Pastured Poultry: What Kind of Forages Should Your Chickens Be Grazing On?
If you’re a regular here at Nature’s Seed, you’ve probably noticed by now that we have a pasture seed blend for just about everything. From traditional livestock like cattle and sheep all the way to honey bees and tortoises, our experts have collaborated with farmers and hobbyists all over the country to create the ideal blend for every grazing animal. And due to popular demand, we recently added one more – chickens.
Why Pasture-Raised Poultry?
Interest in pasture-raised poultry has been growing in recent years, and for good reason. The benefits are numerous. Pastured poultry are able to improve the soil fertility of a pasture by recycling nutrients back into the soil through their manure. While it’s easy to see how some people might not value the stuff, chicken manure is well-known for its high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and it makes an excellent organic fertilizer. Second, chickens are insect eating machines which can translate into fewer pest problems around your home or farm. Pastured poultry is also very economical and requires minimal investment. By grazing your chickens outdoors in pasture, money can be saved on equipment, maintenance, and housing.
But perhaps the biggest benefit pastured poultry has to offer is health related; both for the chickens and for those that consume their products. According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, raising chickens on pasture allows for a cleaner, healthier environment. Stress levels are also reduced, resulting in better overall health and fewer medications. Folks that eat broilers enjoy meat that is lower in fat, while pasture-raised hens tend to produce eggs with higher amounts of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Selecting the Forages
So what kinds of forages are best for poultry pasture? While it’s important to keep in mind that pastured poultry will still require supplemental feed, there are some types of forages that are better for chickens than others when it comes to edibility and nutrition. To be the most beneficial to poultry, forages should be naturally low-growing; preferably under a foot or so. Once a chicken pasture grows taller than this, it becomes less desirable to poultry. Legumes and broadleaf forbs should make up the majority of the pasture as grasses offer little value to poultry. Select legumes and forbs that produce abundant seeds, such as clovers. Also keep in mind that one of the most important functions of a poultry pasture is to provide habitat for bugs and insects that chickens will seek out. Be sure to plant a wide variety of low-growing, flowering legumes and forbs to attract these beneficial bugs.
Poultry Forage Blends
Here at Nature’s Seed we’ve done the research for you with our line of poultry forage blends. These blends take into consideration all the factors mentioned above, producing a high quality, low-growing perennial pasture for your chickens. Our Poultry Pasture Blends are easy to establish and will return year after year. They’re ideal for large acreages or small backyard plots, and also make an excellent cover crop and green manure. In drier climates (less than 14 inches of annual precipitation) these blends should be irrigated for best results.