Most of the members in the chicken community know how important it is to make sure that you are letting your chickens graze. Whether you are a new chicken owner or a seasoned one, we can all agree that raising chickens is a good hobby, source of income, and source of eggs and chicken meat.
Luckily, chickens are extremely self-sufficient and can spend hours in your backyard happily grazing and foraging for pests in the ground and in your garden. The question here may be why is it important to let your chickens graze in the first place. Keep in mind that what your hens eat will have a huge impact on the quality of the eggs they lay.
By allowing them time to forage and eat a variety of foods you’re ensuring that they are able to get all the best nutrients and vitamins they need to lay super-nutritious eggs for your daily breakfast enjoyment. Not only that, but it’s also an innate instinct for a chicken to forage and graze. If you don’t allow them to do what comes naturally it could stress them out or make them depressed, which would lead to a drop in egg production.
One more benefit to allowing your chickens to graze is that it’s way more cost effective. Allowing them to eat whenever they want and whatever they want will make it so you don’t have to keep shelling out more and more money on their feed. That isn’t to say that you won’t have to invest a little into some pellets here and there, or some chick starter feed for the little ones, but it won’t be as much as if you weren’t letting them graze.
What Should Your Chickens Eat When Grazing ?
That’s one of the benefits of allowing your chickens to graze is that they can eat whatever they’d like. Fortunately, chickens are not known to be picky eaters and can find joy in munching on various plants and grass, kitchen scraps, grains, bugs, worms, and even fruits and berries.
Again, the purpose of grazing is for them to eat a varied and nutritious diet. You can help this along by giving them access to foods that you know are high in vitamins and minerals. You can plant various berry bushes in or near their run, crack open a cold watermelon for their disposal, and even throw down some nutrient-rich pellets from time to time. All these things will help to ensure their diet stays balanced and they stay fat and healthy.
What Time Should I Let My Chickens Graze?
As far as when they should graze, the best time of day is the early morning. You’ve heard the phrase the early bird gets the worm? Well, that holds true for chickens, too. Not to mention that chickens don’t do well in the extreme heat, so giving them time to get their grazing in before it gets too unbearably hot outside for them to bother scratching around would be a good idea.
Best Way To Let Your Chickens Graze
The easiest way of letting your chickens graze is to build them a safe and secure chicken run in your backyard. Chickens require a bit of space, so you would optimally want to provide a 10 foot by 10 foot plot for each chicken. This amount of land will make it so that they can forage freely without having to share their space.
Chickens out in the open are at risk of predators, so unless you’re OK with losing the occasional chicken here and there, it is highly recommended (read: necessary) that you make sure your chicken run is fully-fenced with the base of the fence buried at least a foot deep and with a top of chicken wire. Burying the wire will help to deter critters, like foxes and weasels, that would be inclined to dig their way into the run and having a top will help keep any birds of prey, like hawks and owls, from stealing your chickens.
If you’re worried that your lawn doesn’t already have enough critters for your chickens to eat, you can invest in purchasing extra worms to spread out around the land. This extra food will ensure that your chickens will always get enough to eat. Most backyards have plenty of earthworms and snails, but a few more wouldn’t hurt if you have a large flock.
Additional Tips When Letting Your Chickens Graze
One other thing that you should do when letting your chickens graze is to provide them with shade. Besides making sure they have a safe run, you should provide them with extra protection from the sun, especially if you live somewhere with a hot climate. This could be as simple as throwing a tarp over a portion of the run or placing a few tables around. Chickens are highly susceptible to heat stress, so by providing them with a little extra shade, you may prevent them from having issues out in the sun.
You should also make sure to maintain a clean water station for them. Chickens have to have water readily available whenever they are thirsty. Even going a few hours without water can dehydrate your chickens and cause unnecessary stress for them, which will lower their egg production. If you are lucky enough to have a huge plot of land for them you should make sure to place numerous bowls of water out for them all around so they don’t have to walk too far when they get the urge to drink some.
Something else to consider is the impact that your flock will inevitably have on the land where they’re grazing. The ammonia in the urine and feces that they will be letting loose on your grass will eventually kill the grass. Also the chickens, depending on how many there are, will have that land completely tilled in no time. If you’re able to provide a vast amount of land to them, this may not be a problem, however if you have limited space, this issue should be addressed before it’s had time to come about.
Really one of the only ways to combat this is by using movable fencing. This type of fencing will allow you to change the area your chickens graze in, so when they’ve completely scratched up one side of your yard, you can open the other side while the original one grows back. This movable fence will also allow you a way to keep the chickens out of certain areas when necessary, like a beloved garden, for example.
A movable fence will also come in handy whenever it’s time to tend to the yard. Although chickens love to eat weeds, you should always make sure to keep the grass relatively short, around 3 to 5 inches, to avoid your chickens developing crop issues. If they continually ingest long pieces of grass their crop may not be able to keep up and it could cause a crop impaction, which is not fun for you or the chicken. Also, while we’re on the topic of lawn care, make sure never to use chemicals on the area you’re allowing your chickens to graze. Fertilizers and insect repellents are a big no-no for chickens. They can make them sick, or worse, cause deaths in the flock.
Not Enough Room to Graze?
One last tip, for those backyard chicken raisers that don’t have ample land to let their flock roam freely in, is to build a grazing box. Optimally, as mentioned above, you want to have at least 100 square feet of space per chicken, unfortunately not all of us in the chicken community are lucky enough to live in such an open and rural area. There is still a way to ensure that your chickens can graze.
A grazing box is basically a kitchen scrap container that you can throw your leftover greens in. All you will need is a little bit of chicken wire, four plywood pieces, and a couple tools, like a hammer and nails. You can easily build a box that’ll hold the food scraps and not allow for water to get stuck in it. Another benefit of building one or more of these grazing boxes is that they are mobile, so you can place it inside the coop, somewhere shady outside, or even on your porch.
Another idea for the grazing box is to use it as a planter. You would not throw your scraps in it, but instead place it somewhere out of your chickens reach and then throw some high-quality soil and seeds in it. A good option for nutritional seeds may be alfalfa grass, garlic, parsley, dandelions, etc. After two or three weeks you should see the beginning of a little mobile garden starting to grow. After that you can place it inside the coop or run and allow them to peck at it. When it starts to get low you can remove it and replant more seeds again.
Not only is it a must that your chickens be allowed to graze freely, but it’s also beneficial for you. Since the chickens won’t have to be cooped up all day (literally) and can freely roam about it will make them happier which will lead to a higher number of eggs being produced. Not only that, but the eggs laid should also be much more nutritious, too. Letting your chickens graze freely is really a win-win for everyone.