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Planting for chickens

Discussion in 'Gardening With Animals' started by Chicken.Lytle, Nov 26, 2010.

  1. Nov 26, 2010
    Chicken.Lytle

    Chicken.Lytle Leafing Out

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    My flock has a 1/4 acre run that they have stripped down to pine needles and mulch. I need a better plan for next year.

    What can I plant that my chickens will eat? Something that requires almost no effort, regrows quickly, and tolerates flooding/drought. (I'm in Houston).

    Suggestions?
  2. Nov 26, 2010
    digitS'

    digitS' Garden Master

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    I think that with the foraging of chickens there is a strong tendency to over-estimate the "carrying capacity" of a suburban yard. In Southeast Asian, home of the chicken, it isn't uncommon to see the village flock 1/4 mile and sometimes much further from home. They aren't out for a walk; those chickens are looking for food.

    From ranging over nearly a square mile, to living inside a residential yard -- within just a few days, even a small flock has found and eaten all the easily available food. Then, the destruction begins.

    Now, having said that, around here it is completely reasonable to expect to harvest 2 1/2 tons of hay from an acre of land thru the growing season. That would be over 1,000 pounds of alfalfa or grass from a 1/4 acre. Or, one can grow 500 pounds of grain per 1/4 acre.

    Farmers can put their livestock on forage turnips and expect that they will have 3 or 4 tons of dry matter forage per acre from that quick growing annual. The livestock isn't on that land from sunup to sundown, everyday. The crop has a chance to grow, unmolested. The problems with the birds eating immature plants, scratching and fouling their pasture with too much manure, is limited.

    Probably, the most appropriate crop to grow in a suburban yard is lawn grass, in my opinion. My chickens prefer Kentucky bluegrass to just about anything else out there. They won't do a good job at mowing and really tend to pile poop inappropriately. This year, I decided to move them around the yard in what I call their "playpen."

    Sand Hill Preservation sells seed mixes of "Chicken Treats" (click). These are mixes of annuals. Other than that, you might think about appropriate pasture or lawn mixes available at farm supply stores and garden centers.

    Steve
  3. Nov 26, 2010
    hoodat

    hoodat Deeply Rooted

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    In Houston probably your best bet is bermuda with a Winter planting of rye grass when it is dormant but as Steve said, the carrying capacity for chickens is limited. My chickens in Oklahoma lived almost 100% on forage but I had 40 acres for them to run around on and even then they often ended up at my neighbors. I had an understanding that any of my chickens that were on my neighbors property were theirs for dinner or whatever else they wanted to do with them. It worked out well.
  4. Nov 26, 2010
    Chicken.Lytle

    Chicken.Lytle Leafing Out

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    I have 3 acres to work with. The land is being reclaimed from a badly eroded woodlot. The current run is under a nice brushy stand of trees which gives them reasonably good protection from winged predators and the hot sun.

    The open patch adjacent to their run looks like I could till and sow, but I wonder what would be best. I have seen seed mixes but I would like to know if anybody has used them or similar. What works for you?

    I keep the chickens in a large run due to their stupid poo tricks .
  5. Nov 26, 2010
    FarmerDenise

    FarmerDenise Garden Ornament

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    We grow broomcorn, sunflowers, amaranth, millet and milo for the chickens. They also get other stuff we come across in the garden. But we specifically harvest the above for the seeds to feed the chickens. We simply dry the whole plant and either give the whole plant to the chickens or other times we seperate out the seeds ind feed it them that way. We also allow our chickens to forage the whole yard in the winter and fence in the small area we use for our winter garden. In the summer the chickens are in a small fneced yard and the garden has most of the space.
    We let our sweet corn dry, once we have had our fill and then I strip the corn during the winter evenings for chicken feed.
  6. Nov 27, 2010
    Chicken.Lytle

    Chicken.Lytle Leafing Out

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    It looks like wild birds have given me a head start on the sunflower by stealing my Black Oil Sunflower Seed. One is growing by the driveway under a power line.

    I was considering milo, but not millet. My birds dislike millet for some reason.
  7. Nov 27, 2010
    Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Garden Addicted

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    I'm not sure I have the correct picture. Let me say what I think you have and you can correct me. I think you currently have a 1/4 acre run in the shade and an area next to it, not currently fenced, that is open and recently cleared. It is eroded and you want to plant a cover crop on it that will feed the chickens green stuff, not waiting to harvest it for seeds for them. I think you want it to stay as a cover to prevent erosion. I think you will fence in that area as a part of your run. It sounds like it was in a pine trees area, not broadleaf trees. In the Houston area I envision a sandy soil, but Houston is a big area. Could be about any soil type. Whatever type it is, it has possibly had the nutrients leached out of it since it floods and is eroding, although it could mean it is washing in nice enriching silt.

    I expect you plan to mow or bush hog it since it will likely grow briars and brush or scrub pines if you don't keep it mowed down. Is it an area you can sort of let go and grow into hay or is it an area you need to keep mowed reasonably short, like a lawn? Whether you are able to let it go to seed before you mow it or not will have a whole lot to do with whether what you put there is sustainable. Some plants spread quite well from runners and frequent mowing does not harm them once they are established, but some have to come back from seed. I'm not sure if you are looking for a hay or a lawn grass.

    I don't know what your native grass is in that area. All gardening is local. What grows well for you may not work at all for me due to different climates, weather patterns, and soil types. The native grass in Kingwood might be different from the native grass in Sugarland. If you can find out what your native grass is and it will thrive under your mowing regime, I'd look hard at that to see if it will suit the purpose. A great way to get information on what should work for you is to talk to your county extension agent, in the phone book under county government. In case you are shy and don't want to talk to people, take the easy way, and let somebody else do the heavy lifting for you, Texas A&M is your state land grant university. Their website should have extensive information that can help you.

    Whatever you do, I'd keep the chickens off of it until the root systems are established. Otherwise they will pluck the sprouting grain and not let anything get established. I'd give erosion control my top priority. I'd keep the existing run with the capability to keep them off this area if they started to do serious damage to it and give it a chance to recover.

    I think a mix is a good idea if your management plan will allow it. I have no idea what will work in your area. If I were doing what I think you are doing up here, I'd start with the native Bermuda grass, definitely mix in some red clover, and consider lespedeza or alfalfa if I were only going to mow or bush hog it once or twice a year. How much damage they do will depend in a large part on how many chickens you have.

    Good luck with it.
  8. Nov 28, 2010
    FarmerDenise

    FarmerDenise Garden Ornament

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    My birds go nuts for millet. Go figure. I also noticed that my birds will like stuff I grow, but not store bought. I feed the millet in sprays. But mine like the store bought millet too. :p
  9. Nov 30, 2010
    Chicken.Lytle

    Chicken.Lytle Leafing Out

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    You all inspired me. WalMart had Economy Wild Bird Seed on sale so I got a bag. I will be planting milo, millet, and wheat.

    I already know my Black Oil Sunflower Seed is fertile since a wild bird stole some chicken treat and "planted" it in the middle of my yard with some natural fertilizer.
  10. Dec 1, 2010
    wifezilla

    wifezilla Deeply Rooted

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    I have been considering growing a stand of amaranth. I have limited space so can't ever expect to totally provide my ducks and quail with complete rations, but anything I can use to supplement saves me money and makes them healthier.

    For the amaranth growers, what gives the most seeds? Golden? Anyone grow the red love-lies-bleeding? That one just looks cool :D

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