If you own some chickens then you will want to ensure that you provide them with the best environment as possible. But what about grass? Is it mandatory that you provide chickens with access to it in order for them to be healthy and to thrive? I decided to conduct some thorough research into the topic. I would like to present this information here to you today.
So, do chickens need grass? Chickens do not technically need grass in their diet. However, grass is very beneficial to chickens and provides them with micro-nutrients, variety, and the ability to partake in natural foraging behaviors. If you do provide access to grass, you should ensure that it is untreated and free from herbicides, insecticides, and other chemicals.
If grass provision is not possible, providing greens like spinach and kale are suitable alternatives.
Let us now expand on the topic further so that you can get a better understanding of the considerations involved.
Is It Okay For Chickens To Eat Grass?
It is more than okay for chickens to eat grass. Chickens thrive when greens are included as part of their diet, which grass supplies. Failing this, greens like kale, clover, and spinach are perfectly fine to provide and help keep the flock in peak condition.
You may be surprised to learn that many chickens like to eat grass, but this is due to the benefits that is provides. It has also played a significant role in their evolution and been a fundamental part of their environment.
Hens can obtain an abundance of micro-nutrients and variety from the consumption of grass. You must remember that grass has always been obtained within their natural diet.
Chickens are omnivores, which means that they have similar nutritional requirements to humans. Many other livestock animals will survive quite well on a diet of just pasture, but this is not true for hens, they need a varied and balanced diet.
When chickens are munching on grass, they consume lots of bugs and insects in the soil – this naturally provides them with protein and other nutrients not found in the grass itself.
If you observe chickens in the wild, they tend to move from one area of grassland to another, looking for food. This is largely impractical for farmers and chicken owners. As a chicken owner, your birds need to be given a high quality feed to ensure they obtain the protein that they need.
A responsible guardian of any animal should support natural behaviors, it’s good for their well-being, and hens do enjoy being able to free-range and forage among the grass.
It is also a great way to socialize with other hens, whereby, great fun is had by all. There is strong evidence from recent scientific studies in support of chickens being allowed to eat grass, bugs and be able to free-range. Hens that are allowed to roam freely lay better quality eggs that are more nutritious.
The one drawback to having free-range hens is that they tend to dig up the ground as they forage, this, in turn, destroys the green areas and turns them into dirt patches. If you have a flock, they will continue to dig into the dirt, until there are craters everywhere in your backyard/land. Some hen keepers have talked about how their birds just like to sit in their craters and relish in their handiwork.
One thing that hens enjoy is ‘dust baths’. This is a great spa treatment for your chicken, but, it’s hilarious to watch as they like to toss the dirt on themselves. If you are unaccustomed to dirt baths, you will think that your hen is having a stroke, but your hen is looking after her skin and feathers with this bath.
The dirt coats their feathers and absorbs excess moisture and grease. The dirt also works as an insect repellent, aside from the wonderful benefits for their skin and feathers, it’s also a great way to socialize with other hens. If you don’t want unsightly dirt patches in your land, you should plant fast-growing grass.
Do Chickens Prefer Grass Or Dirt?
Grass is the preferable option to dirt as a covering.
Dirt can quickly turn to mud when wet, which is not good for them. This is why some form of covering over the dirt is preferable and advisable.
You can use sand, wood shavings or highly recommended hemp as a covering.
Getting a movable coop, chicken tractor, is another excellent option. This will enable you to move it when the grass becomes sparse or you want to refresh the supply for your chickens. Foraging chickens enjoy the nutritional benefits of grass, worms, and insects so moving it frequently is thoroughly recommended.
What Type Of Grass Is Good For Chickens?
The best grass is a mixture of different species so that your chickens will have a wide variety of nutrients.
Hens don’t like tough grasses with long stalks, if the pasture has overgrown it should be topped before allowing hens to run on it.
Grass seed mixtures include ryegrass and fescues. Ryegrass is a hard-wearing grass. Fescues grow quickly. Ideal grasses include:
Clover is ideal because it’s high in protein and it supports the production of omega 3 in the eggs.
This grass is ideal for foraging birds, it grows well even in poor soil. It’s hard-wearing and withstands grazing and being trampled on quite well.
Alfalfa and Lucerne
These grasses are high in protein and provide a variety of vitamins and fragments of key elements. These include vitamin H, vitamin K, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and selenium. Lucerne also helps boost omega 3 in eggs.
These plants grow all year round and are a great addition to any grass mixture as they improve palatability. They also provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Deep-rooted herbs bring up minerals from the subsoil.
Other Grass Considerations
When hens are out foraging for grass, their scratching, pecking, and digging can lay waste to grassland areas. Roots are pulled out and so much damage is done.
Apart from their digging, you must consider the PH of the soil. bear in mind that their manure affects the condition and quality of the soil, it does ruin it over time. They tend to eliminate in the same space, especially, if they are confined to one space a lot of the time. Their manure leaves the soil high in unhealthy levels of salt and phosphates, which adversely affects the quality of grass, and chickens want lush and lovely green grass.
To neutralize the PH levels of the soil, you can use limestone in your chickens runs and coops.
The safest form of limestone to use is untreated, pelleted, or powdered limestone. This type of limestone is what is known as a ‘sweetening’ lime and is used to raise the PH in soil. It also works well in wet conditions, unlike hydrated or slaked lime – these types can become corrosive when wet, so they are not safe for chicken runs. There is an excellent brand on Amazon that you can get for a great price.
You do want to bury limestone under the soil, as chickens may eat tiny particles of lime, and it can be unpleasant for them.
A garden tiller works well to turn the soil, and to keep it fresh and mineral rich. You should water the ground afterward. You could cover the area with a wire cloth screen and sow crops. After a few days, the crops will start to grow, and you can let your hens on it, they love sprouts.
Chickens do not need grass, yet it is highly recommended that you provide it. Grass is rich in micro-nutrients and offers a lot of variety to your chickens diet.
Other than this, the general process of letting your chickens forage is excellent for their welfare and lets them partake in their natural instincts and behaviors.
If you do not have access to much land or if providing grass is going to be an issue, be sure to provide greens like kale and spinach; this will provide some great benefit too and serves as a useful alternative.
Ultimately, you are going to want to provide the best environment for your chickens as possible. Grass does exactly this. You’ll notice better quality and more nutritious eggs too!