Forage for the feathered ones

Off to forage

Off to forage - Credit: Archant

B ack in the ‘old days’ commercial feeds weren’t readily available to the backyard poultry keeper. In fact it was just as well that the current legislation on feeding kitchen scraps to your flock were not in force as that was often the only source of feed for the small scale.

If you consider the facts it becomes more apparent; a chicken on average will consume one bushel of grain a year; this may sound quaint and achievable, however a bushel is approximately 60lbs (27.2kg) of wheat. In order to grow that amount of wheat you need 1,000 square feet or a 17m x 17m space, so it’s easy to appreciate the need for commercial feeds in a small scale or garden set up.

That said, you may want to reduce your reliance upon such feeds by providing some level of forage for your flock, and there are two ways in which you can achieve this.

Firstly, don’t be overly tidy or clinical in your gardening approach. Let leaf litter accumulate in corners, allow for a bit of annual weed growth in places, and encourage some damp or boggy ground somewhere. All these techniques will bring insects, worms and molluscs into the garden which the chickens will feed on. The annual weeds will also provide a valuable source of greens as well as a nutritional seed source too.

The second way is to specifically grow plants that will ultimately be used for the chickens, but ones which will first deliver benefit to the beauty of the borders. Legumes such as pea, broad, French and runner bean come in a wide variety of colours and forms and can easily be grown within a border. If left to run to seed and dried they are particularly beneficial for chickens being high in protein. It is best to mince or grind them before adding them to the feed, but they will be eagerly eaten. There are also other vegetables such as sweetcorn, ornamental brassicas, cabbages and kale which all provide an excellent source of supplements. If you dot them around within the borders then they can be eaten by the flock without appearing to create huge gaps in the overall look of the planting plan.

Then there are some specific garden ornamentals that make great grain and seed providers for your flock come the autumn, but put on a stunning display during the main part of the growing season.

Sunflowers come in a vast range of varieties with something suitable for most gardens. Once the plant has gone over, you can either harvest the seed, adding a little to their feed, or simply give them the whole head!

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Foxtail barley can be grown pretty much anywhere and is a far better source of protein than corn, and if you have a particularly warm or sunny aspect to the garden then why not try ornamental millet? Both make perfect partners for more naturalistic planting styles, and let’s face it, if you are ranging chickens in your garden, then you are probably erring more towards the au naturel garden as opposed to the municipal parks approach – so why not throw flowers and forage together in one.