Get Healthier Eggs By Planting The Perfect Free-Range Diet For Your Chickens
Do you keep a small number of chickens solely to reap the benefits of their delicious eggs? Did you know that free-range birds actually produce healthier eggs than those that spend most of their time in enclosures? Read on to learn why it's a good idea to let your chickens roam your yard, and how you can prep your yard for your feathered friends to graze.
The Proof Is In The
It isn't just an opinion -- there's scientific proof that letting your foul free-range will result in healthier, more nutritious omelets.
The revelation came about when a team of researchers from Penn State University divided a bunch of chickens in to 2 groups. One group was rotated between alfalfa, clover, and grass pastures, and the other group was confined to a cage and fed a diet consisting solely of commercial feed.
At the end of this 6 week study, it was concluded that the free-range chickens produced eggs that contained twice as much vitamin E and Omega-3 fats, and 38 percent more vitamin A than the eggs produced by the caged chickens.
The Real Reason The Chicken Crossed The Road
The Penn State chicken study provides plenty of incentive to let your chickens free-range, but do you have the necessary food on your property for your chickens to eat? Chickens are omnivorous -- they need a diet with variety, and if they can't find a mix of bugs, seeds, and greens in your yard, they'll keep on walking until they find it elsewhere.
Fret not, though. You can have healthy eggs and keep your chickens out of the road, too. Here's a list of what you need to plant to provide your birds with a balanced free-range diet.
Grass -- Chickens don't technically eat grass, but it's still crucial to their diet because it draws all kinds of delicious insects to your yard. Since your birds will inevitably dig and root around in the grass, you'll need a durable variety.
St. Augustine grass from places like https://californiasodcenter.com/ is a superb choice for free-range chickens. It grows extremely thick and full, standing up well to chicken traffic and luring all kinds of grasshoppers and crickets for your flock to munch on. St. Augustine grass is also shade and salt tolerant, and grows via runners, so there are always new blades of grass in line and ready to grow should your chickens scratch their way down to bare ground.
Legumes And Seeds -- The Penn State researchers used clovers to feed the chickens in their experiment, but your chickens will appreciate any type of legume. Barley, buckwheat, chickpeas, and lentils are all acceptable. Try to plant a few different varieties.
Quinoa is great chicken food, and also doubles as aesthetic appeal for your yard. Most people assume this plant is a grain, but it's actually a legume. In the fall, when insect availability begins to fade, your quinoa plants will erupt in huge heads of red and yellow, feathery seeds that your chickens will have a great time gobbling up.
Chickens also love seeds. Plant plenty of sunflowers in a sunny corner of your yard. Allow some seeds to drop (they'll self-sow for next year), and collect the rest of them to supplement your chickens' diets through the winter months.
Greens And Berries -- Finally, provide your chickens with ample greens and berries to eat. The greens should be sturdy so the chickens can peck off little bites without destroying the whole plant. Dandelions work fine for this, but if you can't stand the thought of the infamous yellow weed creeping all over your beautiful St. Augustine grass, then plant some kale, collards, lettuce, and/or cabbage.
And, just like the average person, chickens love a sweet treat every now and then. Any kind of berry will hit the spot for them, but blackberry bushes are especially favorable because they double as a thorny hiding spot should your chickens need to seek shelter to get away from a predator.
It's great that you harvest your own chicken eggs. There's a lot of peace-of-mind in knowing where your food comes from and how the animals that produced it were cared for. Make your fresh eggs even healthier by filling your yard with the above free-range chicken-friendly plants.