Do Chickens Eat Grass?
A research study published by Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems studied the effects of raising chickens on pastures for better egg and meat production. The answer to the question “Do chickens eat grass?” is a resounding yes.
Commercial farmers reported many benefits from raising chickens on pasture grass. Your backyard chickens can not only benefit from free-ranging, foraging, and eating grass, but scientific studies have shown health benefits for your chickens and their eggs from consuming grass.
Grass clippings can present problems. It’s important to know the benefits of your chickens eating grass and the precautions to take if you are feeding them grass clippings.
Why is Grass Good for Chickens
Your Chickens explains why chickens who roam on and eat grass are healthier and have more nutritious eggs. Foraging for green plants and insects is a natural process for chickens. It makes them mentally and physically happier and healthier.
Evidence from scientific studies on chickens who eat grass has determined the increased nutrition level in the eggs over chickens in confinement that have no access to grass.
- Some of the nutritional benefits that they found are:
- There is ½ less cholesterol
- ¼ less saturated fat
- 2 to 3 times more vitamin A
- More omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
More Nutritional Benefits
And the benefits just keep coming. The nutrition found in grass can’t be replicated by commercial chicken feed. While there are vitamins and minerals in the feed, the chickens absorb those supplements better when in a natural form. The combination of lush grass mixed with insects and worms provides a cornucopia of health benefits.
- Vitamins and minerals in plants add vitamins, fiber, protein, energy, carotenoids, and omega-3 to your chickens’ diets.
- Chickens who forage have more vitamin A, E, K, and B6 in their systems as the added sunshine from grass foraging increased their vitamin D.
- Legumes and clover provide the nitrogen-rich protein that helps build organs, muscles, and tissue.
- Grass is a great source of fiber that helps maintain a healthy digestive system.
What Type of Grass is Good for Chickens?
One thing to remember when your chickens are foraging on grass is that the nutritional value changes according to the stage of grass and the time of year.
In Spring, the grass is high in sugar and the protein and fiber level is lower.
In the summer, the sugar and protein levels will drop.
Early autumn will bring a resurgence to the protein and sugar levels.
By winter, all the plants will be dormant and low in protein and nutrients.
Chicken expert Robert Plamondon says that if you’re wondering what type of grass is best for your chickens, his answer is, “green grass”.
Green Grass Is Best
All lush green grass has tons of nutrients and vitamins. When it turns brown, the only use it has is that it hides bugs for your chickens to eat. Since chickens can’t digest the cellulose in brown grass, soft, green grass is best for them.
Types of Grass Good For Chickens
Some of the common grass types that are good for chickens are crabgrass and clover. Spring grass is the best but since that only occurs a few months out of the year, any grasses that are thriving and sprouting are good for your chickens.
If you’re purposely planting grass for your chickens, choose a grass mix that is known for staying green in your region the longest.
Can Chickens Digest Grass?
Proof.net’s goal is to inform and educate people about raising farm animals on grass fields. They demystify the question, “Do Chickens eat grass or is that a myth?”.
Animals like chickens and pigs are omnivores. They have similar dietary needs as humans. While chickens and pigs (or us) could not live on leafy greens alone, they are needed to maintain a balanced diet.
Chickens will consume a lot of insects and grubs in the soil while they are grazing. Chickens who live in the wild do very nicely on this diet.
When you have one flock confined to a smaller area, they don’t have the range to forage. They need to have their diet supplemented with protein from feed or other sources.
Controversies In Feeding Grass To Chickens
Some of the controversies around this topic came from a prominent egg farmer in Australia, John Dunn, CEO of a large egg company. He spread a rumor that chickens don’t eat grass. It will lead to compaction and death. This and other foolish claims have spread causing doubt and alarm for new chicken owners.
Rest assured; these claims are not true. Here’s why. While there have been gizzard compactions, healthy birds are perfectly capable of grinding up grass. A gizzard is an essential component in the digestive system of a chicken. This is how the gizzard works to digest grass:
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· Food is pecked at and eaten with the beaks
· Saliva and digestive enzymes help the food travel down the esophagus
· No chewing is involved so the pieces of food stay rather large
· Undigested food travels to the crop where it can sit up to 12 hours
· The food then trickles into the gizzard
· Strong muscles along with pebbles and sand grind the food into digestible particles much like teeth
From there, the food passes into the intestines where the chicken’s body absorbs the nutrients. The grass is easily ingested and absorbed through this complex system.
Precautions for Chicken Grazing
There are, however, some reasons why the gizzard might not be able to do its job. Most of the reasons are due to a lack of knowledge or poor chicken management on our part though.
Since chickens survive just fine in the wild, it can be assumed that grazing is part of their natural diet. When people intervene so the natural routine has been altered, sometimes, this prevents the chickens’ bodies from functioning as nature intended.
Keep in mind, these tips from Proof.net to allow your chickens to enjoy grazing and benefit from the nutrition and exercise free-ranging provides.
Tips For Free Ranging Chickens On Grass
· Don’t send your birds out to graze in dried-up old grass. It has no nutritional value and can cause problems like compaction.
· New shoots are the most digestible. Keep pasture mown and as short as possible.
· Chickens can’t survive on pasture alone. They still need adequate portions of food with protein.
· Supply a free-feed source of shells and grit that the chickens can eat while grazing. This will ensure the grass gets ground properly and allows the gizzard to do its job.
Will Chickens Mow Your Lawn?
Chickens will not be a substitute for your lawn mowing service but they will contribute to lawn trimming. They tend to eat their favorite greens like dandelions and clover and will spend less time on the taller, tougher varieties of grass like Kentucky bluegrass.
Keep in mind that they will also be foraging in your flower beds and garden. There is no way to restrict them to just the grass unless you get a chicken tractor. The tractor can be moved to new locations every day. The chickens will graze on and fertilize all the grass under the coop.
If you are letting your girls free-feed on your lawn you will still need to mow it. Be careful not to spread any fertilizers or pesticides on the grass where your chickens are grazing.
Here are 3 tips to save your lawn from being damaged by your chickens.
1. Your yard can become damaged from chickens grazing. To keep your lawn looking its best while your chickens are picking at their favorite tender shoots, remember that chicken manure in excess will kill grass because of the ammonia. Mowing will help distribute the manure or you may need to rake or spray the yard with a hose if it has not rained recently.
2. Sending too many chickens into a small yard will quickly kill the grass. Consider limiting the number of chickens each day if you have a small grass yard. Check the ordinances in your town as often there is a limit of the number of chickens that can be raised on small property.
3. When you mow, consider leaving the clippings as mulch. This will have a two-fold benefit. The chickens will go for the tasty clipped grass before eating the shoots. It’s easier. The clippings will also help distribute the nitrogen content of the manure. The composting process will fertilize the lawn and help prevent the nitrogen from burning the grass’s roots.
Can You Feed Grass Clippings to Chickens?
Grass clippings can be great for your flock. If you have to keep your chickens confined, feel free to feed them your clipping. They are safe and nutritious as long as you keep a few factors in mind.
- Never feed grass clipping to chickens after applying fertilizer or chemicals. This would be bad!
- Remember when chickens graze, they pull off small pieces of the plant so they are easily digestible. Make sure your grass is sufficiently chopped into smaller pieces. This will allow the grass to pass freely through the crop and help prevent gizzard impaction.
- Chickens will love to forage through the clippings as there will also be tasty bugs and insects hiding in the grass.
- Want to make the clippings last longer and not turn brown as quickly? Dump the clippings into a shallow plastic tub and add water. The chickens will love dunking for grass and bugs and it will make the grass last from 5 to 7 days.
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