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Copycat Free Range or your Chickens

Can't let your chickens out to free range? Try this copycat free range technique instead to provide them all the benefits of free ranging but none of the risk.

Most mornings, year round, rain or shine, after I finish turning out the horses and feeding the chickens and ducks, you can find me out behind the barn foraging for weeds, grasses and edible flowers with our two dogs.

Bella and Winston look forward to exploring each morning and sniffing to detect what was prowling the night before.

Copycat Free Range for your Chickens

In case you're wondering, it's for the chickens...not me.   I like to eat as healthy as the next girl, and I'm sure dandelion greens are perfectly yummy, but I do draw the line at stuff I pick from the backyard!  So I forage for the chickens.

We can't let our flock free range as much as I would like to because the woods behind the barn are full of predators. The neighboring farmers' fields also draw a plenitude of hawks, but that doesn't mean that I can't bring a copycat free range experience to the run for our girls.

Studies have shown that the eggs of free ranging chickens contain more nutrition and are lower in cholesterol. Our chickens are just as healthy and happy and our eggs are just as beautiful with vibrant orange yolks as the eggs from any free ranging flock, without the risk of losing any of our chickens to predators.

Feed Weeds + Save Money

Grasses, weeds, herbs and flowers not only provide wonderful nutrients and health benefits, they can be fed in unlimited amounts unlike other "treats", since they are considered "green" and mimic what a chicken would eat in a free range environment.

In addition to their nutritional content, they also can help cut down on your feed bill if your chickens fill up on them instead of eating a diet comprised only of commercial feed.

A varied mix of weeds, grasses and edible flowers provide countless benefits to your flock. Depending on the season, different weeds and flowers are plentiful, so I feed our chickens and ducks a varied, seasonal mix of whatever I can find. 

Don't Forget the Grit

Another benefit your chickens get from free ranging is that they can pick up small stones and pebbles that they store in their gizzard. These small stones help to grind up the food the chickens eat since they don't have teeth. 

So some mornings I bring a trowel and bucket to dig up some dirt for my chickens. Other days I might find worms and grubs from the compost pile for a special treat. 

Sometimes I dump a whole bucketful of dirt into the run and let the girls pick through it for worms and bugs themselves, as well as the small stones they need to digest their food. 

Today their greens consisted of chickweed, dandelion greens, violets and some clover.  Who knows what I'll find tomorrow.

A list of common edible weeds  with photographs.
A list of some edible flowers with photographs.
The benefits and nutritional value of grass.

Why not take a walk around your property to see what you can find. Woods, fields and pastures as well as backyards all can hold hidden treasures for your flock! Please nothing treated with herbicides, pesticides or fertilizer though.

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