How much can (or should) I forage for the chickens?

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Eiren, Jun 18, 2017.

  1. Eiren

    Eiren New Egg

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    Jun 18, 2017
    Hi, new member here, though I've read BYC off and on over the years.

    Well, I've finally got some chickens. Actually, my FIL got them, but it's fallen to me to make sure they're happy and healthy. But I still have him do all the dirty work!

    We have 10 hens (and a rooster) who stay in a coop and enclosed run. Free ranging isn't really an option (for a whole host of reasons). I think the run is too small (nobody got my input before building the thing, oh well). So I started bringing bread crusts and weeds to the hens in the afternoon. This makes them very happy, and has cut down on some pecking I was noticing.

    Currently, when I go to the hens I bring a small container of kitchen scraps, an old bread bag filled with mixed salad greens from around the yard (usually dandelion, nettle, and grass shoots from the cracks in the patio and in the flower beds), and then I grab one or two each of going-to-seed nettle and sorrel and throw those in.

    That's all background info.

    So then I was looking around. We're somewhat rural and have some working farms and heritage areas around. And lots of weeds, and overgrown areas, overgrown areas full of weeds. Weeds like nettle (so much nettle!) and sorrel (which the hens love with a crazy passion) and dandelion, and the various wild varieties of chard. And since some of the farmers around here plant grains, there's bits of runaway oat and wheat and rye and etc.

    So basically, my ability to "forage for" the hens is only limited by my own capacity to grab the plants, stuff them in a bag, and transport them to the hens. This can all be done on foot, but still takes some effort. I could fill up a whole garbage bag or two of foraged material every day for the rest of the summer, and still have plenty left (or regrown) by winter.

    I don't want to toss too much in their run, but I also want to make sure they are happy and getting good nutrition. And I don't want to work yanking up nettle for nothing. So what's the optimal amount of "weeds" I should toss in their coop a day?

    I know they need to keep their protein up. I talked to FIL about the meat bucket/fly larvae contraption, and we might do that. I'm also talking to FIL about cutting back their feed a bit and adding a protein enrichment of some sort.

    I also know to avoid buttercup - there's not much around here anyways.

    So yes, I know there's various considerations that need to be accounted for. But I just need a general idea of how much green foraging I can/should put in a coop in a day.

    Or can I keep putting more stuff in until there's more than they want in 24hrs, and then put in a bit less than that? If it's a mixture that includes healthy stuff like nettle (which the hens pick at slowly, waiting for the prickles to dry out before stripping it clean) can I even throw too many in there for them? Or will the boredom of being cooped up cause them to overeat if it's there?
     
  2. GC-Raptor

    GC-Raptor Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Before I began letting them out to free range after 1 year of age, 2 hours before sunset daily, weather permitting. I used to collect grass, weeds, clover and dandelion leaves around 9am. Cut into 1 to 1.5 inches long. Enough to last 5 chickens 15 to 20 minutes.
    Greens loose nutritional value rapidly after being cut if left to dry out, especially water soluble vitamins. GC
    Yes as centrarchid says below, have Granite Grit available.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Keep them in grit to aid grinding the greens. I would also provide the different food items in a manner where you can observed how much of each is eaten. The birds can adjust how the relative consumption of each food type can give a more balanced diet overall, at least withing limits.
     
  4. Eiren

    Eiren New Egg

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    I'll have to ask FIL about his provision of grit. That's more his department.

    Good point about freshness and size. Though the "mixed salad" I pull from the yard are nearly all baby greens, so already small. And since I'm trying to get rid of the things between the patio stones, I pull them out by the roots (as much as I can). And when I grab the nettle and sorrel I grab the whole plant off roots and all. And dirt. Hopefully there's some hanger-ons in the dirt. The hens then just yank at the leaves and tops, and leave the center stalk. I think that's okay? I don't want to fuss with nettle! I tried hanging the nettle from the chicken fence inside the coop (hanging down in reach of the hens) but it was still a lot of fussing and the rooster is being stupid and trying to play dominance games, and I'm not keen on playing games with an idiot literally trying to bite the hand that feeds him, kwim?

    I'm throwing in the plants with roots and dirt, and they pick through the roots for special treats. Could they also be getting some extra grit this way? The roots from the weeding of the patio stones have plenty of sand on them. And the nettle/sorrel usually comes with a chunk of dirt containing who knows what. I see them scratch and peck through it.

    Also with the roots on, I think the greens stay fresher a little bit longer. I only weed the patio right before I walk down to the coop. And the nettle and sorrel I'm grabbing now are literally right next to the coop. But that's a good point about keeping it fresh. If something ends up in the mixed greens bag which is a bit wilty the hens give me an offended look after they nibble it. I'd definitely forage right before going to the coop. I don't want bags of weeds in my yard anyways.
     
  5. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Exactly how big is their run? You can do a lot by converting their run to a deep litter, or composting run. Put compostable materials in there: leaves, grass clippings, hay, kitchen and garden debris, coop litter, wood chips. The goal would be to get the litter at least 6" deep. This will attract beneficial insects and worms, help keep pathogens in check, provide beneficial bacteria and fungi to build their immunity and aid their digestion, as well as give them a job to do.
     
    barred2rock likes this.
  6. Eiren

    Eiren New Egg

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    I'd have to ask FIL the exact measurements, I'm really bad at estimating, especially outdoors. So, just guessing, maybe 8' x 12'? There's more than enough space to make it bigger, so I don't know what made FIL choose this design for 11 chickens. My husband agrees that it's too small, but even if we got FIL to agree to build an expansion, it wouldn't happen for a while.

    A composting run sounds like a good idea to me. I don't know how it would fly with everyone else connected to these chickens though. When they built the coop someone thought it necessary to remove all the grass in the run and till it over. WHY?!
     
  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Um... I have no idea why someone would choose to remove the grass, which they would have enjoyed eating. Perhaps it's b/c their paradigm is to see a soil compacted poopy run instead of one that is lush and green??? The general rule of thumb for a back yard flock is a minimum of 4 s.f. in the coop and 10 s.f. in the run per bird. More space recommended if a rooster is in residence, or if you will ever be adding new birds.
     
    barred2rock likes this.
  8. barred2rock

    barred2rock Chillin' With My Peeps

    But bigger is better, I have a 8x8' coop and a 8x18' run for five birds. :D :wee
     

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