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Ashleigh Smith

Aug 15
4 min read
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gardener and chickens
Written By Lara Wadsworth

Chickens love to forage. Not only is allowing your chickens to feed on pasture good for getting them the nutrition they need, but it also leads to happier and healthier chickens all around. The exercise and mental benefits they gain from foraging are undeniable in recent studies. This article discusses the nine most recommended forage crops for meat and egg chickens, why they are helpful, and some options for feeding fresh forage throughout the winter. Be sure to choose a variety of seeds to provide the necessary nutrition and avoid monocultures.

Non-Grass Forage Crops For Chickens

Alfalfa

This well-known legume is highly productive and greatly benefits the health of the soil through nitrogen fixation. It is best to allow the crop to rest for about one month between grazing periods to increase endurance. Furthermore, it contains high-quality nutrition needed by egg and meat chickens.

White Clover

This durable legume is suitable for frequent grazing and benefits the soil through nitrogen fixation. As a clover and a legume, it is known for the high-quality nutrition that chickens love to consume.

Crimson Clover

Even higher in productivity than white clover, red clover also has all the same legume benefits to the soil and features a high return on nutrition for the chickens. Experts recommended to let this crop rest for about 1 month between grazing periods for maximum rejuvenation and endurance.

Forage Grass For Chickens

Tall Fescue

One of the most tolerant grasses to grazing, tall fescue is a great filler option. Be careful to avoid turf types, as these can be toxic to chickens.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Highly tolerant to grazing, Kentucky Bluegrass is a well-loved forage grass that fills in nicely and can withstand traffic very well.

Orchardgrass

Orchardgrass is highly palatable for chickens and is obviously a favorite among foragers. In addition, it is one of the higher-yielding options which pairs well with how much it is eaten.

Perennial Ryegrass

Ryegrass of many kinds is quick to emerge and establish, which is excellent for early season foraging. But, perennial ryegrass is known to endure well from season to season, unlike Annual Ryegrass. It also reseeds easily and yields a good amount for forage, lowering costs and making maintenance easy. Be sure to avoid turf-type ryegrasses, which can be toxic to chickens.

Crabgrass

This easy-to-grow grass reseeds with ease and is highly nutritious for chickens. Although it is often considered a weed, using it as forage for chickens is one of the best ways to harness this unwanted grass that also yields lots of food for your egg or meat chickens!

Whenever purchasing seed as forage for chickens, it is important to choose seed that is specified for forage. This will avoid harmful endophytes and other toxins that can severely harm your chickens. The University of Kentucky further provides information on choosing and establishing forage for poultry.

Winter Forage For Chickens

Forage is undoubtedly beneficial for chickens. But what about during the winter when it might be too cold or snowy for chickens to roam about the pasture? The answer is microgreens and wheatgrass! In recent years, home and commercial farmers have come to understand the benefits of sprouting seeds in trays and feeding them to their chickens. Not only can people benefit from these nutrient-dense foods, so can chickens. This provides many of the same nutritional benefits as pasture forage, but they can be grown indoors during the cold and snowy months. Choose any of the aforementioned seeds and follow the microgreen or sprouting instructions. Our microgreens and sprout guide can be beneficial in getting directions for certain seeds and understanding the concept for all the others. It is easy to have these seeds sprouting in a rotation so you always have a fresh tray to give your chickens each day.

To start, we recommend growing wheatgrass as it is both nutritious and easy to grow. Below you will find all of the supplies you need to get started!

Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer

I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!

Become a True Leaf Market Brand Ambassador! You’ll enjoy awesome perks, free products and exclusive swag & offers! Help us create a gardening revolution and help others experience the joy of growing!

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