Foraging for Free Chicken Feed
Chickens love to forage for their own greens, insects, and worms but not everyone can allow their flock out to free-range. If you are short on pasture for your hens or the threat of predators is too great, you can gather food for them! Foraging for free chicken feed is an easy way to provide nutrients to supplement purchased grains.
Even chicken owners in urban and suburban areas can forage for free chicken feed! There are always weeds growing around a neighborhood and once you know what to look for, you’ll become a foraging fiend.
One of the best places to forage for free feed is in your own yard. Don’t spray your lawn with pesticides, to keep your hens safe. Weeds pulled from your vegetable garden or landscaping can be tossed into their pen for a quick snack.
Chicken enthusiasts with little outdoor space can also collect weeds on walks or bike rides. Take a bag along to stuff full of tasty treats! Keep your eyes open when you go for a drive or visit the park. You’ll start finding weeds for your hens while you’re on vacation, visiting friends, or coming home from work.
Caution: Make sure that any foraged plant materials are edible for the safety of your flock.
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Check out my ebook How to Keep Backyard Chickens for Farm Fresh Eggs: Getting Started with Laying Hens. You might also like my Egg Tracker Freebie for a free printable egg production tracking sheet!
Remember to ask for permission from landowners before foraging on their property. Here are some other tips to stay safe and legal:
- Take your fully charged cell phone and let someone know where you will be
- Wear protective clothing and shoes
- Apply sunscreen and natural bug repellant
- Don’t collect endangered plants
- Learn how to identify poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac before you go
- Forage with a friend
- Make sure you know where you are at all times
Plants to Forage for Your Chickens
Now that you know how to stay safe, let’s talk about the best plants to forage for your chickens. They love to eat a wide variety of weeds, vegetables, and even some flowers and landscaping plants. Here are some of their favorites:
- Burdock (Foraging for Burdock)
- Lamb’s Quarters (Growing Lamb’s Quarters in My Garden)
- Amaranth (dry leaves first to destroy ‘anti-nutrients’*)
- Dandelion leaves
- Grass (clip into short pieces to prevent impacted crops)
- Wild Apples (How to Forage For and Use Wild Apples)
- Marigolds (makes yolks a deep orange color!)
- Alfalfa (but NOT when it is flowering)
- Daylilies (NOT Asiatic lilies)
- Wild Strawberries
Chickens will also do a lot of damage eating your prized hostas, daylilies, and other landscaping plants. I don’t let my flock in the garden because they’ll also decimate lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. However, you can toss any oversized cucumbers and zucchini or bolting lettuce into their pen for a tasty treat. Split open pumpkins and winter squash and they will happily gobble up the flesh.
*Anti-nutrients: Some plants contain chemicals that prevent our bodies from absorbing nutrients. Amaranth leaves, uncooked dried beans (such as soy), and alfalfa plants that are flowering are all plant materials that can prevent our digestive system (and those of pets and livestock) from utilizing nutrients. If enough of these chemicals are consumed, they can cause serious health issues and malnourishment.
Foraging for Free Protein for Your Hens
Some people even collect insects and worms for their chickens to help reduce protein needs. If you don’t have time to do this, try setting up a Japanese beetle trap in their pen. Cut the bag off the bottom and replace it with a PVC pipe that allows the beetles to drop into a shallow pan of water. Your flock will quickly find this buffet of free protein and munch those pests up for you!
Here are some other ideas for adding protein to their diet:
- Raise mealworms
- Set up a fly ‘farm’
- Handpick pests from the garden and feed to your flock
- Meat scraps
- Lay boards in pen and turn over each day to uncover slugs and other, ahem, nummy treats
To set up a fly ‘farm’: poke holes in the bottom of a bucket and hang it in the chicken pen. Place meat scraps in the bucket. Flies will lay their eggs on this and the maggots will drop through the holes in the bottom of the bucket to feed your flock. Please note that this is not a great solution if you have neighbors close by!
Alfalfa and amaranth also provide some protein but be sure that you read the info above on anti-nutrients!
You might also like my article 12 Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed!
Foraging for Free Chicken Feed Helps Save Money!
Are you looking for ways to increase nutrients in your flock’s diet and save some cash at the same time? Foraging for free greens, protein, and other food sources is a great way to save money, provide nutrient-dense food, and entertain your chickens all at the same time!
Your hens will love scratching through the freebies and searching for tender leaves and tasty bugs. You’ll also have fun getting some exercise, learning to identify new plants, and watching the feeding frenzy when you toss the bounty into your flock’s pen!