Copycat Free Range Technique for your Chickens


Most mornings, year round, rain or shine, after I finish turning out the horses and feeding the chickens and ducks, you can find me out behind the barn foraging for weeds, grasses and edible flowers with our two dogs.  


Bella and Winston look forward to exploring each morning and sniffing to detect what was prowling the night before
In case you're wondering, it's for the chickens...not me.   I like to eat as healthy as the next girl, and I'm sure dandelion greens are perfectly yummy, but I do draw the line at stuff I pick from the backyard!  So I forage for the chickens.

We can't let our flock free range because the woods behind the barn are full of predators. The neighboring farmers' fields also draw a plenitude of hawks, but that doesn't mean that I can't bring a 'copycat free range experience' to the run for our girls.  Studies have shown that the eggs of free ranging chickens contain more nutrition and are lower in cholesterol. Our chickens are just as healthy and happy and our eggs are just as beautiful with vibrant orange yolks as the eggs from any free ranging flock, without the risk of losing any of our chickens to predators. 

Score! Dandelion greens!
Grasses, weeds, herbs and flowers not only provide wonderful nutrients and health benefits, they can be fed in unlimited amounts unlike other 'treats', since they are considered 'green' and mimic what a chicken would eat in a free range environment.  In addition to their nutritional content, they also can help cut down on your feed bill if your chickens fill up on them instead of eating a diet comprised only of commercial feed.

A varied mix of weeds, grasses and edible flowers provide countless benefits to your flock
Depending on the season, different weeds and flowers are plentiful, so I feed our chickens and ducks a varied, seasonal mix of whatever I can find. Some mornings I bring a trowel and bucket to dig up some worms and grubs from the compost pile for a special treat. Sometimes I dump a whole bucketful of dirt into the run and let the girls pick through it for worms and bugs, as well as the small stones they need to digest their food. Today their greens consisted of chickweed, dandelion greens, violets and some clover.  Who knows what I'll find tomorrow.

For a list (with photographs) of common edible weeds click HERE.
For a list (with photographs) of some edible flowers click HERE.
For information on the benefits and nutritional value of grass click HERE.
For information on the benefits of clover click HERE.

Why not take a walk around your property to see what you can find. Woods, fields and pastures as well as backyards all can hold hidden treasures for your flock! Please nothing treated with herbicides, pesticides or fertilizer tho.


21 comments:

  1. We feed our girls weeds all the time. And right now our brussels sprouts are about done so we are putting the whole stalk in there because they LOVE to eat the leaves off of them. It definitely helps with the their food bill.

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    1. I need to grow brussells sprouts - I've heard chickens love the leaves and stalks.

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  2. I do the same thing cuz my girls can't free range! I thought I was the only "nut"! Now that chickweed is back the girls are thrilled! They love it when I cut grass (into tiny pieces) but I get tired of that plus it takes a lot of time! The weeds are great! Cleans up the yard and they have a good time digging through them! I've tried hanging them, but they don't eat them...they want them on the ground. They stand on them and yank away!! LOL

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  3. What a great way to use up the weeds in the garden! I'll bet the girls love the variety.

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  4. I pull weeds/grass for the girls all the time. This last fall I dug up a flower bed and 'stuff' from that was still on the driveway. Bad weather moved in and I did not get it all cleaned up. So, last week I scraped everything up and into wheel barrows and dumped a load in each coop. Sand that washes down the driveway with lots of tiny gravel, dirt and weeds. They scratched in it for days. But you had some weeds in your hand I was not sure about and I am quite happy to see them. I have lots and lots of that. Will start pulling it and putting it in the run.
    This year I hatched turkeys that I have never had or been around before. Can they have the same treats as the chicken?

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  5. My two hens completely weeded our side yard this spring. I just put them over there for a few hours here and there. They loved the weeds. I know they love your green treats.

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  6. I do the same thing, we have owls, hawks, and eagles always keeping an eye out for my chickens and ducks. So if I let them out I have to stay out with them. They beg for weeds, love them. Help keeps your property low on weed growth too.

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  7. Great advice! My girls want everything. I turn them out as long as I'm staying close to the house but I do give them scraps and weeds if the are stuck in.

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  8. Wonderful advice! And further incentive to go weed the garden!
    Leigh
    Natural Chicken Keeping

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  9. Whenever I pull weeds in the garden the chickens get first dibs before they go to the compost.

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  10. Lisa, so is it ok to just throw those weeds into the run? I've been trying to cut them up in small pieces. It gets so tiring and I can't keep up with all the weeds that they could be getting.

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    1. I cut grass up into short pieces. Grass is very fibrous and can lead to impacted crops. Weeds not so much. And if you watch closely, they will grab a piece and then bang it against the ground with their beak to break a piece off.

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  11. Weeds are great and mostly my girls can free range while I am at home but sometimes I'm not or I am too busy to watch them. So if you want to look this is my solution for this. Look at about half way down the page. http://welcometothehenhouse.blogspot.com/2012/10/more-on-ready-ing-coop-for-winter.html It works great and they love it almost as much.

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    1. Oh, I have read your blog before. I love that photo of your coop lit up. The raised bed is a neat idea too - I have a small one in my run.

      Glad you decided not to use sand in your coop - shavings or straw is a much better option. A better insulator as well. I don't recommend using sand ever.

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  12. I can't have chickens because of my allergies...sigh. But my niece is getting some chickens up at the farm, and maybe I can visit them there. Living vicariously through my Chicken's board on Pinterest, and your blog.

    Jen

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  13. How clever you are! We just bought our first chicks and are brand new at this endeavor. I'm worried about all the predators we have here at the ranch, up to and including domesticated dogs & cats that run through from time to time. We're still working on the permanent housing solution to fit our situation, but I never thought about bringing "free range" to them! Thanks for sharing. (visiting from the Homestead Barn Hop)

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

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    1. Good for you to worry about the predators. I do too and this way I have peace of mind, the girls stay alive and they really do enjoy a nice varied healthy diet.

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  14. Hello,
    Over at Hibiscus House you were just featured! Thanks for everything.
    Dolly
    http://hibiscushouse1.blogspot.com/2013/05/farmgirl-friday-108-and-happy-mothers.html

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    1. Thanks so much ! I'll take a random favorite any day! I just linked up to this weeks' party!

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  15. Thanks for joining in with us over at the Creative HomeAcre blog hop with such a useful and thorough guide. Look forward to seeing you again this weekend at http://mumtopia.blogspot.com/2013/05/bloghop19thmay.html

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  16. Thanks for sharing your post at Motivation Monday!

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