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12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

If you’ve ever looked over the cost analysis for our homestead you’ll see that we haven’t been able to raise laying hens for eggs any cheaper than buying a carton from the store. One of our perpetual goals is to figure out how to decrease the cost to keep laying hens and find sources of free chicken food.

And do you want to know what the kicker is? We don’t feed our chickens most of the year.

There, I said it.

I guess you might think poorly of our animal husbandry skills now, that’s a risk that I’m just going to have to take.

But the fact is that I haven’t fed my chickens in several years now and it turns out that not one of them has died as a result! In fact, we deal with very few of the chicken health problems you’ll read out about, if any.

As it stands now, we withdraw their winter feed ration somewhere around April 1st. It all depends on the weather and when the grass starts to green up. By then, I know that there is an abundance of free chicken food to be found for our expert foragers. They have greens, worms, and sundry bugs for them to choose from, not to mention the bits of grain they are able to glean daily while working on scattering cow pies throughout our pasture. It’s actually the diet they prefer. Then we’ll reintroduce it sometime around when the first blanket of snow covers the ground or when we stop noticing the melody of nighttime summer insects.

This has worked wonderfully for us for years! I love observing the richness of the eggs in the deep and vibrant orange color of their yolks. In fact I can tell which breeds are better foragers and which aren’t and won’t be joining my flock again just by looking at the yolks! (*ahem*leghorns)

I love that I can allow my faithful hens to live longer lives. I can cull out lower production hens in the fall instead of spring giving them 6 more months of life after I realize they aren’t really producing any longer. Why not? It’s not like I’m feeding them.

It feels real good knowing that I can’t feed my family a more nutrient-dense egg and that it isn’t costing me a dime half the year.

Are there drawbacks to free-ranging your hens? Sure there are a few, but for the most part, we’ve learned to either deal with them or accept them as part of the deal.  Whether you want to share your garden harvest with your gals is a decision only you can make for yourself. Most of the time I grow enough surplus that I don’t mind, but was we head into the new year, we’ve decided that it’s time to coop our gals up to curb their appetite for our garden’s goodies, but I don’t want to do so at the sacrifice of the healthiest eggs possible… and those gorgeous golden yolks you simply don’t find in hens with a primarily grain-fed diet.

We’re still in the planning stages of how we will provide them with that varied diet during the warmer months while still keeping them contained, but definitely in the plans will be growing edible landscaping that will create free chicken food, shade, and shelter from overhead predators.

Here are 12 perennials to plant for free chicken food that will be going in my Edible Perennial Chicken Habitat.

12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Elderberries}

Fruiting Season– Mid-summer
Other Uses– Shade, Shelter, Medicinal, Pollinators

12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Mulberries}

Fruiting Season-  Early Summer
Other Uses- Fruit for Jams, Baked Goods, and Wine

Siberian Pea Shrub- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food
Click photos for credit

{Siberian Pea Shrub}

Fruiting Season-Summer
Other Uses- Nitrogen Fixation, Windbreak, Dye, Pollinators
(More on growing Peashrub here: Siberian Peashrub Plant Profile)

Crabapple- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Crabapple}

Fruiting Season- Autumn
Other Uses- Pollinators, Edible Fruit for Jelly, Pickles, High Source of Pectin

Fruit of Elaeagnus angustifolia, "Russian Olive"- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Russian Olive}

Fruiting Season- Autumn
Other Uses- Nitrogen Fixation

Sea buckthorn- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Sea Buckthorn}

Fruiting Season- Autumn
Other Uses- Nitrogen Fixation, Dye, Medicinal, Nutritious Food, Windbreak

Buffalo berries- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Buffaloberry}

Fruiting Season– Mid-summer
Other Uses- Nitrogen Fixing, Dye, Nutritious Food, Windbreak, Pollinators

Choke Cherry- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Chokeberry}

Fruiting Season- Late Summer
Other Uses- Pollinators, Dye, Fruit for Jams & Wine

Hackberries- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Hackberry}

Fruiting Season- Autumn
Other Uses- Dye, Windbreak

Currants- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Currants}

Fruiting Season- Summer
Other Uses- Hedgerow, Nutritious Food, Pollinators

Gooseberry- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Gooseberry}

Fruiting Season- Early Summer
Other Uses- Other Uses- Hedgerow, Nutritious Fruit, Pollinators

Serviceberries- 12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

{Serviceberry}

Fruiting Season- Early Summer
Other Uses- Pollinators, Nutritious Fruit, Windbreak

12 Perennials to Plant for Free Chicken Food

How do you cut costs on your chicken feed bill?

Quinn

46 Comments
  • What breeds of chickens tend to be the best foragers, in your opinion?

    • Most of the hens we’ve raised are good foragers. I can think of 2 exceptions which are the leghorns and Anaconas. When we replenish our flock we tend to get Barred Rocks, Speckled Sussex, Sex-Links, Wyandottes, and Brahamas (the latter of which might just be because I think they’re pretty 🙂

      • Good to know. We got one of those chick-ordering brochures, and I don’t think we’re going towards Leghorns (we live in too cold a climate, according to the brochure…) and I really liked… well, everything else. 😉

    • Judy Morgan

      Our araucana’s were great foragers, maybe they were Ameracauna. I understand they are a breed that have been domesticated ‘recently’ so they have foraging still in their breed. Our leghorns were also terrible foragers; they have been domesticated and bred for their reliable laying gene.

  • Rachel Hart

    This is my first visit. Your social media buttons cover your text. After you work so hard to pass on information, why obscure it?

    • Hi Rachel, I’m so sorry you’re having troubles here. I’m not sure what the problem could be… could you maybe share what type of device & browser you’re using? This is what I see. Thanks!

  • Kristi Altman McKoy

    How large are you planning to make your chicken “habitat”? It looks like you are planning for a few trees or larger bushes so I’m wondering how you will keep the chicks from flying out. I’m interested in adding some perennials to our chicken run as well. They were free ranging up until a few months ago when we started planting again and wanted to keep them out of the garden. Sound familiar? My husband has sprouted some alfalfa to put in their run and I want to put some climbing roses on the outside of their run to cover the chicken wire. That’s as far as I’ve gotten with planning.

  • Jessie – Rabid Little Hippy

    I would add Tagasaste, comfrey and perhaps even sunflowers to your list. The sunflowers can be a seasonal thing or harvest the heads whole and throw some to the crew during winter. 🙂
    Kei apples are another too.

    • Great suggestions! Thanks 🙂

    • I was thinking the exact thing. I bought some mammoth sunflower seeds and have the idea to grow a bunch of them and when the seeds are ready to harvest, just throw the flower pods over to the chickens so they can eat them right from the flower. Plus I also have the goal to get a bee hive and I’ve heard sunflowers are a great source of pollen for bees.

      • Jessie – Rabid Little Hippy

        I didn’t manage to plant sunflowers this last year but had one grow in the old hen house which grew a dinner-plate sized seed head. It was COVERED in bees! 🙂

      • Sunflower honey… sounds delicious. I feel like that could be a nice niche honey 🙂