Eating seasonally: why follow the lead of your chickens? June 8, 2012

It’s just about time for wild blackberries to ripen in my area; I can hardly wait!  The chickens and I like eating seasonally , and the girls enjoy the blackberries just as much as I do.

We have all sorts of fruits at our farm–blackberries, black raspberries, peaches, apples, plums, persimmons, cherries and pears, just to name a few–and we try to take advantage of as many as possible by canning jams, preserves, butters, sauces and jellies, and by making pies and cobblers and muffins and… well, you get the idea.

Rainbow of canned jams

Our rainbow of canned jams! From left to right: blackberry, mulberry, strawberry, raspberry, peach and plum.

As you can see, we really go all out. To me, it’s one of the joys of life. In fact, one of the things I adore most about living out where I do is that we can enjoy a lot of foods in season, right from our own property. However, when the fruits are on, the chickens tend not to lay very well. So if eating seasonally is beneficial and natural, why do the chickens stop laying?

Well, it’s not what you might be thinking: it’s not the old wives tale that “feeding fruit causes chickens to stop laying.” Fruit doesn’t cause your chickens to stop laying, not when they eat it in reasonable quantities, anyway. The problem is that the quantities of fruit that our chickens have access to in season are not always reasonable. Blackberry brambles line the hiking trail nearest our house for about a quarter mile. Every year at this time, the girls busy themselves beneath the thorny bushes, consuming every last berry that drops. And blackberries–fruits in general, actually–are relatively low in protein. Chickens need a lot of protein to produce their eggs, so when their protein intake drops, so does their laying. The bottom line is that when they eat fruit to the exclusion of their balanced commercial feed, they just don’t lay as well.

 

Plus, when I tell them to use some restraint and to try to resist eating the entire quarter mile of blackberries, they act as if they don’t know what I’m talking about.
SS and RIR--chickens love fruit

We’ll stop eating if you stop canning!

We have the same problem when the peaches come on. And the pears. The chickens just eat the windfall–but there’s plenty, enough that they don’t lay very many eggs for a while.We can’t really blame them, though. I have to admit I’ve had days where I’ve eaten nothing but peaches.  Or I’ve had french toast with mulberry sauce for breakfast.
French toast and mulberry sauce

French toast and mulberry sauce: the bread is homemade honey wheat, the mulberry sauce is home made from our trees, the eggs are homemade by our hens… what could be better?

Then I might have several handfuls of our ripe, fresh, small plums for lunch.
ripe plum

Ours are small, and the golden flesh is sweet, while the red skin is very sour!

Finally, I might have a piece of blackberry cobbler for dinner.
wild blackberry spiral cobbler

This recipe tastes like the delicious cobblers that my Great Aunt Columbia used to make for us when we visited pretty Webster Springs, WV.

I don’t have “A Day of Fruit” often, mind you, but I have done it. And I can’t pretend that this is the most healthy diet–especially the cobbler, with all that sugar! On the other  hand, we’re not buying our berries from the grocery store. After you’ve spent three days scrambling up and down a mountain, through brambles and thorns to get enugh berries for a cobbler or for canning, you might (like me) feel justified in a little indulgence.
Some studies have shown that eating seasonally is better for you. It’s not all berries and fruit, either. The chickens do the same sort of thing in the late fall, with grass seeds.
chickens eating grass seeds in autumn

They line up at the edge of the mowed lawn and entertain me by jumping up to pluck seeds from the waving grass heads.

And they do the same thing with grasshoppers, for that matter, and with other bugs, worms and grubs. When they eat that high protein bounty and give me an astounding number of eggs, I don’t find myself complaining.

 

That’s why I try to be understanding when the girls hit the jackpot in blackberry season.  Will they lay fewer eggs for a while? Yes, unfortunately. But I believe that the natural cycles are healthy for them, the same way they are for people. When they’re eating seasonal, wild foods, they’re eating foods with high nutritional content. It may not be a completely balanced diet every day–I couldn’t live on cobbler alone (as much as I would like to!)–but so long as I am providing them plenty of balanced layer feed if they choose to eat it, I find that they tend to balance their diets fairly well, even if there are ups and downs in daily production.

 

They’re not egg factories that I need to keep on a strict production schedule; they’re pets that offer me the additional benefit of fresh eggs. Who am I to complain if they take a week off to enjoy the blackberries?

 

Do your chickens eat seasonally, or are they on a strict commercial ration? Do you bring your flock seasonal treats, or are they able to range out and forage on their own?

 

4 Comments
LindaG June 8th, 2012

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing the information with us.

My hens don’t free range but they do eat seasonally since we eat seasonally and they get our kitchen scraps as well as castoffs from our garden. I am very careful to limit treats to afternoons so (hopefully) they fill up on their layer feed and get enough protein. I think they are on to me tho and wait for those afternoon treats !

Interesting post and your fruit looks gorgeous !

Gail Curry June 18th, 2012

I love your point of view – nature does know best, and hens weren’t meant to lay eggs daily for all their lives. They live much longer, and healthier eating naturally.

Aurelia July 4th, 2012

My chickens just free range I give them layer feed and I get a nice amount of eggs

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