I love my flock! Watching their funny antics, getting mobbed when I show up with treats, and being adored by a few lap chickens is rewarding, but being able to supply my family with delicious, healthy eggs from happy hens is one of the main reasons I keep chickens. Hens with access to fresh greens will give you tastier and more nutritious eggs than caged hens that subsist only on chicken feed.
Many flock owners don't need to give a second thought as to how to supply their free-range chickens with fresh greens during much of the year, but not everyone can safely free-range their flock. Other flock owners, like myself, may live in more inhospitable areas without much grass.
Even though my own hens are able to spend part of each day out in the backyard, my family lives in a hot, desert area, which means naturally growing greens are not that abundant. My chickens do seem to enjoy dining on the short bermuda grass that grows in my yard, but they enjoy eating the occasional wide-leaved weed and leafy greens even more. Thankfully there are other ways, besides letting our flocks free-range, for getting those nice, dark yolks. Gardening is one of them.
Although leafy greens and other vegetables are healthy for chickens to eat, it is not a good idea to give your flock free access to your garden. Unfortunately, chickens are not careful to eat only what we wish and they can demolish your entire garden in one afternoon (trust me, I know). Besides devouring the tasty parts of your plants, they also love to scratch around and dustbathe in the soft soil. I've learned that I even have to lock up the flower pots, lest my flowers be dug up and all my nice potting soil be expelled from the pots during these dustbathing frenzies.
Gardening for your chickens is still a good idea, as long as you offer the plants some protection. I keep a fence around my garden to keep the chickens and the dogs out and I throw out extra seedlings, weeds, and goodies to the chickens, who gobble them up.
You can also try something like this Chicken Run Raised Bed, if you would like to build a special garden for your chickens to dine from.
For the most part, fresh greens can be a healthy part of your flock's diet, but some plants are not safe for chickens to eat. You can click here for more information on unhealthy plants and even a partial list of poisonous plants. You'll also want to be careful about using chemicals to kill weeds and/or insects in your yard---these chemicals could be toxic to your chickens. Your chickens may be a bit of help to you in both areas---they like to eat certain weeds and chickens love to eat bugs too! Be sure to keep your lawn mowed---short grass is much safer for your flock to eat than long cut grass---long grass can cause an impacted crop.
During the winter, when there are no plants left in my garden, I purchase a huge bag of spinach from a warehouse type store so that the hens still get some greens each day. Besides fresh greens, there are many other healthy treats you can give your flock. What are some of your chickens' favorite treats from the garden?