your chickens. They particularly live tender ones like kale, spinach, and chard, but they’ll eat plenty of lettuce, amaranth, roach, and spree, too.
You can harvest greens for chickens during the summer, and then let annuals like amaranth produce their seed heads in the fall. Save the seeds, and you’ll have a great treat for the fall and winter months.
Your chickens will love berries of all kind, and you don’t need to run to the store to buy these antioxidant-rich jewels, either. You can grow berry bushes at home with ease, and with any luck, you probably have some berry bushes growing wild on your property, too!
Consider planting a few varieties, like raspberries and blueberries. You can harvest the berries to feed directly to your chickens, or you can let them graze among the bushes. If you want them to get every last berry, just make sure you plant a thorn less variety of berry.
17. Broccoli and Cauliflower
These cruciferous vegetables are good for everybody – chickens included. As cold-season crops, they grow best in the spring and fall. You can harvest the heads and feed them to your chickens then, or you can allow them to tear up that section of your garden once a heavy frost has hit. They will eat everything, from the crowns to the stems – even the roots and leaves!
Garlic is an exceptional immune system booster and can help rid your chickens’ guts of unwanted parasites and other diseases. There are so many health benefits to be found by feeding your chickens garlic – so make sure you add some to your garden! It takes a while to get going, but once you do, you’ll have a bountiful crop. You can mince the garlic and add it to their water, or you can feed it out free-choice once you’ve harvested it.
Melons, like honeydew and watermelon, are a great source of nutrition for your birds. However, it can get quite costly to buy melons at the store, even when they’re in season. You can grow a large patch of melons in your garden for just a few dollars, and your chickens will stay well-fed and also hydrated from the all the water in the fruits. Your chickens probably won’t eat the rinds, but they’ll eat everything else, including the flesh, seeds, and parts of the skin.
If you aren’t already growing nasturtiums in your garden, you need to start. Not only do these lovely flowers help to repel pests, but they are also gorgeous to look at. They’re excellent companion plants for many common garden plants, and the seeds and flowers are supposedly a natural dewormer for poultry and other types of livestock, too!
You can feed any type of peas to chickens, including winter peas and snow peas. These veggies can be eaten whole – they’ll nibble on the plant! – or you can harvest a whole batch of peas for a tasty, protein-dense treat.
22. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow because, since they grow underground, they don’t take up a lot of space. Unlike regular white potatoes, which can be toxic to chickens, sweet potatoes are safe for your birds to eat. They can eat the leaves, stems, vines, flesh, and skins of this plant. If you think growing sweet potatoes is reserved for gardeners in warm climates, think again -there are some varieties that can be grown even in Canada.
Chickens love radishes, and even if you want to save your hard-earned radish crop for yourself, you can still feed the tops to your birds. They will also eat the root, however, so make sure you save them some extra!
Since radishes mature so quickly, it’s recommended that you plant several batches, with one every week, until the growing season ends – that way, you’ll always have a fresh crop of radishes ready to go for your birds! Plus, you can grow any type of radish, including cherry belles, watermelons, or Daikons.
Beets, like radishes, are root vegetables that can be planted in succession. You can feed both the tops and the roots of this delicious plant, and they will provide your chickens with tons of nutrients and antioxidants.
This plant grows a lot like corn, and while it can’t be grown everywhere, you will have some happy chickens if you are able to grow it where you live. The grains from this plant are used to make sorghum flour, a gluten-free alternative that is often used in baking. Your chickens will get a good dose of carbohydrates, eating the grains directly off the plant.
If you have the space to do so, consider planting a crabapple tree. While ornamental crabapples might not produce fruits that we want to eat, your chickens will love them. For the easiest, most convenient option, just plant a crabapple tree in your chicken yard and let your hens go to town – they will love the tiny little fruits!
Dandelions are considered a weed by many, but if you have a homestead, you probably know how valuable these tiny little flowers can be. Dandelions are a great source of fiber for your chickens, and because they’ll grow just about anywhere, you can sprinkle the seeds in your chicken yard and let the birds snack on the flowers once they emerge. They also help to attract pollinators!
Fennel plants not only attract beneficial butterfly larvae and other helpful insects, but they provide valuable chicken feed, too. This herb produces large, lacy pods of yellow flowers. The chickens will eat the insects that are attracted to those pods, and can also snack on the seeds and foliage, too.
Thyme has strong antibacterial and antibiotic properties. It can improve chicken health, particularly in the winter time when your girls are confined more often to the coop. You can grow thyme in your herb bed and allow your chickens to forage freely, or harvest it and hang it upside down in the coop for a fresh-smelling treat.
Like many other herbs, lavender is a natural insect repellant that can help freshen the smell of your coop. Your chickens will be drawn to it as a snack – and will feel calmer as a result – and your coop will also be free from flies.
Sage is another herb that can hep repel flies and other pests from your chicken coop. You can feed it directly to your chickens or sprinkle it on their food. It can help prevent salmonella as it acts as a natural antioxidant.
Oregano is believed to help improve immune functioning in a variety of creatures – humans and chickens included. There are studies currently being conducted that suggest that oregano can help fight avian flu, e. coli, coccidiosis, and salmonella.
In fact, its use is being studied as a natural antibiotic on several largescale poultry farms! It’s a great option for a low-cost feed to give to your chickens to keep them healthy.
Plantains are used by humans as natural laxatives, but they serve as an excellent source of food for chickens. Rich in protein and minerals, you’ll have a hard time getting these off your property once they start growing!
34. White Clover
We already mentioned using clover as a cover crop, but it serves as an excellent feed on its own, too, even when it’s not being grown as a cover crop. This plant withstands traffic and stress quite well, so even if you allow your chickens to forage directly on a patch of white clover, you might find that it keeps coming back. It is high in protein and is an excellent ground cover to plant near chickens.
35. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm not only smells great – you may have already guessed that it smells just like lemon! – but it’s also an excellent treat for chickens. You can feed lemon balm fresh as a chicken treat or dry it to use it in the nest boxes, sprinkled on the feed, or as a toy. This plant grows up to 18 inches tall and will come back each year.
36. Carrot Greens
You can feed your chickens raw carrots, too, but they’ll especially love the greens. If you’re already growing carrots in your garden, why not double your batch and give all the greens to your chickens? They’ll love them!
37. Siberian Pea Shrub
Siberian pea shrubs aren’t just gorgeous, but they also attract beneficial pollinators. Your chickens can snack on the larvae of those pollinators, or they can eat the fruit of the tree (as well as the leaves) once it matures. This plant provides several other benefits, too, serving as a great windbreak, an excellent natural dye, and one of the best ways to fix nitrogen in your soil.
Like berries, currants are incredibly easy to grow once you get them established on your property. Currants are a great source of antioxidants and other nutrients for your chickens, and they will produce fruit all summer long.
Several currant bushes planted closely together will make an excellent living hedge fence for your chickens, and they also help to attract pollinators.
Other Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed
Only keep the chickens you need – if you are raising chickens for eggs, make sure all of your chickens are good egg producers – don’t waste money raising ornamental breeds like Silkies if you are only raising them for production. You can also look for chicken breeds that are good natural foragers and are better at finding their own food.
Cull unnecessary flock members – this might be tough for you to envision, but there might come a time when you need to either give away or cull old hens, old roosters, or chickens that are either genetically undesirable or unproductive.
Think about your flock size – if you only need a dozen chickens to supply enough eggs for your family, why are you raising fifteen? Think carefully about how many chickens you actually need, because those extra birds are probably eating much more food than you might think.
Ration – this is a controversial tip, because providing free-choice feed is a great way to improve your birds’ health and also to improve your overall yields. However, it can backfire if your girls are constantly eating and not producing. Instead of serving food free choice, only give out a half a pound a day per chicken. If egg production drops, you can add slightly more.
Open up the compost bin– even if you decide not to grow plants specifically for your chickens, you can reduce your feed bill by allowing your chickens to peck and scratch in the compost pile. Not only will this provide your chickens with access to valuable nutrients and microbes but it will also till up your compost for you!
The No-No List – Plants to Avoid Growing Near Chickens
While there are very few plants that your chickens wont love, there are several that you might want to avoid. Chickens generally know what is poisonous – as well as what’s good for them – and unlike humans, usually won’t overindulge on something that could make them sick.
However, there are some foods that can be toxic to chickens, and we will include them here so that you don’t accidentally poison your flock. Avoid planting the following crops near your chicken coop to avoid temptation:
And while it’s fine to feed bean plants to your chickens – including the leaves, stems, and roots – you should avoid feeding uncooked beans to your birds, as this can cause fatal health conditions.
What plants do you grow in your chicken garden? What is your favorite to give to your flock? Be sure to pin this for later!
last updated by Rebekah White July 16th 2019