Growing Root Vegetables for your Chickens
Autumn is the season for root vegetables. I love growing things underground because they are the one crop the rabbits don’t eat from our garden and they are largely protected from insect damage also.
It’s so exciting to tug gently on the greens and watch as a beautiful vegetable emerges from the warm soil. Of course I plant extra to share with the chickens, now that the summer garden is depleted and their supply of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers has dwindled.
Here are some of my observations regarding feeding root vegetables to our flock:
Beets – YES! Beet greens and stalks are a favorite of both our chickens and ducks and both also like the beet itself. They can eat them raw or cooked.
The ducks have an easier time if you chop or grate raw beets, but the chickens will happily peck away at them as long as I slice them in half.
Beets are extremely nutritious and have blood cleansing properties, so they are a good treat choice for your flock. Just don’t panic if you see hot pink or teal poop in the run after a beet-fest!
Carrots – YES! We always have carrots on hand for our horses. We also grow them in our garden. The chickens and ducks love the carrot tops and will also eat carrot peels.
Whole raw carrots should be chopped or grated, especially for the ducks to manage, but cooked carrots are fine for them all to eat in any shape or size.
As an added bonus, the beta-carotene in the carrots will turn their egg yolks a brilliant orange.
I also add carrots to the twice yearly pumpkin seed, garlic natural worm preventative I feed our flock.
Garlic – YES! There is a lot of conflicting information online about feeding garlic to chickens. Although part of the allium family which includes shallots, onions and chives, all of which can be toxic, garlic has natural antibiotic and immune system boosting properties. It also helps repel parasites such as ticks, fleas, mites and lice.
I feed my chicks minced fresh garlic in the brooder. I also add garlic powder to my laying hens daily feed. I have also floated whole garlic cloves in the waterers. In fact, I consider garlic to be one of the foundations of raising a healthy flock. Could garlic be toxic in large quantities? I suppose, but couldn’t almost anything?
I can only tell you what works for me and how I choose to raise my flock, and I can tell you unequivocally that small amounts of garlic are not toxic – and are most likely very beneficial.
Onions – NO! Onions contain a toxin that destroys red blood cells. Onions don’t have the same health benefits as garlic, so any possible positives gained by feeding onions are far outweighed by the potential for them to be fatal.
Excessive amounts of raw or cooked onion can cause anemia or jaundice in your hens. I never knowingly feed our flock onion, but if they end up eating small amounts, in restaurant leftovers for example, it probably won’t kill them.
Bottom line, try to avoid onion in any form but don’t worry if they inadvertently eat some.
From our pinterest ‘Gardening’ board
Parsnips – YES! Parsnips are a nutritious food source for your flock. They are related to carrots and parsley and can be fed raw or cooked. But again, raw parsnips are more easily consumed if they are grated or chopped.
Photo courtesy of 1840 Farm
Potatoes – NO! Potatoes are a member of the nightshade family. The leaves and vines are toxic to chickens. To make matters worse, the skins, especially green skins, contain the toxin solanine. The green color signals higher concentrations of the toxin. The flesh also contains solanine, although in smaller quantities. I feed potatoes very infrequently, if ever, and never any green potatoes, peels, leaves or vines.
Fortunately, solanine is poorly absorbed and rapidly excreted by mammals, so small amounts of potato flesh as long as it isn’t green most likely won’t be fatal, but potatoes have very little nutritional value anyway, so they aren’t an optimal treat. I would recommend refraining from feeding potatoes to your flock, but like onions, if they eat some cooked potato mixed in with leftovers it probably won’t kill them.
Photo courtesy of 1840 Farm
Radishes – YES! The chickens will love both radishes and radish leaves. Again, radishes are much easier for the chickens to eat if they are grated or chopped first.
Sweet Potatoes – YES! Oddly enough, sweet potatoes are not a member of the nightshade family like the white potato. They are a member of the morning glory family and do not contain the toxin solanine, so they are perfectly safe to feed to your chickens, along with the leaves.
Sweet potatoes contain loads of vitamins and nutrients. Your chickens will love sweet potato, but like most other hard veggies, cooked or grated is going to be the easiest way for the chickens and ducks to eat them.
Photo courtesy of 1840 Farm
Turnips – YES! Turnips and turnips tops are a great healthy treat, although the chickens have an easier time with them if the turnips are grated or cooked and mashed.
You can also toss a halved turnip in the run and it will keep them busy for quite some time pecking at it or put a whole turnip in a hanging basket for them to nibble on.
As with any new food, your chickens might view these root vegetables with much suspicion and you may have to try offering a particular treat several times before a few brave souls will give it a try. But be persistent and they will eventually dive in!
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