Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Aug 8
3 min read
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Cover Crops Provide Natural Feed For Free Range Chickens

Why Are Chickens Good For Gardens?

Chickens have been a natural source of organic fertilizer since their existence began. Chickens provide nitrogen-rich manure to naturally enrich your garden soil. In addition to providing fertilizer, free range chickens also lightly till the top inch of the soil. This light tillage, chicken scratch really, allows your seeds to better germinate and root out.

During this process chickens are also able to quickly get pest populations under control by consuming insects in their adult forms, as well as eggs, larvae, and pupae stages. Machine till practices often damage the natural soil structure that is ideal for plant growth and perpetuate pest issues. Ideally, chickens are used to prepare planting areas as well as create a continued source of compost material throughout the year.

Why Are Cover Crops Good For Chickens?

Cover crops provide chickens with a natural, organic, and nutritious source of feed. They eat the top growth of the cover crop they take in the high density nutrients found in young plants and turn it into nitrogen-rich fertilizer. As they do this they lightly till the top of your soils preparing your planting area for seed sowing. Because their tillage is very superficial the root systems of the cover crops are allowed to break down, further contributing to a nutrient-rich soil with a healthy soil structure.

After your cover crop has reached 3-5 inches tall, introduce your chickens to the growing area. At this stage the plants are at their optimal stage for chicken digestion. As the plants grow beyond 5 inches, their carbon composition become less digestible. It is important that your chickens aren't introduced to the growing area until the crop has been established. Introducing the chickens too early will result in a poor crop.

Best Cover Crops For Natural Chicken Feed:

Ideally cover crops and chickens are used as pieces in a larger picture. The soil is key in creating a healthy, productive garden. Together cover crops and chickens work to produce the nutrients needed for your main-season garden crops, preserve soil structure, reduce soil erosion over time, control pests, and increase the organic mattercontent and water retention properties of your soil.

Fast Facts About Chickens In the Veggetable Garden:

1 Chicken produces 8 lbs of manure a month = enough to compost 1 cyd of leaves

Balanced manure and compost mix: 1 lb chicken manure for every 45 lbs of leaves

Chickens till 50 square feet of sod in 4-6 weeks

1 Chicken = nitrogen fertilizer for 50 square feet of garden in a month

Chickens can eat ¼ to ⅓ lbs of food waste in a day = flock of 6 consuming 60 lbs of food waste in a month

Chickens can de-bug 120 square feet a week

Ashleigh Smith's photo

I'm Ashleigh Smith, a native to Northern Utah. I first gained a love of gardening with my grandmother as I helped her each summer. I decided to make a career of it and have recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. My studies have focused on plant production while I also have experience in Nursery & Garden Center Operations.



My chickens eat my vegetables! Even potato plants! We had to fence them out. They eat all seedlings and grown plants. I thought chickens were great for the garden?? Mine just destroy it…why?


I have small greenhouse gardens, 2, 12×20, and a large outdoor space, 40x 30 in n Wi . Would a cover crop benefit my gardens?

Tiffany Detweiler

As a chicken caretaker and gardener I’m know from first hand experience how mutually beneficial the two are! It’s good to have a list of good cover crops for chickens to enjoy!

Dan Tangen

What a great article. We have always let our chickens pick through our garden in the fall. This year is the first time we are trying a cover crop. I can’t wait to see what the chickens do!!!


I’m so happy to have chickens that I can have help me with my garden and lawn. Love how they get rid of all the bugs so they don’t come into my house.


This is great info, my chickens love eating everything I’m growing, so I might as well make them work for me.

Jodi Lemaster

Such great info! We are seriously considering chickens and really appreciate this!

Sierra Prothers

Great information in the blog. I love incorporating our chickens in our garden for tilling and fertilizing purposes. Growing cover crop is great for our soil and our chickens, win win!


This is such great information. I am ready to get growing! Looking forward to growing food for my chickens, tortoises and bunnies.