Feeding chickens can be expensive, especially when you buy organic or non-GMO feed. Learn what chickens eat naturally to help save on your feed bill.
With a little planning and creativity, raising chickens doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Like us, you may have realized that the cost of chicken feed is largely outweighing the cost of eggs and meat.
Free-ranging your flock and specifically planting perennials your chickens would eat naturally are great ways to drastically cut down on the cost of chicken feed.
Save Money with Free-Range Chickens
And the very best way to feed chickens for free is to let them out to free-range. When chickens free-range they can find their own food, saving you big bucks.
While chickens free-range, they search their environment for edible weeds, grasses, bugs, small animals, and seeds. By allowing your chickens outside to free-range, they get some great exercise and fresh air. But it also allows them to feed themselves, so you don’t have to!
Depending on your location and how often you let your flock out to free-range, you can cut your feed bill by more than half just by letting your chickens eat the already plentiful foods growing on your property, or better yet, planting some perennials for them to enjoy next year and every year after that!
Still unsure if you want to take on free-ranging? Read our article on the pros and cons of free-ranging your flock, it’s sure to help you make the right decision.
Feed Chickens Naturally for free with 12 Perennial Weeds
If you want to seriously up your free-ranging game, planting perennial weeds is the way to go. Free-ranging your birds is a great first step to saving money on chicken feed, but you can take it to the next level by not killing the perennial weeds that are already growing on your property. Those are what chickens eat naturally if left to themselves!
There are hundreds of perennial “weeds” that are common in backyards and woodlands. Many of these plants are edible for chickens, and even for you and your family!
I say “weeds” in quotes, because I personally think a lot of these plants get a bad rap. Do they spread easily? Yes. Are they hard to kill? Yes. Does that mean we need to start a war against them with chemicals and poisons? No.
While a lot of the plants on this list can be invasive and will certainly not be approved by your Homeowners Association, these plants are packed with nutrition, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to leave them be, if only for the sake of feeding your chickens for free.
Your flock’s love of eating these weeds will naturally keep the population under control.
Don’t want to encourage “weeds” on your property?
A nice alternative is to forage for these plants on public land or in the yards of your family and friends. Just make sure you have permission, and make extra sure they weren’t previously sprayed with chemicals!
Another alternative is to grow a special chicken garden full of perennial plants. These plants will come back every year, so the amount of work for you is negligible and you get a free food source for your flock.
Don’t have room for a garden? You could also plant these perennials around the chicken run so they can feast on the leafy greens through the chicken wire, cutting your feed costs and giving your birds some entertainment all at once!
Another good idea is to grow or forage these plants and preserve them for later. Your chickens immune systems will thank you for some green treats during the winter months. It’s easy to flash freeze, dry, or can a lot of these plants to save them for times that are less fruitful!
This weed has gotten a bad rap, due mostly to the fiery painful type, Stinging Nettle. In truth, this perennial weed is pretty miraculous. It’s edible for humans and chickens alike, and chock full of nutrition.
You can even eat stinging nettles if you cook or blanch them first! Nettles can be found on the edges of woodland and in scrappy areas of the yard.
This cute little weed is often seen popping out of the most unlikely places, like the spaces in between patio bricks, and out of cracks in the pavement. It looks very much like a succulent, with smooth glossy leaves and a reddish stem.
Purslane is a great treat for your flock, it makes for happy chickens and you can eat it too! You’ll often see purslane topping fancy salads at restaurants.
Plantain is another miracle plant that most of us try to eradicate from our yards. This plant can be eaten by chickens (and people!) and can also be used medicinally and herbally to treat ailments. Plantain is one of the first ‘weeds’ to pop up in the early spring and chicken flocks just love picking at it.
You don’t need to do much to encourage plantain in your yard, as this weed loves to spread!
4. Mouse-Ear Chickweed
This type of chickweed is a perennial weed and, as you can guess by the name, the chickens love it!
Mouse-ear chickweed and its more common relative, chickweed, are both beloved by poultry and should be encouraged in your yard rather than killed.
Wild violet is drought tolerant and spreads like crazy through underground stems. We encourage you not to kill your violets, but use them instead! Violets are beautiful in the spring, one of the first signs of warmer weather and more sunshine.
They are edible for chickens and people alike!
One of our favorite uses for violets is to make wild violet vinegar to top our salads!
6. Bee Balm
While it’s true this perennial plant is not generally considered a weed and is prized in many gardens, we put it on here because it’s easy to care for, grows quickly, spreads rapidly, and is well-loved by chickens.
If you ask around to friends and neighbors you could probably find some Bee Balm for free. This plant is easy to dig up and re-plant in your garden and will bloom for decades to come!
Bee Balm is not only great for chickens, but as the name implies, bees love it too! It’s a great addition to your beautiful garden and will help feed hungry chickens, bees, and hummingbirds.
Grapes are an excellent perennial to grow for your chickens, or even yourself! In the ideal soil, grapes grow quickly and take very little effort to maintain.
They can certainly be weedy, and if not cared for, this plant will take over, climbing trees or your house if you let it!
Follow proper grape growing techniques to tame your wild grapes, and you and your chickens will be happy campers!
Strawberries are perennial fruit and are super easy to grow. They’re a popular choice as you can grow them in the ground or in pots if you don’t have full sun in your yard.
You may even have perennial strawberry already popping up on your property. While wild strawberry is not technically considered a weed, it does spread quickly and is quite a stubborn plant.
Strawberries are appreciated by humans and chickens alike, so whether you already have them growing wild or want to plant them, this is an excellent choice!
9. Oxalis / Yellow Wood Sorrel
This perennial weed is our chickens absolute favorite treat. They fight over who gets to decimate patches of it that pop up in the yard. The chickens love it so much that I pick bunches of it when I’m visiting my family camp to bring it home to the birds. This delicious treat can be found growing wild in wooded areas and tends to pop up as a garden weed frequently. Instead of throwing it in the compost pile, toss it to your birds, they’ll thank you!
10. Perennial Clover
Clover is an excellent replacement for grass, especially in areas that are resistant to grow grass. It is a great ground cover, it’s nitrogen fixing, and it’s drought tolerant! This amazing plant feeds the local wildlife, including bees and rabbits, and your chickens will thank you a thousand times over for growing it.
Clover is one of the first plants to pop up in the spring, so your free-ranging flock will be thrilled for some early greenery to snack on.
If you want to grow clover for your flock, consider a mixed blend of clover and grass seed, as clover all on its own isn’t a great choice for high activity areas of the lawn.
Want to read more about feeding clover to your chickens? Don’t miss this article from Grit, The Lowdown on Feeding Clover to your Chickens!
I know many of you may cringe at the thought of purposely growing dandelion, but hear me out.
Dandelion got a bad rap somewhere along the line, but truthfully, this is an absolute miracle plant.
Every part of the dandelion is edible and has incredible nutrition to boot. You can make coffee and tea from the roots. The edible flowers can be used to make salves, tea, or even wine! The leaves can be tossed in salads or sautéed in butter.
Now, dandelion isn’t just a good plant to grow for YOU, it’s good for your chickens too! In fact, chickens love eating dandelion leaves and will do their part to keep this weed under control if you let them free range in your yard.
Please do be careful when feeding this plant to your chickens. You need to know with absolute certainty that the plant wasn’t sprayed with herbicides before letting your flock have it, or they’ll be poisoned. For this reason it’s best to only feed you chickens dandelions that are growing in your own yard, where you have control over what goes on them.
12. Raspberry / Blackberry
Raspberry and blackberry brambles are commonly found on property lines and on the edge of woodland. If you have raspberry or blackberry already growing on your property, don’t pull it out!
These berries make excellent treats for humans and chickens alike! We limit the chickens access to these berries because we love to eat them for ourselves, but we do pick them as treats for the birds and toss them into the chicken yard, it’s great fun to watch the birds play keep away with these treats!
Obviously, not all of the plants on this list are considered weeds where you live. But the point is that they’re wonderful free food that your chickens naturally love to eat! You only have to do the work of planting them once, or maybe not at all if they’re already growing in your yard!
I hope this has encouraged you to “leave the weeds be” and let your chickens eat them to save you some serious money on your chicken’s feed!
Want to read more about feeding chickens from your yard?
Don’t miss these posts: