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How to Feed Grass to Penned Chickens

Even penned chickens can gain the benefits of grass if you learn to feed it to them correctly. 

Several years ago, Mother Earth News published an article with the results of nutritional analysis done on the eggs from true grass-fed, pasture-raised chickens compared to store bought eggs.  

The results showed that chickens allowed to roam freely and eat grass and bugs lay more nutritious eggs that contain 1/3 less cholesterol and 1/4 less saturated fat. 

They also had 2/3 more Vitamin A, two times the omega-3s, three times the Vitamin E and a whopping SEVEN times the beta carotene of store bought eggs!

How to Feed Grass to Penned Chickens

While I would love to let my chickens roam our six acres foraging for food all day, if I did soon we wouldn't have any chickens left. 

There are just too many predators to allow that, so they are confined to a large run all day with plenty of feed, clean water, sun, shade and spots to take their dust baths. 

However, there hasn't been a single blade of grass in the run since the week after the chickens were introduced to it nearly five years ago.

I give our chickens all kinds of healthy treats, mostly kitchen leftovers or garden trimmings, and cut herbs.  But with food prices rising and a ever-growing flock of hens and ducks, its just not economical to purchase commercial treats or produce at the grocery store for them very often.

Why Feed Grass to Penned Chickens

With the cost of chicken feed going up also, I started wondering if there were any way I could simulate a little free ranging for our chickens inside the run, while saving some money and also resulting in more nutritious output from them in the form of eggs.

So I did a bit more reading.  And I learned that:

  • Eggs laid by chickens who consume grass have a better hatch rate.  
  • The eggs have darker yolks and literally taste better.
  • Grass can actually provide one-quarter of a hen's overall daily nutritional requirements
  •  Grass can fulfill ALL of a chicken's protein needs. Rye grass, for example, has a 12-16% protein content.
  • Grass also provides Vitamins C and E, magnesium, iron and phosphorus.

Typically, grass has 33 calories per 100 grams (roughly 4 calories per ounce) and 3.3 grams of carbs, 2.2 grams of protein and a whopping 4.6 grams of fiber.  

And therein lies the one downside to grass - the fibrous consistency.  The long fibrous strands can get stuck in chickens' crops and lead to sour crop or impacted crop. 

But I was sold on the benefits of grass-fed chickens.  So I started cutting grass every day to feed to our flock.  Even penned chickens can gain the benefits of grass if you learn to feed it to them correctly. 

Feeding Grass to Penned Chickens

The keys to hand-feeding grass to penned chickens are:

  • Never feed grass that has been treated with fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides
  • Cut grass strands into very small pieces shorter than 1 inch or even better, offer clumps of dirt and grass
  • Try to cut very young tender blades instead of thicker, rougher blades of grass

Did you know that free ranging chickens rarely suffer impacted crops? That's because they nibble a tiny bit of the grass off the end of each blade.  So grass needs to be fed straight from the ground, or cut into short pieces.

Never just grab a handful of grass and toss it into the run. You are just asking for trouble.

I have been cutting and feeding the grass to our flock for a few weeks now, bucketfuls at a time. I toss it on the ground for the chickens and into a tub of water for the ducks.

And lo and behold, they are eating less feed.  They still need access to layer feed, as well as a calcium supplement (either crushed oyster- or crushed eggshell), but they eat noticeably less feed.  In addition to providing a super healthy food source for them, I am cutting back on our feed bills as well.

"Green" treats can be fed in unlimited amounts to your chickens, so go ahead and liberally cut grass and weeds for your chickens, every day if you want to, as much as they will eat.  They won't get fat.  

Weeds are also a very nutritious food source. Here in Virginia, we pretty much have grass year round and also some nice winter weeds.

In the coming weeks and months and years as food prices rise, I know I can depend on a FREE nutritious supplemental food source for our chickens that won't be harmful to them. Even when I can't let them free range.

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