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Chicken run perennials

 
pollinator
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I want to limit the amount of feed I supply to my (future) chickens. I already have a few perennials planted in or just outside the run--currants, gooseberries, raspberries, two plum trees. An apricot is just outside the planned run area. I think these are deep rooted enough that the plants themselves won't be at risk. What else can be planted in the runs with some chance of success? Would comfrey just be eaten down to the root? What else would do well under these conditions? I'm looking for things that can be planted both inside and outside the run to provide additional food for the chickens. Just brainstorming at this point.

There will be four run areas, and the plan is to rotate between them during the season. I'd like some early, mid and late season stuff in each section.
 
pollinator
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Location: Monticello Florida zone 8a
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Thus guy does compost. https://abundantpermaculture.com/i-cut-my-chicken-feed-bill-100/

There's several threads around here dealing with the topic of chicken forage. Not sure about the perennial part though.
 
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Look up Edible Acres on youtube too.  They do compost, perennials, etc to supplement their feed which is whole grains sprouted in the compost.

Mulberries is another one that should work.

I'm doing compost so far myself, but do want to add some perennials too, as I find time.
 
pollinator
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I would plant some brassicas and protect them with a wire cage until they have a good strong stem. Our chickens have a coop inside a cage at the community garden.  

They are let out to forage whenever there is someone to supervise them and one of their favourite greens are a couple of well established broccoli and cabbage plants that are at least three years old.

The stalks are over an inch in diameter so strong enough to withstand the chickens' constant grazing.

We hang the leaves inside their cage and they eat them down to the ribs - they prefer them over silverbeet and kale.
chickens-eating-brassicas.jpg
chickens eating brassicas
chickens eating brassicas
 
pollinator
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I would focus on plants that provide necessary nutrients, including protein.  Amaranth is not perennial, but it self-seeds prolifically, and the seeds (and I believe, the leaves) are high in protein.

 
gardener
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In my experience they will in fact eat comfrey to death.
They love willow,and  I feed mine grape and mulberry leaves but I'm not sure how much they actually eat rather than shred.
They like the greens we eat, so I second the perennial greens recommendations.
The thing they like most of all is when I turn the compost in their run, at which point they eat stuff I can't even see, and they do so with gusto.

 
pollinator
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i'm wondering if thee's something they won't want much that will keep calling in bugs to eat...
 
pollinator
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To keep them from eating something down to the roots, cover it with a cage or wire basket that has openings big enough they can eat through. That way they can't scratch it up, and you can decide just how much of the plant you want them to be able to reach.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:To keep them from eating something down to the roots, cover it with a cage or wire basket that has openings big enough they can eat through. That way they can't scratch it up, and you can decide just how much of the plant you want them to be able to reach.

Since comfrey is already growing just outside the run area, I figure it'll spread into the run pretty much every year. Anything I want them to have but not kill (like amaranth, or sorghum) I'll plant overhanging the run so the seeds will fall inside.
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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greg mosser wrote:i'm wondering if thee's something they won't want much that will keep calling in bugs to eat...

Interesting idea. Lots of pill bugs and earwigs in the yard, and they loved the sorghum. Same with aphids. Sugar sorghum was black with aphids when it was time to harvest. Hm...
 
gardener
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Pineapple guava, beautyberry and goji berry are perennial shrubs that can be a forage source for poultry, as well as moringa, if hardy in the climate. Also cannas & elephant ears/taro tend to be vigorous and hold up well to my chickens.
As mentioned, mulberry is always a great option, and is very easy to propagate from cuttings during the dormant season.
While an annual, my birds have been enjoying the luffa shoots that climb through the wire from the plants I put outside the run this summer.

In my experience it's the digging that seems to result in the majority of the chicken-related plant deaths. It's fine when the birds are just browsing the greenery, but once they start digging it seems they won't stop until they've killed/uprooted the entire plant (then they just leave it laying there to dry out). So any type of plant, shrub, or small tree I want to keep alive I have to protect the trunk and base of the root zone.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Kc Simmons wrote:So any type of plant, shrub, or small tree I want to keep alive I have to protect the trunk and base of the root zone.

I have goji berry in the area, but I was going to tear it out. Would a piece of chain link around the root area keep them from destroying it? The thing seems pretty much immortal.
 
William Bronson
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While their scratching leads to most plant deaths, my chooks pecked to death a comfrey that was "protected" by a milk crate.
They just loved that stuff to death.
Woody stem perennials seem to survive fine once they get to that stage.
 
Lauren Ritz
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William Bronson wrote:While their scratching leads to most plant deaths, my chooks pecked to death a comfrey that was "protected" by a milk crate.
They just loved that stuff to death.
Woody stem perennials seem to survive fine once they get to that stage.

So comfrey outside the run. I'm rather looking forward to what the chickens will do with my grape vines. Climb them? Trim the lower sprouts? Jump for the fruit?
 
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Lamb's quarters isn't perennial, but prolific self-seeder and my poultry love it. Autumn olive, maybe not one you choose to plant, but again, my poultry love the berries and eat the leaves eagerly.
 
Kc Simmons
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Lauren Ritz wrote:I have goji berry in the area, but I was going to tear it out. Would a piece of chain link around the root area keep them from destroying it? The thing seems pretty much immortal.


I usually just wrap some scrap chicken wire around the things I want to protect and it seems to work as long as there's other, more tempting things for them to eat. So chain link would probably be fine.  
My goji berry shrubs are pretty tough, as well, but my geese have taken out a couple of them in the past. Fortunately they're easy to root from cuttings. I prune them back in late winter and root some of the stems as potential backups.
While they aren't the highest yielding fruit/berry bush, they seem to make multiple batches of fruit during the growing season, which can give you a little consistency in forage material. I wouldn't tear them out unless I had something better to occupy the space.

 
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Take a look into Helianthus Tuberosus, Jerusalem Artichokes AKA Sunchokes. Once you've got them established some of the varieties spread like crazy while others spread slowly. They are perennials and totally maintenance free and disease free. Typical Ron Popeil's "Set it and forget it". Chickens love the young tender shoots and will take them right down. When the 'chokes get around two feet tall you can turn the chickens loose and they'll just eat on the lower leaves and the bugs the 'choke plants attract. When the stalks die and dry in the late fall the tubers can be exposed and most chickens will dig around and eat them raw, some won't. If you boil or roast the tubers all chickens should love them when softened. The tubers are packed with minerals and polysaccharides, very healthy for chickens before winter sets in. The dead stalks attract ground beetles, pillbugs, snails and slugs when they're piled. The 'choke plants along a chicken run will provide a windbreak and shade for the chickens and the ones that spread into the runs will give the chickens young shoots to eat in the spring.
 
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i grew out several siberian pea shrubs until they were about 2 ft tall and planted them in my chic run. in one season they have grown 4 ft.! the seeds are nearly 30% protein and double as a food source in the fall. if they get out of hand they can be pruned and the chickens fed the foliage which is also very nutritious . make sure to plant in full sun and fairly well drained soil. i planted mine in mounds with some gravel in the soil to help drainage. i then put flat rocks around the root ball to keep the chics from digging them up. i read somewhere that during ww2 the russians got their chickens thru the winters feeding pea shrub seed exclusively. a good plant to have around. in a pinch the seeds can be ground into a flour and used to make bread also.
 
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Lay down wood chips thick and heavy everywhere.  The Chooks will love the biology that magically shows up.  When I say thick and heavy I mean 8 to 12 inches of wood chips.  I functions as a deep litter, cover the earth, gives the chooks lots to do, provides lots of food....I could go on and on but why.  They will wipe out the currants and gooseberries, not necessarily the plants, but the leaves and fruit they can reach.  Giving them the life forms that show up in the wood chips is a real plus for all parties concerned.   Edible Acres does have awesome documentation on chickens, wood chips, and composting.
 
steve bossie
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Marco Benito wrote:Lay down wood chips thick and heavy everywhere.  The Chooks will love the biology that magically shows up.  When I say thick and heavy I mean 8 to 12 inches of wood chips.  I functions as a deep litter, cover the earth, gives the chooks lots to do, provides lots of food....I could go on and on but why.  They will wipe out the currants and gooseberries, not necessarily the plants, but the leaves and fruit they can reach.  Giving them the life forms that show up in the wood chips is a real plus for all parties concerned.   Edible Acres does have awesome documentation on chickens, wood chips, and composting.

ido the same with arborist chips except i put nearly 2ft and it last all season keeping it dry in there. i got several flushes of blewit mushrooms just downhill outside the run. nice big ones too!
 
pollinator
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We have planted two mulberry trees in our run. It's going to be a long time before they fruit out though.

Beyond that, the run contains our main compost heap, and gets barrows of woodchips from time to time. The chickens love the heap, and every few days I toss it back up into a taller pile with a garden fork.

Others have already suggested the benefits of chips etc... for attracting all sorts of bugs. You can go a step further than that and put some planks or logs down on the soil/chips. It provides a safe spot for bugs to hang out. Once every few weeks turn the log over and let the chickens scratch the bugs from the log and surrounding soil.
 
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