3 Nutritious Backyard Weeds Your Chickens Will Love (and you can eat them too)

Weeding your garden?

Don’t toss the weeds on the compost pile just yet.

IMG_1140After weeding the gardens and walkways I throw the whole pile of uprooted greenery into the chickens’ run. Within an hour it’s difficult to identify what was thrown in there and this is the very reason they have a large fenced-in run and no longer free-range our property. They gobble up every bit of green leaving nothing but skinned stem.

Chickens will devour just about anything but there are 3 backyard weeds in particular that have many beneficial nutrients for our feathered friends. These weeds are very common and easy to identify.

Look for plantain, goosefoot, and dandelion to boost their diet.

Many people eat these plants, but not everyone feels comfortable eating what they consider to be a weed.  I don’t eat them because I am always worried that my dog has peed on them!

Waste not want not, so instead of tossing them give them to your chickens!

Nutrients Found in Plantain, Goosefoot, and Dandelion

Plantain is high in calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin A, B1, and C.

IMG_0706

Plantain

Goosefoot is also referred to as wild spinach or lamb’s quarters. It’s an antioxidant that is high in vitamin A, C,and riboflavin.

SAMSUNG

Goosefoot. Image courtesy of woodfired.com

Dandelion may be the most well known and easily identifiable weed. It contains calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin C and B6.

IMG_0698

Dandelion leaves

All these vitamins will make a great addition to their feed.

The Importance of Riboflavin and Vitamin C for Chickens

The common vitamins in these 3 weeds is vitamin C and riboflavin. These 2 vitamins are vital for healthy chickens. Store bought feed should contain all the needed vitamins but it can never hurt to boost their intake with fresh sources.

Riboflavin helps with growth and maintains tissue and nervous system health. If a chick is not getting enough riboflavin they may not be growing as they should even though they still eat regularly. They will stay small and become weak or have curled toes that are paralyzed. They will need to use their wings to help them balance to walk.

Vitamin C helps laying hens with egg production and shell quality. It will also boost a chicken’s immune system.  During the hottest or coldest months it is beneficial to give them some extra vitamin C to help them fight off fatigue and stress.

 

Rubber Eggs: The Life of a Chicken

 

We have 10 hens and 6 nesting boxes.  For whatever reason, most of them want to lay their eggs in the same nesting box.  This makes it difficult to pinpoint who laid the egg missing a shell.

Egg with no shell.

Egg with no shell.

They clamour to have what the others have in every situation.

I usually put out 3 plates of their scraps so they all have easy access to it and the bullies can’t block all the plates at once.  Even though there are 3 plates holding the exact same food, they all run from plate to plate sampling off them all and pecking at each other to block them from the next plate.

Now and then I chop up red cabbage and put a big plate of it down for them to snack on.  They all have access to the same amount, size, shape, and flavour of cabbage, but one hen will grab a random piece in her beak and the rest will chase her around for that one piece  – even though this piece is identical to the thousand other pieces on the plate.

They always want what the others have so it doesn’t surprise me that they all want to lay their egg in the same nest.  If I can get into the coop early enough in the day and spread the first few laid eggs into other nest boxes they will usually split up between those boxes.

Often there are 2 or 3 hens all jammed into the same nest trying to lay an egg.  I will see a white wing, with a red head, and a black fluffy butt sticking out.  It really is a cute sight but I am always worried one will suffocate or that they will break the eggs.  No hens have suffocated yet but we have had a few egg casualties.  Some knocked onto the floor and then pecked and some crushed under all the other eggs.

We usually get 9 eggs from the 10 hens – yesterday we got 11.  This is not normal.

I collected my usual 9 eggs around lunchtime and when I went back to the coop around suppertime, I was surprised to find 2 more eggs. One was regular sized and one was very small.  I reached to grab them and was disgusted when the egg felt like a warm water balloon. I scooped the eggs out with an empty Starbucks cup and brought them inside for inspection. Then research.

Possible Reasons an Egg Could Have a Rubber Shell

At first I didn’t want to touch it as I was worried it would explode under too much pressure, but fascination got the best of me. It appeared that the egg was complete inside the membrane but was just missing a shell.  I Googled it right away and learned that it could be caused by a few different things.

photo-68

Notice I can push my thumb into the egg like a water balloon.

Various chicken websites were in agreement that it is normal for eggs to be missing a shell from time to time and that it can be: attributed to lack of calcium in a hen’s diet, a sign that a hen is now mature enough to start laying, or that a hen has a wonky reproductive system and may not be a good layer.

Only time and a careful eye will allow me to figure out the reason for the case of the rubber egg.  Now if I could just figure out who laid it…

Coops and Crops: The Life of a Chicken

photo-65

We expanded our family to include 10 hens a few months ago.  They have been endless entertainment for us and take no real effort to maintain the coop or feed them.  I have heard chicken watching referred to as chicken television. One could sit and watch them peck and bounce around for hours if you had the time.  Throw some seeds down for them to compete for and you have some quality entertainment.

 

What does one do with a chicken?

We allowed them to free-range around the property while we were home but once the gardens started to send up their green shoots we needed to confine them.  Chickens are savages in a garden.  Once they eat all the greenery they will then proceed to dig up and eat the root system.  The tulips were the first to emerge and the first to be quickly consumed.  The chickens made their dust bath area in the tulip garden which was cute but frustrating.  I love my gardens so this was very bad for me.  I love my chickens and their fresh eggs but we have spent years cultivating our flower beds and if I had to chose I may pick the hobby that doesn’t poop all over my grass.

Luckily, I don’t have to choose between the two as our neighbour offered to lend us 4 large sections of chain link fencing he had stored in his barn.  Now our chickens have their own run.  I can spend time with them in their fenced area rather than using a rake to ward them off my gardens.photo-67

The other day I noticed a big bulge in all of their necks.  It was on the right side of every one of them.  I thought they all had tumours and ran inside to Google chicken neck tumours. My research found that it might be something called “sour crop”.

What is Sour Crop and What Causes it?

The crop is the food storage pouch in a chicken’s neck. Chickens do not have teeth to break down their food, so they can get a build-up of rotting grass and grains in their crop. If they eat grass that is too long or items like plastic or string they can end up with a blockage. Mix this matter with some digestive juices and funky stuff starts to brew.  This build-up in the crop is called “sour crop”. It is also described as a yeast infection in the chicken’s neck.

Sour Crop Symptoms

digestive-system-of-a-chicken

Diagram courtesy of poultrykeeper.com

The chicken websites advised me to look for the following indicators of sour crop:

  • hard bulging crop or squishy crop
  • lethargic
  • little or no appetite
  • bad smell coming from their mouth
  • liquid coming out of their mouth

Treating Sour Crop Naturally

It looked like I was going to have a busy few days trying to clear up this sour crop naturally. I was advised to:

  • separate the chickens with sour crop to limit food consumption to avoid adding more food to the blockage
  • increase water intake so they won’t dehydrate
  • force them to vomit (though there are mixed reviews on this as people warn that more often than not the hens could get vomit in their lungs and subsequently suffocate)
  • feed them nothing but yogurt and apple cider vinegar for days to flush the crop out
  • massage the crop to work out the liquid (preferred to vomiting)

I was totally panicked as I had no idea how to massage a chicken crop or where I would house these quarantined chickens.  I emailed a friend for advice. She has about 50 chickens so she is my go-to for all chicken related concerns.  She assured me that they likely don’t have sour crop, but are just full from eating.  She told me that their crop will empty over night when they don’t eat.  She advised me to wait until morning to see if their neck lumps had decreased.  After early morning inspection it turned out that, yes, the chickens were just well fed the day before!