One of the biggest complaints I hear when people talk about keeping chickens is that they cost more to feed than the humans can sell the eggs for. This can happen, but if you do it right, it doesn't have to.
I read this wonderful book called "Free Range Chicken Gardens" by Jessi Bloom. She does a great job describing how to create a chicken system that works! One of the things she focuses on is how to plant chicken gardens and forage.
With a well-planted chicken garden, you can greatly reduce and maybe even eliminate the cost of feed. Though to eliminate it altogether would take a lot of space to grow a lot of food…
Chickens naturally prefer foraging for food. In my free-range chicken days, I saw a pile of grain go mostly untouched for days while the chickens were out in the forest finding their own food.
In general, I've found that chickens love blueberries — really any kind of berry — clovers, grasses (I'll never have to mow my lawn), and quite a few herbaceous plants like comfry and borage. Of course, they like their cereal grains, too. I suggest looking up that book by Jessi Bloom. She gives some great plant profiles. (Just to be clear, I get nothing out of saying that except the pleasure of sharing a great resource. This post contains links to resources, but they are NOT affiliate links.)
Letting your hens forage for at least some of their own food can be as easy as letting them into a pasture. Just make sure your fences are chicken-proof!
Here at Haven Homestead, we have penned in a wild blackberry patch, our garden, and we will be penning in our orchard this year. All of these areas make great paddocks because they are full of food, we can let each area rest a bit as needed, and the chickens help keep certain pests away. We’ve also planted different plants around the perimeter of each area, and the chickens stick their necks through to forage on what they can reach.
Don’t forget to check out the chicken forums on Permies.com, particularly the one titled "Best Perennial Chicken Feed." You'll be overloaded with information.
Once you have the numbers figured out and the gardens all planned, you'll be ready for the next step: designing your chicken habitat to work for you!
Stay tuned for more on the following:
Designing Roosts, Coops, and Nesting Boxes
Having Dust Baths, Grit and other necessities.
Keeping Them Watered
Using Chickens to Till and Fertilize
Roosters and hatching chicks
By Lindsay Hodge
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