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Friday, February 24, 2012

Weeds 101: A Nutritious, FREE Treat for your Backyard Chickens

Chickens love weeds....


So do ducks...


As an added bonus, most weeds are extremely nutritious and contain tons of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Winter weeds are especially good healthy treats when grass and other greens are scarce.


Certain weeds like pennycress and alfalfa contain the compounds that make your egg yolks bright orange, and some - like chickweed, henbit and fat hen - were originally so named because chickens loved them so much.  Chickweed is also a natural pain reliever.  Clover is one of the most nutritiously complete weeds you could feed your chickens and other livestock.  Yarrow is common almost everywhere and while the chickens probably won't eat it, it has lots of antibacterial properties and hanging yarrow in the coop can help clear their respiratory systems.


If your husband is anything like mine, our lawn is his pride and joy. Every weekend spring through fall, he is out there on weekends riding around on his John Deere cutting the grass or fertilizing or spraying weeds. Weeds are the bane of his existence.  He sprays and pulls and cuts, trying to obliterate them all.

I am a bit different.  To me, if it's green, its fine. A lawn full of dandelions, clover and other weeds is okay by me. It's more natural (we live in the country after all) and the bunnies love the clover.  I don't like using pesticides or herbicides at all anywhere.

However, we have managed to compromise.  The front lawn is his to spray, pamper and keep weed-free.  Out back stays natural and full of weeds.  If you can choose a spot in your yard to let the weeds grow untreated and unmolested, your chickens will love you for it.


SAFE WEEDS
Here are some of the more common weeds that grow like crazy in many parts of the country.  They are all perfectly safe to feed to your chickens in unlimited amounts.

Beautyberry (callicarpa)

Bee Balm


Bitter Cress (Shotweed)

Burweed

Catchweed Bedstraw



Catsear

Chickweed

Clover

Dandelion

Evening Primrose

Fat Hen

Hawkweed

Mousear Chickweed

Mugwort

Nettles

Oxalis (Yellow Wood Sorrel)

Plantain

Purple Deadnettle

Purple Deadnettle (earlier in the season)

Purslane

Shiny Cudweed

Shotweed


Smartweed (Heart's Ease/Lady's Thumb)

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne's Lace)

Wild Carolina Geranium

Wild Strawberry

Wild Violets

Yarrow

WARNING - TOXIC WEED !!!
There are long lists of toxic plants and weeds to avoid, but for the most part, chickens will know what they can eat and what they can't.  Most of the common 'yard' weeds are fine, except for this one: the Buttercup (Ranunculus spp). It causes mouth and stomach irritation and can be toxic in large enough amounts, so avoid letting your chickens near any wild buttercup.

AVOID TOXIC BUTTERCUP

But other than the buttercup, give a handful of  (untreated with pesticides or herbicides) weeds to your chickens and see which ones they like.

We are lucky since we have tons of all of these weeds growing out back in our pasture. This winter has been so mild that the weeds are growing like crazy....much to my husband's consternation, but to my and the girls' delight!


~weed identification provided by the Virginia Extension Service and Chick-Weed Gardening Services~

Photo: Having cooled down quite a bit here in Virginia, two of the ducks' favorite treats are in 'season': Chickweed and dandelions. Happy ducks !
~Dandelion greens and chickweed - two of our ducks' favorites!~


BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST BETTER WITH CHICKENS!

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24 comments:

  1. So it is wild geranium that is taking over my yard and that the girls love to much! Aha!

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  2. Haha. I love the name Fat Hen.
    We have many of those growing in our yard here, I know. Not sure about the retirement property; but I thank you for your wonderful, in-depth post!

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  3. I wish I had anything green growing green in my yard right now! Its been so cold!

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  4. Thank you for the wonderful pictures. You have saved many of us so much time. I know I will be referring to the information you have shared.

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  5. Are you able to keep the chickens and ducks out of the front lawn away from where the pesticides and herbicides have been sprayed? We use to spray our weeds but now that we have chickens that free range we aren't spraying. I am looking for an alternative that is safe for the chickens and ultimately their eggs that we eat.
    I love all of the information that you share.

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    Replies
    1. We don't free range except for supervising when I'm out there with them and as you can see, the barn is way out back. They only roam around the back in the pasture. They have never even ventured into the backyard, much less the front.

      I know there are some natural things you can use on weeds, but offhand don't remember any specifically...vinegar comes to mind tho....

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    2. I don't allow my husband to spray anything anywhere. Even though he's only spraying in the front yard, there's drift and runoff where herbicides/pesticides can leach into untreated areas. Using these toxic chemicals also kills bees and other beneficial insects. Don't mean to preach, but we need to get away from these toxic poisons and let nature do her thing. We haven't used anything in years and our lawn is still green. We do have some weeds, but from a distance it's all green. I hope your husband rethinks his position of the "perfect" lawn.

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  6. Wow, a lot of the weed above make up my yard LOL...never knew what they were called except dandelion.

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  7. The best part is you don't need to know the names. Most weeds are edible AND healthy for the chickens. A handful can be harmful, but most likely they won't touch them anyway, so just pick a handful and toss them in the run.

    I do watch and any they don't eat after a few times, I avoid, wondering if maybe they aren't good for them, in addition to not being a favorite.

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  8. Since our chickens have completly rid the run of anything green we throw something green in most days just for them to scratch around in and snack. I will be headed straight to the weeds instead of just tall grasses from the pasture! Thanks for all the info.

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    Replies
    1. Oh you're welcome ! Weeds are alot more nutritious than grass and less likely to cause impacted crop like fibrous grasses can. Most weeds that are toxic or harmful, the chickens will just ignore so if you notice they tend to not eat a certain type, I would stop giving it to them. They know best.

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  9. Does chickweed have little white flowers on it?

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    Replies
    1. Yes tiny little white flowers once it finally blooms. If you're not sure, give them a bit - they know what they can eat and what's not good for them..if they don't seem to like something, just skip that next time.

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  10. Awesome info! As a new chicken owner that intends on free ranging her hens, I have been wondering about this very subject. You just saved me alot of time, so thank you!

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  11. Another good one seen in many areas of the country is Shepherd's Purse. I don't have a picture but pictures are readily available online. It is very easily identifiable by the shape of the leaves.

    As a bonus it is one of the first to arrive in the spring when the chickens (and rabbits, who also love it!) are really craving greens :)

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  12. If you have a small yard like mine you cannot have 'pasture'. But I have let chard and carrots go to seed and now they are like weeds round the fruit trees and next to the path.

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  13. The one you call FatHen is what we call Lambsquarter and is more nutritional than spinach for you and the hens. It grows wild as a weed here and we eat it several times a week in the summer. The girls love it too.

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  14. I CAME TO THIS SIGHT BECAUSE MY CHICKS LOVE MY YARROW AND I WONDERED IF IT WAS OKAY FOR THEM. I WAS SURPRISED TO SEE THAT THEY PROBABLY WOULDN'T TOUCH IT!! HMMM.. I ALSO READ IT CAN GIVE THE EGSS A FUNKY TASTE. MINE ARE TOO YOUNG TO LAY YET BUT, IS THIS TRUE?

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  15. Lissa what about chokecherries? We found some lovely chokecherry plants this year and I will be making jelly/syrup etc. just wondering if I can feed the pulp and pits to the girls. They eat anything I give them so want to make sure it is safe.

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    Replies
    1. I'm not familiar with them, however if they are edible for humans, I would assume they are okay. I would give a few to the chickens and see. They most times know what is good for them and what's not. If they won't touch them, you'll know.

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  16. Ha! I'm planning on getting chickens and I just realized they will be the happiest campers ever! I have tons of all the "good" weeds! Yay, me!

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  17. hay thanx, SIlly me has been feeding my chickens different weeds, especially since they finally mowed down their run, NOw I am double checking what i have been pulling since fall has set in. apparently i have been doing it right and there are somethings they turn their beaks up at.

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  18. Thanks for the weed pictures; learned that we have a few other acceptable weeds in our yard than we thought. Our girls have enjoyed a "Weed & Cut Grass" lunch special throughout the winter months, and are especially happy with the freshness of the Spring weeds sprouting about. You always provide such good information, written ina very entertaining manner.

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  19. Is the Catchweed Bedstraw the plant that sticks or clings to your clothes, the cat's fur, etc?? Or is that a look-a-like?

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Lisa/Fresh Eggs Daily Farm Girl
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