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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Down and Dirty on Feeding Clover to your Chickens



When our chickens and ducks free range in the evenings before dark, I watch closely to see what kinds of things they seem to like best to forage so I will know what type of goodies to pick for them when they are confined in their pen. Dandelion greens, chickweed and tender grasses seem to be on the top of their list, along with small pebbles they use as grit to grind their food. They also of course love earthworms, crickets and bugs.  Another favorite is clover.  


The clover confused me because I have seen clover mentioned on several lists of things chickens shouldn't be eating.  But normally the chickens know best what is good for them and what isn't, especially when offered a selection of plants on which to graze.

So I decided to do some research and find out the real story about clover. I consulted a vet, a poultry expert and also an herbalist, read a few studies, and here's what I found out about clover:


Clover is a highly nutritious cool weather perennial plant in the legume family. It is of exceptional benefit as a forage substitute when grass is scarce since it is so nutrient-dense. There are several varieties of clover including red, white and purple, but they all have similar nutritional value. Clovers are high in calcium, niacin (most likely why our ducks love clover!), potassium, Vitamins A and B, iron and protein. Clover is a detoxifier and stimulates the liver and digestive system. It also aids in respiratory and circulatory health, being an anticoagulant.

And therein lies the reason clover often appears on lists of what not to feed chickens. Clover contains coumarin which is a blood thinner. So while it does help with good blood flow and lower blood pressure, particularly if clover gets moldy the presence of certain fungi cause coumarin to turn into a toxin that can cause internal hemorrhaging. This is more of a problem with cut clover being baled up in hay for horses and other livestock and then getting wet, which will allow the fungus to grow. Toxicity doesn't generally occur under normal grazing conditions.  


Clover, a relative of soy, also contains a form of estrogen, called an isoflavone, which can interfere with animal reproductive systems in large enough quantities, but in a free grazing situation or being fed free-choice in reasonable quantities as part of a multi-faceted diet of grasses and weeds, it should not pose any problem. After all, nearly anything in large enough quantities can have negative health effects. Daily vitamins offer wonderful health benefits to humans, but swallowing an entire bottle at once would probably kill you.


So in short, clover is a wonderful addition to your flocks' diet. Don't shy away from offering clover, preferably mixed with other weeds and grasses if you are cutting the clover and hand feeding. Your chickens will know how much they need for the nutrients and eat accordingly. At least now I understand why clover is cautioned against and can make my own educated decision about it.

Note: Chamomile, cinnamon, licorice, strawberries, cherries and apricots also contain coumarin.  




References:
http://aggieclover.tamu.edu/sweetclover/preventing-toxicity/
http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/toxicagents/coumarin.html

16 comments:

  1. When I watch our chickens graze in the yard that is one of the first things they go after. They pick that over anything when they can find it nestled in the grass.

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  2. Very good to know. Thank you for doing the research!

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    1. Don't you hate when you keep reading something as being bad for you (or the chickens) but don't understand why? I found this all so interesting.

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  3. My hens go bananas for the stuff, especially when it's in bloom!

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  4. Great stuff, Lisa! Thank you for sharing such great information!
    Leigh
    Natural Chicken Keeping

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  5. How clever you are to incorporate a timely post about clover and your chicks. Enjoy your weekend, Lisa!

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    1. I try! I have had this one on the back burner for awhile now wanting to link it up to St. Pats Day.

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  6. I am new to your blog, Lisa. Thank you so much for all the great information you are sharing with your readers! I look forward to each new email coming to my mailbox and announcing a new post.
    Miha, Virginia

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  7. Very interesting. I love that our ladies know what's good for them and what to stay away from.

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    1. They really do Lauren and will eat in moderation, I wouldn't pick a whole bucket of clover and only feed them clover for a week straight, but in moderation, its not going to hurt them esp. if they have the choice to eat or not eat it.

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  8. Thank you SO much for researching this. We've fed our chickens clover for years, and I was very surprised to see it on a toxicity list that you shared a few weeks ago. I also was surprised to see tomatoes and tomato leaves because we feed those almost as much as clover. Has anyone had any negative experiences with tomato plants?

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    1. Tomatoes are in the nightshade family and the leaves are toxic. Not to say a chicken who eats a leaf or two will keel over dead, but I don't give any tomato leaves to the chickens. Like eggplant, as long as the tomatoes are fully ripe, the amount of the toxin is minimal, so ripe tomatoes are okay as an occasional treat.

      I just like to be aware, as I mentioned in the post, so I can feed or not feed my chickens different things, knowing the possible risks. But nearly anything is bad in large quantities, same as for humans.

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  9. Cool. I *thought* chickens were good at making their own choices--they seem to only go for things that are ok for them, it seems. Thanks for the info!

    ~Kristi@Let This Mind Be in You

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing this information! I am relatively new to your blog and have greatly enjoyed reading all of your posts. This post was particularly interesting to me because I volunteer at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and one of the temporary exhibits I worked on last year was the hatching and raising of baby ostriches. Clover was one of the treat options offered to the chicks, along with dandelion greens, kale, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, crickets, and mealworms. They like all the same things chickens do!

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  11. Thanks for the info! We were wondering about this today and I just happened to stumble upon this post through pinterest. Glad to know it's good for them under the right circumstances.

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Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily
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