Weeds as Chicken Feed

HARVEY USSERY, AUTHOR OF The Small-Scale Poultry Flock*, is a big fan of reducing the amount of chicken feed you need to buy and replacing it with natural, homegrown foods. He suggests that you encourage your flock to eat foods available naturally on your property, as well as foods you grow for them. He calls this home feeding.

Ussery makes the case that home feeding is more nutritious, sustainable and, best of all, saves the flock owners gobs of money. In addition, he points out that if you take seriously recent and future changes to the economy and the resulting upheaval that some are predicting, you probably already find dependence on purchased feeds concerning.

Options for home feeding

Fortunately, there are a multitude of options for reducing your dependence on purchased chicken feed, all of which fall into three main food groups: green forages, seeds / fruits and animal feeds.

The green forages group is the one I find most interesting. An optimum diet for chickens should include many different types of greens, for example, cover crops, grass clippings, excess garden vegetables and weeds.

I love the idea of weeds as an important, free food source that replaces some purchased feed and makes an important contribution to your chickens’ health. One reason why I think wild greens make really good chicken feed is that I suspect they contain anti-cancer compounds and other important nutrients that can’t be found in any of the “domesticated” chicken feeds. These compounds make their way into the eggs and meat and onto your table, making you healthier.

Another important point is chickens will eat many weeds like dandelion, lamb’s quarter, nettle, burdock and yellow dock, which are higher in protein than even alfalfa, the typical high-protein fodder crop.

Weeds as chicken feed

Dandelion plants are an especially interesting chicken feed. Because the dandelion tap root grows deep into the subsoil, they accumulate important minerals that are not provided by other foods.

English: Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) in...

Chickweed is one of the weeds that makes great chicken feed.

It’s pretty cool that removing dandelions and other weeds from your garden can also provide very valuable green fodder for your chickens. Be sure to feed the weeds to the chickens while they are still fresh because time is the enemy of important nutrients. The chickens also will enjoy them more.

The only catch is that some plants are poisonous to chickens. Here is a great list of some of these plants from the University of Kentucky. So it might be best to limit your “weed feed” to the following plants, at least to begin with:

  • Prickly lettuce
  • Purslane
  • Dandelion
  • Lamb’s-quarter
  • Yellow dock
  • Chickweed

In his book, Ussery makes the point that the goal of weed feeding should be to introduce a wide variety of green forages in order to balance mineral content. So you might want to introduce other weeds into your chickens’ diets slowly, trying out each new one while you are watching carefully for adverse effects. That way, over time, you will build up knowledge of what your flock likes and doesn’t cause any problems.

Do you feed weeds to your chickens? What do they like? Let us know by commenting below.

Related articles you might enjoy:

1. Cover Crop and Chicken Tillers
2. Making Compost in a Chicken Coop
3. Raising Chickens: How Many Do You Need?

*If you purchase using this link, I make a small amount of money that helps me continue to keep writing this blog.



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7 Responses to “Weeds as Chicken Feed”

  1. August 30, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Hi Bill,we are going to be adding chickens to the garden next year,layers and meat chickens ,maybe get a dozen turkey’s as well.The idea is to make full use of the property as we now have the vegetable part of it under control.I had them a few years back when i lived at another place,worked out good.Used to throw all the green weeds over the wire and they used to make short work of them.I used to find that grass cuttings were the best for them,they used to come running to the fence as soon as i started the mower.The eggs you get these days have no taste to them,home grown eggs, as i call them taste way better.The meat chickens have more juice in the so you get better gravy.I ran the turkey’s on the grass for 4 weeks before we butchered them,we had buckets of gravy when we cooked them and the taste was something else.Keeping your own chicken has a lot going for it.

    • August 30, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

      There’s also the added benefit of all that high nitrogen material for the garden. Good luck with your new birds.

  2. Monica
    November 7, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    Someday…I will have a flock……and I will celebrate with quiches, egg salad sandwiches and angel food cake. And I will thank the feathery girls every time I feed and water them…thanks for a helpful post, even if some of us are still just dreaming!

    • November 7, 2012 at 9:04 am #

      Monica — I hope you get your chickens sooner rather than later.

  3. December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    I bought ten Auracana pullets a year and a couple of months ago. My first foray into being a chicken owner. Lost a chick to cross-beak. Lost another to chicken hawk. Lost another to some kind of respiratory thing. Killed one because it was a rooster and he was just too aggressive. So down to six now. They are fun and we have enjoyed the eggs.

    I have yellow dock that I’m trying to kill out, it came here with a load of soil. Offered it to the chickens and they weren’t interested. Later I learned yellow dock is high is oxalic acid and that’s not supposed to be very good for any kind of livestock. I have fed them purslane with no problems. They love Henbit (dead nettle) and I have quite a bit that grows around here during cold weather. Last year they were crazy about cabbage leaves, this year, not interested. Tried a few Comfrey leaves, not interested. Since I’m having trouble getting Comfrey established, that’s not a big problem but if I ever have enough to use as feed I’ll probably shred it and mix it with something else. They do love grass but they prefer to pick it themselves. I’ve put clippings on the henhouse floor as litter and there’s not much interest in it at all. They love to eat out of the herb garden and will get in there whenever they get an opportunity. since they dig and trample pretty badly and I’m not wanting fresh manure in my herbs, I barricade the herb garden. But they have free rein in our vegetable garden now that everything’s done for. They go absolutely nuts over grubworms and grasshoppers. You didn’t mention insects and I look at insects as wonderful little bits of protein for the chickens. From the kitchen, they love banana skins, potato peels, bits of tomato and they go crazy over meat scraps. We purchase layer pellets, sunflower seed, and chopped corn. I have a lot of trouble keeping the sparrows out of the henhouse.

    I use whatever I can get my hands on for litter for their yard and the floor of the henhouse. Last year I still had some hay and a little straw. Due to two summers of drought, I could not get any hay this year, so I use leaves, grass clippings, pine needles. I use the deep litter method all winter. By spring, the chickens have reduced it all to a texture that is fine enough to till directly into the garden. It’s just that I would have a use for more of it if I could get it.

    With the cold weather and shortened days here in Oklahoma, we aren’t getting but a couple of eggs a day. When the days are longer and the temps are warmer we get one egg per chicken a day. We are a retired old couple so this gives us enough to share. I put some in the freezer, anticipating a shortage, but haven’t had to dig into them yet. Eggs freeze well if you whir them around in the blender first, then you can use them in recipes or scramble them.

    Just my two cents.

  4. Josiah g
    May 5, 2016 at 5:22 am #

    We just got our first batch of chickens this year and went with Plymouth Rock and they have been wonderful; they go nuts for dandelion so much so that I will be planting a crop of dandelion and clover for them and will be snipping it off daily for our 15 birds

    • August 14, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

      My neighbors would probably think you were crazy planing dandelions and clover on purpose, but I understand you perfectly.

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